Straight from the heart

Mar 23, 2016 | 0 comments

American-born photographer Thomas Ives has worked for international news and feature magazines for over 38 years. His photo essays and images have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Geo, Stern, Newsweek, Life, Smithsonian, and many others publications. He currently lives in Vilcabamba with his Ecuadorian partner. For more about Thomas, click here, or here (en español).




Moon Struck

OK! Some basic, but important, tips on photographing our earth’s moon.

Perfect timing because the full moon rises today (Wed., March 23rd) at 18:43 and will set Thursday morning at 07:03.

The rise time is auspicious because you could possibly (unless it’s cloudy) have have the moon sitting in a deep blue sky because the sun will have set 20 minutes earlier. This can give color contrast* and depth to the image.

How to expose for the moon: digital photography with its feedback-loop makes it easy to evaluate the correct exposure. Start with ISO (ASA) of 200. Shutter speed of 1/125th second, aperture of f.8 – 11 is a good starting point. Yep, you will have to put the camera on manual function setting.

I use a 200mm lens on a tripod or I shoot at a faster speed and wider aperture (250 sec @ f.5.6) so I can hand hold the camera.

Experiment to find the right exposure to show detail on the surface of the moon. Usually, most shots are way overexposed.

Scale: It’s important to have scale in the photo. Trees on a ridge line (as shown), skyline of buildings, flock of pink flamingos across face of moon (right!). Scale gives depth as well as drama. BTW, the rising moon is the same size as the moon high in the sky. It is the psychology of human perception that makes it appear huge when shown in relation to familiar objects such as trees or buildings.

I personally like clouds in my full moon images. They give drama and a cinematic feel if they are moving during an extended exposure (as in my crescent moon and Venus image). Plus, clouds can also manifest prismatic (rainbow-like) qualities around or near the moon. Experimenting allows you to express your personal vision of a full moon. It is often the bigger picture that tells a better picture: small moon with big clouds back- or side-lit.

Also watch for the setting moon times as they can be as spectacular as the rising moon and may fit in more with your location and views to the west.

New moons are mystical as well … again look for scale to add drama and intrigue.

Have fun and look for the Super Moon (about 15% larger than normal full moon) occurring on April 7th.

Thomas H. Ives

*Color contrast to moon especially if you are in an urban area where air pollution could taint the color of the moon >>> usually it turns the moon a bit cream-colored which makes for a nice contrast with a deep blue sky.


Images taken in Vilcabamba, 2016; Copyright: Thomas H. Ives Contact:


Thomas Ives

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