Introduction: How to Enhance the Moon in a Photo Using Photoshop

Have you ever tried to capture a night scene with a marvellous moon where the moon just did not turn out the way you saw it with your own eyes? Read on to find out how you can get a more realistic (or extraordinary) moon back into your photos.

All photos in this instructable were taken and are owned by me.

Step 1: Equipment Needed

There are just four things you need to be able to photoshop a bigger brighter moon into your photos.

  1. A Camera. The cameras I used for the images shared in this intractable were a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon D800. I used two lenses here (wide angle and telephoto). You could use a point and shoot as well as long as you have manual control.
  2. A tripod.
  3. A computer.
  4. Photoshop.

Step 2: Why the Moon Doesn't Appear Sharp in a Night Landscape

Photography is all about light. This is the reason why it is so difficult to take a shot of a landscape and the moon in a single exposure.

The essence of the problem is that you are shooting two subjects that require two very different exposures. One of the very few circumstances in which you may be able to shoot the moon and a landscape in the same exposure are when the lighting for the moon and the rest of your composition are as close to equal as they can be. Two times of day where this happens in in the morning after the sun has come up but before the moon has gone down, and in the evening after the moon has come up, but before the sun goes down.

So what if you want to take your shot outside of one of these times?

What happens at night is that if you try to take a photo at night when it's dark out, you tend to need a longer exposure to get your image to show up. On the other hand, the moon is a fast-moving bright object.

As a result of these differences, you will notice:

  • Motion blur affecting the moon
  • Moon will be out of focus and look like a big ball of light in the sky
  • Moon will sometimes appear smaller than you really see it

Step 3: The Secret to a Good Moon

It's really simple: take two photos.

You'll need one exposure for the background and one exposure for just the moon. In the next few steps, we'll go over some examples of background and moon photos, and also how to put them together.

Step 4: Putting It All Together 1

For this photo, I just grabbed two jpegs from my library and put them together.

I can't quite recall the data for them so this will be a very basic example. The following two will be a little more complicated.

Both these images where shot at the same location, if not on the same night then at least with the same camera.

For this I just grabbed a selection of the moon that I liked, copied it and pasted it right into the background photo. I changed the blend mode to Lighten. That's it!

In the next two examples, we'll go over some situations where it doesn't work out quite so well as you'd like.

Step 5: Putting It All Together 2


  • ISO: 800
  • Aperture: f22
  • Shutter speed: 1/50
  • Focal Length: 18mm


  • ISO: 800
  • Aperture: f22
  • Shutter Speed: 1/25
  • Focal Length: 105mm

For this shot, I was using a 18-105mm lens on my Nikon D7000 and shot without using a tripod. As it was the only lens I had with me, I shot the background at the widest available focal length and the moon at the most zoomed in I could get.

You can see that the moon is an element in the original photo, and in about the same spot as the final version, but it just doesn't attract the attention that it deserves in a photo like this. I was really trying to capture the dynamism between sun and moon, night and day, in this photo, So I really needed to make the moon a more powerful element.

I shot a second photo of just the moon (featured above). Once I had both images, I load them up in photoshop. The first step in my workflow is to reduce noise if required (in this photo, it was) and get rid of all the spots from having a dirty sensor. I'll skip passed that for the purpose of this instructable and get to what it's really about, blending the image.

It's a lot easier in a shot like this because both photos were taken at the same place at the same time. The colours in the moon shot are the same as the colours in the background shot, so it's going to blend really well. With that in mind, let's get down to it:

  1. Create a copy of the background layer. Use the spot-healing brush to erase the moon
  2. Switch over to your shot of just the moon, grab a selection of the moon. Quick selection will work, but a marquee selection is just fine.
  3. Copy your selection of the moon and paste it into the background image.
  4. Use the free transform tool (cmd+t or ctrl+t) to size and rotate the moon as you like. Press Enter to apply changes.
  5. When you paste the moon into the background, it will appear as another layer on top of the background. Make sure that layer is selected and change the Blend Mode to "Lighten."
    • Sometimes "Screen" blending mode will work as well if you are dealing with much darker backgrounds.
    • You may have to move the moon around to find a sweet spot where the area around the moon is least visible.
  6. The area surrounding the moon should now appear transparent. If you've got the moon to where you want it and there is still too much of the top layer showing through, grab your eraser and dial back the opacity to about 30%. Slowly start erasing until just the moon is visible.

Step 6: Putting It All Together 3


  • ISO: 160
  • Aperture: f8
  • Shutter Speed: 1/40
  • Focal Length: 80mm


  • ISO: 160
  • Aperture: f5.6
  • Shutter Speed: 1/250
  • Focal Length: 300mm

As we can see from the data above, the shot of the moon for this photo was over five times faster and with a wider aperture.

For this photo, I shot the supermoon rising over downtown Perth. While the moon was pretty huge in the background image, I wanted it even bigger! For my shot of just the moon in this one, I waited till it was a little darker.

In this photo, I did not use a blend mode technique like in the previous two examples.

As with the shot before, I erased the moon in the background using the spot-healing before placing the new moon in.

Since there is a lot of contrast between a really bright moon and a really dark background, I just used the quick-selection tool and it worked out pretty well in grabbing exactly what I wanted. I just copied that selection and pasted it right into the background.

Once again, just use the free transform tool to size and place the moon how you like and press enter to save the changes.

Since I took a shot of the moon from later on in the evening, the moon appeared quite bright (in both photos) and seemed really out of place when I pasted it into the background. This is where it helps to have erased the moon from the background. I wanted to make the moon a little duller now to match the hues in the photo, so make sure to select the background layer and just use your marquee selection tool to grab a selection around the moon. Keep it as tight as you can. Copy and paste this selection right on top of itself, but make sure it is the top layer. Dial back the opacity to 35% so that it is mostly transparent. I have shown this layer in one of the pictures above with the opacity set to 100% for demonstration. The moon will now match the hues of the rest of the photo.

There are other ways to achieve a similar effect, however since the area below the moon was free of obstruction (although you're pasting an exact copy over itself so it shouldn't matter much if it wasn't) and there is a nice gradient sky, I thought it was best to grab a selection from the background. Also, because you are using the background over itself, in a sense, the blending is seamless.

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