I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past day or two shooting the moon as it sets and rises in our twilight sky. There is quite a knack to it isn’t there. I think the first thing to remember is that it is surprisingly bright and is moving at a steady pace through the dark sky.
Firstly, here’s a shot of the moonset captured at 7:45 in the morning. It was a grab shot, handheld but with the camera rested on a fence post to help steady my telephoto lens. The sky was relatively light so I was able to retain some detail throughout the image. The moon was lit by the rising sun, hence the ruddy glow which was enhanced slightly by tweaking the saturation levels in processing (not too much though, no more than other shots).
I think the important point to note is that I underexposed the scene by a stop in order to capture detail in the still bright surface of the moon.
The most difficult moon to shoot is a full one that’s quite high in the sky at night. The contrast between the almost black background and the very bright moon is simply too much for cameras to handle.
There are a couple of solutions. For this shot I purposely photographed it as soon as it peeped over the horizon. There was still sufficient light in the sky to ensure there wasn’t too much contrast, however I had to underexpose by 1 1/2 stops by using the exposure compensation dial whilst shooting in Aperture Priority mode. Shooting with your camera on Auto will render the moon as a white ball without any detail.
Another way to easily create a well balanced shot is to photograph the moon when it has a very fine layer of cloud over it, as in this shot. Again this helps to balance the exposure and ensures the moon isn’t totally white. Once more, I underexposed by a stop. It can help the composition to have a foreground against which to frame the moon too.
If what you want is a simple shot of the full moon against a black sky you really need to work with your camera on manual exposure otherwise the moon will show as a white circle devoid of any detail.