How to create an HDR moon composite using Photoshop

May 29, 2023

This spectacular image depicting the crescent moon moving through space is one of the most challenging I’ve ever created. Here’s a quick guide to how I did it, and how you can capture a similar shot yourself.


Hundreds of images of the moon were captured at 600mm, f/6.3, and a variety of exposure times ranging from 1/20s to 1/200s, and ISO values from 200 to 12800.

Atomium - Brussels, Belgium


First, I grouped together frames with matching settings and stacked using software called Autostakkert ( to reduce noise.

  • 9 frames at 1/100s, ISO 320
  • 9 frames at 1/100s, ISO 2000
  • 9 frames at 1/20s, ISO 2500
  • 9 frames at 1/40s, ISO 2500
  • 9 frames at 1/100s, ISO 6400
  • 9 frames at 1/20s, ISO 6400
  • 18 frames at 1/30s, ISO 12800
  • 36 frames at 1/80s, ISO 12800

Secondly, I put those stacks together in Photoshop using luminosity masking to create a single composite image. (Easier said than done!)

Restoring shadow detail

I’ve now pulled as much detail as I can from the earthshine but still lacking some definition. I carefully overlaid and masked one of my prior full moon images, also captured at 600mm, at 50% opacity. (Note: the alignment is not perfect to a trained eye but very close.) 

Berlaymont - Brussels, Belgium


Restoring some natural looking glow was the easiest part of the process. For this I used the stack of images captured at 1/20 seconds and ISO 12800, then overlaid the moon above and adjusted the global contrast.

Golden hour viewed from the Space Needle

Adding the star trails

Capturing star trails at 600mm was a step too far for my gear. At this focal length it was hard to get a clean trail even with stabilisation, a sturdy tripod and a relatively windless night. Instead I opted for 75mm and cropped heavily to roughly match a 600mm frame.

Golden hour viewed from the Space Needle


The star trails were captured at 75mm, f/3.5 ISO 800 and 10 second exposures for a total of 272 frames, so around 45 minutes of exposure time.

Compositing with the existing elements and elevating the shadows brings me very close to a completed image.

Finishing touches

Finally adding some vibrance, glow, colour correction, structure and contrast using
Luminar Neo to complete the image.

Golden hour viewed from the Space Needle
If you like this you may also wish to check out my work on Instagram: and PhotoHound