The moon is a gorgeous subject, but it can be tough to photograph the moon. Have you ever photographed the moon, only to discover that it is so bright in your photograph that it appears as a small, bright spot? I took the shot below at The Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley National Park. A brilliant, harvest moon hung over the mountains… but my unedited photograph doesn’t show it. To capture the image I wanted, I used a “double-exposure” or blending technique. With my camera on my tripod, I took one exposure for the foreground, mountains, and sky. The scene was evenly exposed, except for the moon – so with the help of my tripod for a 30-second exposure, it was an easy shot. I used a 24mm focal length to capture the scene in the image below.
When I had the landscape shot I wanted, I prepared my setup to capture a photo of the moon. I changed lenses – choosing a 300mm focal length so I could zoom in and capture the details in the moon. In the shot below, you can see that the moon is properly exposed – but the sky is completely black, rather than the deep blue it was in reality.
In Photoshop, I combined the two images for a finished “composite” shot. Of course, the blended image isn’t entirely true to the reality of the scene – but neither was the original, unedited image. My finished composite captures the feeling of that huge, golden moon over the bizarre desert landscape.
If composite imagery isn’t your thing – I have good news for you. It is possible to capture both the moon and the landscape in a single image. The trick is to capture the scene at twilight. When the light is low, you can capture the moon and the foreground with a single exposure – without blowing out the moon or leaving the landscape pitch dark.
I took this shot at Sandy Beach on Oahu just after the sun had set, but while there was still some beautiful residual light on the scene.
Here are a few useful tips that I used to photography the moon in the above photo.
- I used a tripod to hold my camera steady. A 1/5 sec shutter speed let me blur my moving subjects in the foreground for a bit of motion without blurring the moon.
- I took a couple of test shots to make sure I had the focus I wanted both in the foreground and in the sky. I zoomed in to check the photo on the back of my camera to be sure the details in the moon were sharp.
- I stood well back from my foreground and used a long lens – 70-200mm with a 1.4x extender let me choose a 300mm focal length – which allowed me to zoom in to show the large size of the moon as it rose. A wide angle lens will leave you with a tiny, little moon that gets lost in the frame.
- Pay attention to the phases of the moon when you are planning your trips. We often plan our travels around the full moon, so we can capture it in all it’s glory if the weather cooperates.
Whether you choose to create a composite shot – like the one below – or a single exposure image like the one from Zabriskie Point at the top of this post, the moon is a beautiful subject. Do have any more tips for shooting the moon? Please share them in the comments so that others can learn! And then, get out there and shoot the moon, everyone!