Full moon on a clear night can create some beautiful and subtle details in the landscape. The moon is a gorgeous subject, but night photography that includes exquisite details in the moon as well as in the foreground can be tough. 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? Or that foreground is completely black?
Night photography like the one that you see above is possible and can be hauntingly beautiful. But these landscape photos were created using two different techniques. The image from Glacier National Park is a composite image where the moon and the foreground were photography using two separate exposure and lenses. The second image from Death Valley National Park was captured using a single camera exposure using a telephoto lens. Lets take a close look at both of these techniques.
#1: Composite Night Photography Technique
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.
#2: Single Camera Exposure Technique
If composite imagery isn’t your thing – I have good news for you. It is possible to capture both the moon and foreground in a single camera exposure. The trick is to photography the moon 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 or a single exposure image like the one from Sand Beach in Hawaii, 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!