Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Shoot the moon

Earth’s companion in the night sky has inspired dreamers and poets since time immemorial. It also makes for great photos. Here are a few tips for shooting the moon.

The correct exposure for the moon high in the sky follows the “Sunny 16” rule – Shoot at f16 and use a shutter speed closest to the inverse of the ISO of your film or camera setting. If using 100 ISO, then your shutter speed should be as close as possible to 1/100 of a second – in most cases, 1/125. Follow the same scenario for 200 ISO, 400 ISO, etc.

When the moon is visible during daylight hours, Sunny 16 works like a charm. Both the moon and earthly foreground objects will be in harmony as far as exposure is concerned. It gets trickier when shooting in twilight or darkness and you wish to also capture some foreground detail. Properly exposing the foreground will blow out the moon. Conversely, properly exposing the moon will make your foreground too dark.

Some options:

A. Pick a foreground object that offers an interesting silhouette and forget about capturing details (top image). Use the Sunny 16 rule to determine your exposure, then bracket one stop up and down for safety. Try to shoot within a half hour or forty five minutes after sunset when the sky is a deep indigo color.

B. Concentrate on the foreground and forget about details in the moon (second image). This exposure was 180 seconds at f5.6. It blew out the moon, but given the interest in the rest of the photo, is not that a big deal.

C. Shoot the full moon as soon as it comes up as possible. It will not yet have reached full light power and you can get away with a longer exposure. You have about 10 to 15 minutes after the moon appears above the horizon before it becomes too bright to capture this way. Use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the moon and sky while keeping the foreground light enough to register (third image). A two-stop grad ND filter kept the detail in the moon while allowing for a long enough exposure (about 20 seconds) to catch the motion of waves among the rotted pilings. Keep in mind that the moon is a moving object. Too long of an exposure (more than 30 seconds) will render it as an elongated object, not round.

D. Make a blended image using two or more exposures and combine them in Photoshop. The lighthouse photo (fourth image) was comprised of three exposures – one for the moon (using Sunny 16), one for the lighthouse tower (20 seconds) and one for the light in the lantern room (5 seconds). Sometimes there is just no other way to capture an image.

Of course, you need a sturdy tripod, camera with a bulb exposure setting and a locking cable release.

Take the Nike approach to shooting moon photos – just do it. Note the results, then make adjustments and learn as you go. Have fun!

Click on photos to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

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Blogger Miss Trashahassee said...

I've always wondered how to get those good moon shots. I'm bookmarking this page.

April 10, 2007 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Rik said...

some great tips here...after a couple of less than stellar (pun completely intended, of course) attempts at shooting the moon, these will likely come in quite handy next time around. thanks!

April 13, 2007 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Just a note too that when placing the moon into another shot with the light of the sun also present, the lighted side (or crescent) of the moon will always be facing the sun whether above or below the horizon. Basic astronomy 101. It's a moon-add giveaway to notice in some shots that it is lighted from the wrong direction. Of course reality is NOT always as important as effect!

September 9, 2007 at 7:39 AM  

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