Photographing the Moon

Photographing the Moon


This month we will tackle the most frustratingly beautiful landscape photograph, the moon. When we first attempt to capture a full moon in a landscape photo we quickly learn the limitations of our camera. Using aperture priority mode and evaluative metering or simply pointing your iPhone at a dark moonlit sky results in less than pleasing results. The moon will appear as a white overexposed blob with no details. If you go to manual mode and adjust your camera settings to f/4 ISO 200 with an exposure time of 1/60th of a second or use your touch screen on your iPhone and adjust the exposure for the moon, you will obtain a perfect detailed image of the moon surrounded by total darkness. 

Overexposed Moon Photo - detail in surroundings - f5.6 ISO 400 1/5th second

Moon photo with details but no surroundings - f5.6 ISO 400 1/50th second

Clearly neither of these photos represents what we see with ours eyes, so what is happening with the camera? Do we need to upgrade our gear or find the magical settings that will grab the proper view? The answer is no to both questions, no matter how expensive or sophisticated your lens or camera, a single night time exposure of a moon landscape will never properly represent what we see. The only current workable solution to this problem is to take a minimum of 2 exposures. The moon is always at day time settings, if you were on the moon with your camera in full sunlight your camera exposure times would be short, 1/60th of a second or faster with low ISO settings. At night time the exposure times and ISO settings increase dramatically to capture the shadow details. Unfortunately, no camera in the world at this time can expose for both day time and night time in a single frame.  

Now that we have 2 exposures that each represent a portion of what the human eye sees the next question is what to do with 2 exposures. The solution is to blend the 2 frames together using HDR software such as Photomatix or use Photoshop and layering to merge the 2 frames into a single frame that best represents what we see. The details of these operations is beyond the scope of this email and would require a full blown tutorial or a small book. In the future, I may start offering online tutorials or manuals on how to process complicated landscapes.  At the very least you now have enough information to begin capturing the necessary exposures and as time permits learn how to exposure blend.

I have included 2 moon photos from the full moon of October 24th of 2018.  Both photos utilize the double exposure blend technique to obtain the necessary details in the highlights(moon) and the shadows(tree line). 

Thank You,

Ronald Kotinsky


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