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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shoot The Moon

When the sun sets and the rest of the photographers pack up for the night, you can get some of the most stunning and unique images

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Many moonlight shots look like daylight photos with stars. That’s partly because they’re too bright and partly because auto white balance doesn’t understand moonlight. My moonlight histogram is always skewed left and is rarely much use to me. And shooting RAW allows me to adjust the Photoshop WB slider until I find the best color temperature. Generally, shifting the color temperature slider to the left, below 4,000, restores the blue tint that gives the scene a nighttime feel.

As with daytime photography, moonlight images benefit from a strong foreground. But foreground for moonlight shooting is relative—with the limited depth of field of a large aperture, my foreground subjects are generally at infinity and large (no intricate foreground detail in moonlight). Reflective subjects like water or granite work best. Silhouetting trees or other prominent objects against the night sky is also effective. And adding a recognizable constellation to a moonlight image is a great way to make it memorable. The Big Dipper, Cassiopeia and Orion all make wonderful overhead complements for a moonlit earthbound subject.

Another thrilling moonlight element is a “moonbow,” the moonlight version of a rainbow. Unlike the human eye, a camera’s timed exposure capability allows it to accumulate light, revealing the rainbow prism the eye can’t see. To capture a moonbow, position yourself in view of a waterfall when a full moon is low in the sky, with your moon-shadow pointing directly at the waterfall’s mist. Start with exposure settings I suggested earlier and increase until you see the moonbow in your LCD.

Get Focused
Conventional focusing using moonlight ranges from difficult to nearly impossible. There’s rarely enough light for autofocus, and manually focusing is often guesswork. Fortunately, most moonlight scenes are at distances that allow focus at infinity. Infinity focus isn’t as easy as it sounds when the infinity point of your zoom lens changes with the focal length, but it enables a simple focus trick: Compose your shot on a tripod, and without changing the focal length, remove the camera from the tripod (an easy quick-release plate helps here), and autofocus on the moon. When focus is locked, change to manual focus, return the camera to the tripod, and take your shot.

Just Do It
Compared to a typical photography outing, shooting the moon adds a few wrinkles, but with a little research, patience and a capacity for minor discomfort, you can enjoy solitude in even the most photographed locations. Preparation and the right equipment will allow you to enhance any scene with a radiant lunar disk or crescent, or turn a photo that would be cliché by day into a star-studded moonlit landscape. Whether or not you get perfect results, you’ll certainly have a memorable outing and probably return home with lots of ideas for the next time.

Finding Your Way

Unless you stay out until sunrise, you’ll be walking back in the dark. Don’t think simply hiking to your destination by daylight will be enough to enable you to find your way back safely in darkness. Any route looks entirely different in reverse, a problem magnified by darkness, making a simple route by day a maze of shadows at night.

Stay alert on the way to your destination, noting prominent landmarks such as large trees, rocks or anything else that might stand out in the dark. If you know how to use it, a GPS can be a real help, but don’t purchase your GPS in the afternoon and expect to be able to navigate with it in the dark that night. Whenever possible, I try to walk the route to my moonlight location, and back, in advance.

Full-moon light is bright enough that sometimes I don’t need artificial light, but if I’m hiking through a forest, or the moon goes behind clouds or a mountain, too much light is better than not enough. I carry a small (but bright) flashlight and headlamp. I don the headlamp when it gets too dark to view the controls on my camera or locate items in my bag. The flashlight is for the walk back to the car, which when combined with the headlamp, allows me to view the ground at my feet and the trail ahead.

See more of Gary Hart’s work and learn how to enroll in one of his workshops at www.eloquentimages.com.


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