Photo Tip “Night Images – With the Moon”

A romantic Caribbean night, the moon shining brightly in the sky; illuminating the city at night. Artificial light and the pale light from the moon meet under the street lamps – life looks like a film set. You think to yourself “this needs to be captured”. You have a tripod and remote shutter release at hand and can start capturing the image.

The first few images have been captured but you feel disappointed. Then moon that looked so romantic, like a silver sliver, in reality is not done justice in the image and comes up as a blurred white oval blotch in the image. The image does not emit any romance. What happened? The moon’s bright light is considerably brighter than the scarcely lit street. This results in the moon unnaturally outshining other image sections.

Possible problems if the moon is present in image section

  • Potential outshining due to contrast being too high
  • Potential distortion of the moon due to long periods of exposure and the earth’s rotation

What possibilities are there in these subject situations? For instance, it is considerably easier to capture two separate images, one of the street and one of the moon and then merge the two together using an editing program. The image of the street has to be captured with the moon situated outside of the image. You can adjust exposure in both images to the given lighting conditions and therefore avoid any outshining. Especially in images of the moon you may need to adjust the exposure period (adjust using minus button or achieve exact metering using spot or partial metering modes). Avoid exposure periods that are too long. Otherwise, the earth’s rotation causes a distortion of the moon (possibly increase diaphragm diameter or use high ISO rate).

Another advantage of creating two images is that you can adjust the focal lengths in between capturing both images (e.g. wide angle for the street and a telephoto focal length for the moon). For purists, this may be too close to image manipulation. At this point, I do not wish to enter into a debate about principles in digital image manipulation. Orton slide sandwich or double exposure (see image 2) were already popular in analog photography, as well as other methods of manipulation.

Another possibility for dealing with high subject contrast is HDR photography. Here bracketing is combined with the respective software. One problem that can arise for this technique is the earth’s rotation and the associated moving of the moon in the photos.

In the following example image the moon is a main source of light, but is not visible in the image itself. In this image, the moon was purposely positioned behind the building. This allowed the photographer to adjust the exposure, ensuring that the street was sufficiently exposed all the way to the image’s foreground. The clouds are defined and not overexposed. The position was adjusted multiple times until the overly bright, over-lit areas of clouds were covered by the building.

Technical equipment

  • Tripod
  • Remote shutter release

Settings

  • Mirror lock-up
  • Focal length – 12mm (correlates to 18mm 35mm equivalent focal length)
  • F-number – f/9
  • Exposure period – 30 seconds
  • ISO rate - 100

Cuba – Trinidad - 2008

Cuba – Trinidad - 2008

The following image was captured on reversal film. The image was exposed twice, the harbour view with a wide angle lens (28mm) and the moon with a 200mm focal length. In order to avoid underexposure, both images were captured with exposure compensation (-1). 

Double exposure – Crete – Rethymno Harbour – 2003

Double exposure – Crete – Rethymno Harbour – 2003

In the following image, you can see that the stark difference in contrast resulted from the moon and other areas around the moon being overexposed. In this context, we talk about “blown-out highlights“.

Our moon – Regensburg 2005

Our moon – Regensburg 2005
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