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Shooting the Full Moon

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Hello friends

I hope you are all good today and finding your life in a content place.  

This Friday is another full moon and I am preparing to do another shoot up in the mountains here in Spain. As you may already know I love to shoot in the moonlight.  It is not just the wonderful light and locations, but the feelings I get from being out on an adventure either solo or with a friend.  I love convincing my non-photographer friends to come alone and share the experience – they are always blown away by the tranquility and beauty of the moment, many decide then that they should have brought a camera.  And those that are photographers have an unforgettable experience

My first forays into full moon shooting began when I first arrived here in Spain

I was first inspired by the first weeks living here. I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. There was a window that overlooked the sea and high above it was a full moon (I was not aware of this one!). The moon was stunning but it was the reflection on the sea that inspired me at that moment to get dressed and go down to the beach to capture the scene at 3am. I was not disappointed.

full moon photography
240sec@f/11 ISO 50
full moon photography
15sec @f/5.0 ISO 800

I think when photographers think of shooting the moon they think of literally capturing the moon in the image with all its glorious detail of shadows, light and craters. The problem with this approach is the full moon is a daylight exposure (the moon is luminated just as a sunny day is) and this exposure requires that anything not near this exposure value will be severely underexposed. This is easy enough to fix with a large exposure bracket and some Photoshop, but I want something a lot more holistic. I want it to be about the light and not the material moon. After all, I am drawn out there by the moonlight.

So for a more creative outcome I do not include the moon in a lot of my full moon images and when I do the moon has no detail and is blurry and overexposed, which I like (looks more like a giant star than a small orbiting ball of rock).

full moon photography
10sec@f/4.5 ISO 125

How the moon actually turns out in the image has a lot to do with exposure time and haze in the atmosphere – the more hazy, the more blurry it becomes.

I still have other images in my head under a full moon for locations around my area involving the sea but the opportunity has not yet arrived to make it happen. There is, after all, just one chance per month!  Instead I have been exploring the many ruins around and finding it to be much more satisfying to me personally than the sea imagery.  These ruins are almost the opposite of the sea and moon photo in terms of feel; the sea and moon are tranquil, transcending and evocative. What the ruins photos bring are feelings of mystery and abandonment and fantasy (fantasy being the dying dystopian feelings).

full moon photography
60sec@f/10 ISO800
full moon photography
30sec@f/6.3 ISO125

There is something about the ruined architecture that really evokes a sense of time.  There has not been one occasion where I am shooting in a ruin and not wondering how long it has been there and what it was like when it was loved and occupied.

full moon photography
120sec@f/14 ISO200

The ruins also depart from the sea in terms of the graphic nature of the buildings when revealed under moonlight; shadows are their blackest and the angles create large shapes to work with and examine.

WHAT TO BRING

All you need is a good sturdy tripod and some kit to help you in the low light.

 I would recommend you at least bring the following:

  • a torch for walking and focusing the image
  • warm clothing
  • gloves and scarf and hat (all optional)
  • an intervalometer (remote timer)
  • a tripod
  • the Photopills app (not needed on location, usually, but essential for prepping the shoot)
  • water and snacks

Also, a good pair of ankle supporting boots is nice to have. There can be many stumbles in the dark.  

Moonlight is actually quite bright if you give your eyes time to adjust to it. This takes me around 20 minutes for my eyes to become catlike!

TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING IN MOONLIGHT

There is not a lot of technical skill needed to create these types of images.  The exposures can be long or short depending on the ISO being used. 

My advice is to prioritise aperture to whatever you are shooting (landscape, detail, etc) and let the shutter speed adjust the exposure. And you most likely will want results with a low ISO for greater detail. You will be amazed by what a camera can pick up in moonlight: colours and textures that you cannot see will be resolved easily by the camera.

Also, make sure you know how to setup your camera and timer to do exposures over 30 seconds. I find a lot of people do not know how to do this so be sure to learn this before you get on location.

Your exposure should always be on the dark side as you don’t want to sacrifice ambience for detail. It is, after all, about a mood you are trying to capture. So an EV of -1 to -1.5 is perfect for most situations.

The most difficult thing you will discover is focusing.  Rarely do I put the focus on the moon.  I will more likely focus on the foreground or ⅓ into the image using an aperture of f/11-16 for great depth of field. If you are going to focus on the foreground then the torch can be really helpful in illuminating it for easier focusing.

That’s it really.  I find I prefer longer exposures if there are clouds.  Creating wispy clouds in moonlight is surreal!

full moon photography
118sec@f/14 ISO640
full moon photography
60sec@f/13 ISO400

This Friday is another full moon. I will use my Photopills app to find the elevation of the moon and be sure to start shooting then. I like an elevation between 40 to 60 degrees.  This makes for great shadowed angles and interesting shapes.

full moon photography
This is Photopills

SCOUTING

It is a great idea to do beforehand. It makes it much easier when you scout with full light.  You can compose your shots and get used to the terrain in advance. Also, familiarity with a location makes it more comfortable when it is dark.

This is my location for this coming Friday.  I found this place last month on my Spain workshop. It will have a completely spooky feel as my intention is to photograph the interiors of the ruins.

full moon photography
This building above has a big hole in the roof and I am imagining moonlight pouring into it.

It is also critical that you check the weather. If there is heavy cloud cover your moonlight shots will not work. But again, 50 percent cloud coverage I find amazing. With a partly cloudy sky and the moon obscured you can make longer exposures and get the nice wispy clouds, then when the moon is revealed again (assuming the clouds are moving) you can go back to capturing the light in all its glory.

I hope you found this post helpful and it is motivating you to go out and experience what it is like to be under a full moon prepared to create amazing photos.

If you have any comments or want to know something particular about shooting in moonlight just reply to this post and I will answer your questions.

Happy shooting

Anthony

Anthony

Website admin -Owner of Anthony Epes photography and Cities at dawn website