Night Photography: Photographing The Moon In The Landscape
Photographers have been trying to utilize the light of the moon in their landscape photography ever since the photographic process was invented. It was not until World War II, however, that technology had improved enough to make night photography possible.
Today, despite technological advances, knowing the phase of the moon during a nighttime photography shoot is important as it will affect everything from the type of equipment that you’ll need to the actual composition of your photos.
When embarking on a night photography trip, there are standard types of equipment that you will need to take with you.
- A 35mm camera that will allow you to manually set very long exposure times is a must
- A good, sturdy tripod is mandatory
- A cable release
- A good carrying case or a vest with a lot of pockets for your equipment
- Extra batteries for your camera
- Many rolls of slow or medium film (60 or 100 ISA—NEVER use 400 ISA even if it’s what happens to be in your camera. Your photos will turn out much too grainy to be useful).
- Lenses with which you are already comfortable
- A stopwatch rather than a wristwatch to record exposure lengths is preferable. Stopwatches are more accurate and will give you more reliable information for future moon photography shoots.
- A notebook and several pens for recording exposure times and other important information
- A flashlight so that you can easily record your information
Remember that if this is your first attempt at night photography by moonlight, you will largely spend your time experimenting. The resulting photographs and your records will help you plan your next venture more effectively.
The best times for landscape photography without additional light sources, or looking at it in a different manner, away from city lights, is either when the moon is full, the two days before the full moon and the two days after the full moon. Any clouds in the sky will also affect the amount of light available for your night photography, just as they would if you were shooting during the day.
You will have to experiment with your exposure times as so many elements will affect the outcome. The degree of available moonlight; any other light sources; clouds; rain; light reflective surfaces; each of them can make a huge difference to the amount of exposure time needed.
In general, during night photography, one can say that on a night of full moon, with optimum conditions, 8 seconds at f/8 using ISO 100 film will be about right. If there’s a crescent moon and conditions are also optimal, you’ll need as much as 10 hours on one shot! So you see, experimentation while photographing the moon is really the only way to go.
Repeat your shots with different exposure lengths so that you can get a feel for what your camera will do for you.
A very nice composition for a moonscape might include the moon with beams bouncing off of a river, stream or creek.
As the moon moves through its different phases, you can still enjoy landscape photography at night although you may have to bring some “extras” and move locations.
Different moonscape compositions to experiment with during your moonlight photography shoot include:
- A waxing crescent, or a small portion of the moon, hanging in the sky over sparkling city lights.
- Bring a flash or a flash unit to your moon photography shoot in order to illuminate an abandoned house, use colored gels to get different color effects and have a muted last quarter moon lurking in the background.
- As the moon goes from full to new, you can play with light effects from the stars or allow car lights to streak through your composition.
When photographing the moon, be sure to record not only the length of time that you exposed your film, but also general weather conditions and what phase the moon was in. This will help you to produce better photos in the future.
Night photography becomes easier when you’re able to plan properly so knowing how much natural light is likely to be available will help you pick the right time to go out and what kind of equipment to take.
Nighttime landscape photography is a creative, rewarding challenge that every keen photographer should try.