One of the things that used to frustrate me about nature photography was that whenever a picture included the moon, it was always washed out. To me, having the moon in a landscape adds interest and balance to the composition. Ironically, many people think you added the moon in a computer when it is properly exposed in your image.
While you can just show up anytime and hope for the best, for optimum results plan in advance to shoot images of the moon with a little knowledge beforehand. Look up the moon phase on your computer or smart phone, there is an app for that. You may have noticed that you can see the moon in the sky during daylight hours. This only happens during certain parts of the year. Sometimes it’s in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. Furthermore, with programs like Google Earth, you can determine the path of the moon and the sun in the landscape. This helps you to determine the location and the time that will give you the best chance at getting the shot.
I’m often asked what settings I use in the camera to do this. The answer is the same settings I use for the landscape. The trick to making this easier is changing your thinking about a picture of the moon. It’s easy to think that you have to expose for the moon and that it’s complicated. However, the solution is to shoot the moon in the landscape when they are both in the same light. Notice in the images included that the same value of light is falling on the landscape, rocks and the moon. When this is happening, I shoot several images in various compositions.
The time of day is key because there is a limited time that both the landscape and the moon will be close together in exposure value. It’s best to show up an hour before you think will be the right time for insurance. This is where homework on the computer saves time and enables better results. As you move further away from this key time window, the exposure becomes more about the moon and less about the landscape limiting the types of images you can create. That doesn’t mean you have to quit shooting, you just have to change your exposure if you want detail in the moon instead of a bright blob. I have found that after the key time window has closed, changing my plan to silhouettes in the foreground with a properly exposed moon creates compelling images.
This is where photography can be more difficult to understand and knowledge of how your camera obtains exposure readings can be a plus. Using full or whole screen metering will result in an over-exposed moon because your camera is considering more of the landscape for the exposure and less of the moon. Using spot metering on the moon can be difficult because it’s challenging to put the spot meter on the moon and even when you can, you usually still have to compensate for over or under exposure of the moon. Therefore, while there are several ways to arrive in the same place with a camera, I have found that using center-weighted metering in combination with over/under exposure compensation quickly gets me the images I’m after. I take the first shot like a Polaroid and analyze it. Then I over or under compensate to dial in the exposure of the moon. Once I have it dialed in, I shoot several images in various compositions.
For best results, I use a tripod. If reflections in water are in the image, I use a hot-shoe bubble level to level the camera. A hot-shoe bubble level is better than a bubble level on the tripod for landscape photography because it can be used to level the camera no matter how the tripod is positioned. If you don’t own a cable release or a remote yet, use your cameras self-timer to release the shutter. Use a circular polarizer to remove any unwanted reflection from the scene.
These images were taken in the South Platte River area of Colorado using a Tamron 18-270mm VC PZD lens. This is a great place to photograph during the winter months and it is close to Denver. From a pebble to as big as a stadium, the size and the quantity of rocks in this area will amaze you. With over 310 days of sunshine every year, it seems the sky is always blue around here.