Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Shooting the moon

A friend of mine asked me to write about a few moon photos that appear in one of my Dewey Beach galleries. I'll toss in a couple photos from another gallery and talk a little about them, too. But just know that I have little experience when it comes to photographing the moon.

When I do photograph it oftentimes it's because I want to see how the camera handles the lighting and exposure, and less about being artistic.

Soon after I arrived at Dewey Beach on Thursday evening, another friend there pointed out the moon rising out of the ocean with a few ships crossing on the horizon. So I went out to one of the balconies that faced the beach, set the camera to aperture-priority, the aperture to f/2.8, put a focus point on the moonlit water (because your autofocus needs an edge to focus on), placed the camera on a railing, and fired one shot. This is that first attempt:


Not bad considering it used a shutter speed of 1/8 second at ISO 6400 (as I've said before in an earlier post I'd never consciously use an ISO value that high on my D300). (It looks worse viewed full-size!) I used the default matrix meter setting, which tries to determine what your subject is and, based on that, calculates what the exposure should be. Note the moon (which was nearly full) is way overexposed. In a perfect world, I'd have the camera mounted on a tripod, a cable release to trip the shutter to minimize camera shake, and an viewfinder cover to prevent light from entering the camera through the eyepiece.

As I mentioned above, that picture used aperture-priority exposure mode, mostly because since the subjects in the picture (beach, clouds, ocean, moon) are pretty close to infinity away from me, so I can get away with using a large aperture (f/2.8) to keep the exposure time from getting too long. If you wanted to make it easy, just set your camera to "P" (Program) mode and let the camera figure out the shutter speed and aperture.

On my second try, the moon rose further out from behind the high clouds and became brighter, so the camera picked a shorter shutter speed (1/20 second) while the aperture and the ISO remained the same:


Note that the moonlit water is darker, as is the sky between the horizon and the moon. The moon is still way overexposed but not quite the blob in the first picture.

For the third try, the moon was nearly unobscured by clouds, so the camera shortened the exposure time even more: 1/25 second. Again, the aperture and ISO remained the same:


Just a little bit darker, but now note that the moon looks more like a sphere. This tells you that, if you wanted to photograph the moon only, you'd have to choose a much faster shutter speed to expose it properly than what I used here. But if you intended to include the beach and ocean, all of that would appear darker. Maybe that wasn't your intent.

As a matter of habit I preview the images in the display and adjust my settings accordingly.

Want to see what happens when I let the camera choose everything? I got this:


The camera chose 1/13 second at f/1.8 (wide open on the 50mm lens I was using) at ISO 6400 with -2/3 exposure compensation. Looks okay, but ultimately I had to ask myself: is this the picture I wanted and saw in my mind.

Here's another picture I took of a moonlit scene (this was taken at Academy Bay, Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos) because I wanted to see what I'd get:


This was in Program mode and matrix-metered using the 18-200mm zoom lens: 1/2 second at f/3.5 at ISO 1000 on our boat, Flamingo I, on which we spent eight days exploring the Galapagos. Again, it looks better this size than full-size.

One last thing: here's what you can get if you spot-meter the moon with a focus point:

Full moon

In the D600 the spot meter measures the light within a 4mm circle centered on whatever focus point you're using. If I had used matrix-metering here I'm faily sure that the moon would be somewhat overexposed because it would measure the moon's light as well as the area surrounding it. So instead I put a focus point on the moon and opted to spot-meter it, knowing that I would get a faster shutter speed because the spot meter would measure just the moon's light. As a result, the moon is more properly exposed here. (And it did help that I used my Nikon 300mm f/4 telephoto to get a bigger image.)

The next time you get a chance to photograph the moonlit landscape or seascape, just try and take a few pictures and see what you get. Preview your images and adjust accordingly. Have fun!

1 comment:

  1. I think you got some fantastic effects! I don't often get the opportunity to photograph anything that cool since we're landlocked here. lol Those moon over the water shots are fabulous!