To the Moon and Back

The moon is often visible in the sky well before sunset. The combination of the moon with sunlit landscapes, evening hues and deep shadows usually make spectacular photographs. Photograph/Robert Meij

The moon is often visible in the sky well before sunset. The combination of the moon with sunlit landscapes, evening hues and deep shadows usually make spectacular photographs. Photograph/Robert Meij

The timeless beauty and ever-changing charisma of the moon can be wonderfully framed through the lens. Ketan Kundargi tells you how.

This article was originally published in November 2010.

Every night, we witness the splendour of the moon. With its effervescent phases, the moon paints a different story each night. Considered to be the epitome of beauty, a sea of calmness, an eternal symbol of love and much more, the moon is an ideal subject for photography. Here are a few ways to capture the magic of the moon.

A Relatively Bright Companion
After the sun, the moon is the brightest object in the sky. We perceive it as bright because the sky is comparatively dark. It is easy for the in-camera light meter to be fooled by the darker areas around the moon, causing the camera to overexpose, turning the moon into a white blob. Using the spot meter reading helps. But again, it may underexpose the moon, turning rest of the scene almost black. Thus, the basic ground rules are to set the exposure manually, use lower ISO for details, shoot in RAW if possible, use a tripod to avoid camera shake and bracket the exposure.

The amount of sunlight falling on the moon and on the earth on a bright, sunny day is the same! It may sound surprising, but on a clear day, the exposure for the moon high in the sky is almost same as that of a landscape of a desert at noon. However, you need to take into account atmospheric conditions, clouds, the position of the moon, its phases, and the surrounding environment. With a digital camera, the easiest way to get the right exposure is to underexpose from the metered reading, until the details show.

Controlling The Size Of The Moon!
Although the size and the distance of the moon from the Earth cannot be changed, you can vary the apparent distance in your photographs, depending on the time you shoot and the focal length you use. All you need to know is the timing of moonrise. At moonrise, the atmosphere makes the moon look much bigger, but less bright. It is also often hued a pale yellow or even red. Over time, the moon moves higher up in the sky and seems to diminish in size. But it gets brighter, especially in contrast to darker night skies.

If you use a longer focal length to photograph the moon in relation to its surroundings, objects appear closer together, making the moon appear disproportionately larger. Conversely, a shorter focal length makes the moon appear smaller and more distant from any foreground element.

Unlimited Opportunities
There are many ways in which you can photograph the moon. You could fill the frame with the moon and capture its details. Or you could include a landscape. You could capture silhouettes. Perhaps, you could try shooting reflections of the moon in water bodies, or photograph the moon through the trees in a dense forest. The artificial lights of cities can combine well with the moon. The possibilities are only limited by your observation and sense of composition.

Using The Magic Hour
Capture the moon in all its elegance during twilight or just before sunset. During this hour, there is enough ambient light to capture both the moon and the landscape. The changing colours of the sky—oranges and indigos at twilight —can add drama to your frame . Remember though, that the time for moonrise its position is not fixed. Refer to daily reports to figure out the right time for a particular day.

When the difference in illumination between the moon and the landscape is too much for the camera to handle, you will end up compromising some details. In such situations, take individual meter readings of the moon and the landscape and calculate an exposure that balances between the two. Alternatively, you could also try combining several frames with different exposures to get a high dynamic range (HDR) photograph.

Capturing The Elusive Blue Moon
From a bright silvery appearance, to a dull yellow, a subdued red and even the rare blue moon, the moon can take on many colours. The colours are the result of atmospheric dust, smoke and other particles, which causes some colours to be reflected more than the others. These hues can lend mood and mystery to your photographs.

Just Another Passing Phase
Apart from colour, as the moon circles the Earth, its shape also appears to change even as different amounts of the illuminated part of the moon face us. From a full moon (an entire circle in the sky), gibbous moon (between full and half moon), half moon (also called a quarter moon) and the crescent moon, it comes to the point of a new moon (where the moon is not visible). We often think of shooting the full moon, but each of these phases are also beautiful. The three-dimensionality of the moon changes with each phase. Use these changes to create a wonderful series of photographs on the moon.

The moon brings out our deepest emotions. Religions across the world have worshipped the moon as a form of supernatural force. Be it the crescent of the Eid-ka-Chand or the Chinese Moon Cake Festival held on a full moon night, the sentiments of people from various faiths are linked to the moon. If you are fascinated by the moon, it can be one of the most profound subject for photography you have ever come across.

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Tags: Shooting Technique, Better Pictures, Composition, night, moon, November 2010, ketan kundargi