Shoot by moonlight

If you restrict your photography to the hours between dawn and dusk, it’s fair to say you are missing out on a heavenly and unforgettable experience

WITH digital technology recently taking such incredible steps in dynamic range and ISO performance, there has never been a better a time to try out the fabulous photographic experience of night-time shoots. All modern DSLRs, from cropped-sensor consumer to full-frame professional models, are capable of capturing the moonlight to an enviable standard. It is all down to dynamic range, which has increased significantly as sensor technology has developed. It’s all very well for a camera to boast high ISO settings, but the dynamic range needs to be consistent as the ISO increases. Thankfully, most cameras are now capable of superb lunar images up to ISO 1600 and sometimes even higher

So where do you shoot? It’s better to get as far away as possible from street lighting and head out into the countryside. National parks, mountainous regions like Scotland or even the Lake District are ideal venues.

The moonlit landscape requires flattening lighting angles, similar to a sunrise or sunset. The intensity of moonlight is far less than that of the sue so don’t expect to shoot at moon rise or moon set unless your intention is to position the moon within the landscape. An hour or two before or after is best and will provide flattering shadows and complementary lighting angles.

LENSES

As far as your choice of optics goes, a good rule of thumb for shooting under a full moon is to choose a wideangle lens and set the camera to manual mode, 30secs at f/4 and ISO 800. Although there are some excellent shots that incorporate both moonlight and star trails, keeping shutter speeds below 30secs will reduce the appearance of star trails to very small lines. Before you start looking for expensive f/1 4 glass, consider that your camera bag will already contain suitable lenses for a trial run, and you may be surprised at how good the results can be. Lenses designed for full frame are actually very good for moonlight when used on an APS-C-format camera, as they only use the centre of the lens to form the image, which means better sharpness at wide apertures. Prime lenses also help considerably I fewer glass elements) and there are is wider range of quality lenses that work remarkably well. If you want to try a brighter f/1.4 optic or similar, consider an older prime lens like Nikon’s Nikkor Al-S series, which can be adapted to fit other oodies. Focusing is simple Most modem DSLRs feature live view, so engage this mode if you have it and turn the focusing ring with the camera pointed at a bright star or the moon to attain critical shanness. Set the camera’s colour balance to a custom temperature like 3,500K, which produces a fairly balanced image, bordering on the cool side. This will create neutral-looking images that will motivate and inspire your creativity.

Use a cable release and engage mirror lock-up, which is a central landscape tool that comes in very handy under the night sky. By raising the mirror 2secs before exposure, or when tie cable release is pressed, it helps to avoid camera shake.

COMPOSITION

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to compose and frame images under moonlight. As your eyes get used to the soft white light, composing in the canera’s viewfinder won’t require any other lighit source. Be prepared to refine the compositions based on what the viewfinder reveal, examining the image at 100% when in live view and checking sharpness of stars and land accordingly. When using a tripod, it’s best to work with the camera at head height This elevated viewpoint will reduce the likelihood of an out-of-focus foreground. The trade-off with using a wide aperture is less depth of field, but you will be surprised how much there is available when using a wideangle lens.

If you’re lucky, you may even be able to photograph a lunar corona. This wonderful phenomenon is a visible ring around the moon, caused by the refraction of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. It is more common in winter skies than in summer, and is actually harder to photograph than it seems. The ring is often incomplete, but when a full ring occurs there is simply no greater spectacle.

RAISE THE ISO

You may find that you get more consistent exposures by raising the ISO to 1600 or even 3200. If your camera can produce quality results at these high ISO settings, it will be possible to shoot at half-moon, when the moonlight is less intense. It’s not only a great idea to practise your compositions, but also to test your camera’s quality. Take test shots and see how far the camera will go. Use a reasonable amount of noise reduction in your raw converter, then examine the sky to see how much can be applied before it renders an over processed, ‘plasticky’ look. Finally, examine the lunar calendar and plan your shooting in advance. Although the thought of wandering alone in a remote location seems like madness to some, it’s surprising how exciting it can be. If you think about it, there’s more chance of an incident in our cities than out in the countryside. Take a photography friend and enjoy the excitement together With the camera revealing a world unseen, there’s so much to enjoy and discover — and it will change your photography for ever!

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