Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shooting with the moon

Sometime ago, I wrote an article on “Shooting the Moon”. That article talked about photographing the moon as the sole subject. Actually shooting the moon alone is pretty simple – as simple as setting the shutter speed and using the proper zoom! After I published that article, I got a lot of queries from people asking for picture of scene with moon it in. They also wanted to know how to do it.

Although it looks pretty simple at first – it is not so.

This article will talk about how to shoot a scene with moon in it – as you will see this is a completely different proposition than shooting the moon.

There are 2 problems

Problem #1: Its almost impossible to get moon and the scene in the same lighting condition. Moon is almost always bright and the scene around is almost always dark. So if you have long exposure then you run the risk of sacrificing the details on the moon and it appears as smudgy white blob. If you have the moon clear then the scene around appears totally dark.

Problem #2: This is the problem of proportion. As we all know, moon is a lot farther than all objects around you. So when you look at the scene with moon in it through your lens, it will appear tiny – although the same scene appears ok when seen with naked eye. This is because when you see the moon through naked eyes, information  is actually processed by your brain. The brain’s algorithm takes into consideration the nearness of the scene around and the farness of the moon and presents a picture which is perfect. So it is not really WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get). But when you see it through the lens, this additional processing is not there. So you get a tiny moon in the scene.

Both these problems are clearly visible in the picture shot below.


Can we solve Problem#1?Its almost impossible to get a perfect exposure with the landscape properly illuminated and moon in detail. So using the conventional photographic techniques - Answer is NO!

And what about Problem#2? You may think that using a telephoto instead of a wide angle lens would solve the issue, however if you do that then most likely the scene around would no longer be in the field of view and you are still left with problem#1 anyway!

What is the solution then?

There are 2 solutions

  1. Multiple Exposure – Taking 2 or more exposures on the same film or the same image.  One exposure will be of the moon and second will be of the landscape (or vice-versa), without advancing the film (film SLR) or using the multiple exposure setting (using DSLR). Note – All DSLRs do not have multiple exposure setting. Olympus E-30 has and a neat one too. It is pretty handy if you want to do some cool stuff with multiple exposure.
  2. Superimposition or Composite photograph – Combining 2 photographs to get one picture. You would need a decently sophisticated photo editing software like Photoshop CS3/CS4 or cheaper Photoshop Elements.

In the digital world the second option is cheaper and lot easier than the first because the first option needs you to be spot with both your exposures. With multiple exposure you have very little idea of where exactly you should place the second exposure (especially on a film camera). Today’s modern DLSRs allow easy multiple exposure. Olympus E-30 for example allows you to have the image exposed more than once and it also provides a handy overlay which tells you where your previous exposure was in the image.

However, I prefer the second method. If you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements then 2nd option is a breeze.

Here is the picture using composite technique. Clearly much better than then the one above! :-) You can give dramatic effects by varying the size and shape of the moon.



Great thing about the composite technique  is that, you don't even have to shoot the moon and the scene on the same day or same night!

Here is another example. I shot the below 2 pictures of Moon and the Church separately.


VOILA!! Here is the composite of the 2 pictures above. I might write the technical details on how I did this sometime.


Take care….

– In some instance, you may be able to get a decent picture of both moon and the landscape. The best time for this is the early morning moon. This is the time when both moon and the landscape are illuminated by the sun almost with same lighting. This should give you a proper exposure. But this would mean being at the right time at the right place and on the right day. For most of us, its just too much! :-)