Photography by Moonlight

The moon shines though fast-moving clouds on a January night. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

The moon shines though fast-moving clouds on a January night. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Who says you have to quit shooting when the sun goes down? Below are some tips for exciting photography AFTER the sun is long gone. Let’s call it ‘moonlit shooting.’

My photography has lately been gravitating toward quiet, still, dreamy images. I really don’t know what this means and in fact, I don’t want to think about it too much. ‘Paralysis by analysis’ might set in, never a good thing for any working artist. I just know that the images I’m most excited about are turning out to be the serene ones.

Part of this has turned out to be night photography. Not strobe-lit or under-the-lights sporting stuff. Really out in the night. And that’s led me to a new discovery: this great web site that calculates the rising and setting of both the sun and the moon. I’ve been using the moon calculator, combined with a close watch of weather patterns, to pick some nights to go out and try to shoot. The images shown here below were made on a cloudy night will a mostly-full moon.  Atmospheric frontal boundaries pushing through seem to be good for this.

Lakefront lampost by moonlight. 16-35 f2.8 Canon zoom @ 35mm, ISO 200, f5.6 @ 2'30". (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Lakefront lampost by moonlight. 16-35 f2.8 Canon zoom @ 35mm, ISO 200, f5.6 @ 2'30". (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

You’ll of course need your tripod. I’ve also recently purchased a modern-day cable release for my Canons—gone are the days of the metal cable with locking plunger. Rather than fork over the $150+ that Canon wants for their official version, check around elsewhere. I picked up my model for about $25 and it seems to do exactly the same job as the pricier one.

The exposures can be long—really, really long. I find I’m shooting a lot of these images at ISO 50-200, f8 or so, 2 to 3 minutes on ‘bulb’ setting. Remember, every time you close the aperture down a stop, say from f8 to fll—you have to DOUBLE the exposure time.

Moonlit arbor, Lake Pontchartrain. Canon 16-35mm zoom @ 23mm, ISO 200, f5.6 @ 3 minutes. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Moonlit arbor, Lake Pontchartrain. Canon 16-35mm zoom @ 23mm, ISO 200, f5.6 @ 3 minutes. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Patience is probably the most important quality for this type of work…that and a warm jacket, at least this time of year! You’ll find you have lots of time to think about your next image as you wait for the current exposure to finish. It has slowed me down in a good way.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

6 Comments on "Photography by Moonlight"

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  1. Mark Nicol says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Great shots here. It’s a technique I really look forward to trying. Do you somehow calculate an exposure or do you just start each time somewhere within the settings you gave and then make adjustment based on the histogram?

  2. Good question Mark. One way to start is to crank your ISO way up, take a meter reading, then crank it back down, raise the aperture and do the math. Remember: doubling/halfing the ISO is always one stop, same with the aperture. So you can come up with a decent starting point and then shoot around that time setting (more or less depending upon how your first exposure comes out).

  3. Brock Lanson says:

    Thank you for the link to the moon rise calculator. My next project is to get a good shot of the full moon rising over the Catalina Mountains. Timing is critical. By the time I see the moon start to peak over the mountains and I get set up, its over!

  4. The calculator will help but you’ll still need some luck, too!

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