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Light Painting Tutorial For Taking Photos In Moonlight

Learn some tips from David Clapp who has been back out in the landscape light painting in moon light.

|  Landscape and Travel
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A few weeks ago, photographer David Clapp headed back out on to Dartmoor after the sun had well and truly set armed with his camera, a new torch and a friend to try his hand at light painting a landscape scene. Here you can take a look at his final shot and find a few tips on using the light painting technique in moonlight.
Spinster's rock
Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk

Gear Used:

  • Canon 1Dx
  • 14-24mm Lens
  • Torch (SpotON 1150 High Performance Lamp)


When David was out with his camera there was a full moon in the sky that was so strong, it looked a little too strong and as David explains, it can cause a few problems: "The one thing I have learned about shooting in moonlight over the last few years is that just like lunchtime sunshine, the light can be rather 'hard'. The biggest issue when shooting under a full moon is retaining the sense of night and you'll probably find that half moon, moon rise or moonset can be far more flattering on the lunar landscape."

Light levels are a lot higher than you'd expect when shooting at night when there's a full moon so as David points out, 'a well exposed image is going to look like daylight, which is somewhat uninspiring.' You can try underexposing the sky but then the ground doesn't look very interesting which makes the process of shooting when there's a full moon rather challenging.

David wasn't put off by the challenge and with the help of his new moonlight cadet, Rob, set up his gear at Spinster's Rock, Dartmoor and took his first shot: "A straight shot with the Canon 1Dx at ISO800, shooting f/2.8 looked like a summer afternoon. The shot was full of bold greens, a cyan sky and a rather dubious looking white sun."

Rather than lower the ISO, David increased the aperture to stop as much light reaching the camera's sensor and in turn this darkened the sky and increased the depth of field in the shot. However, as David explains, this caused another problem: "The cairn ended up looking somewhat lackluster, so out came the torches so we could create our own light."

For his 'painting' David used a SpotON 1150 High Performance Lamp that's pocketable, comes with a separate power pack and David says it's powerful enough to 'paint' entire cliffs from 1000m away!

"What I love about this in particular is that it has the same white balance as the moon itself. This means you get a complimentary white light instead of the usual yellowy beams which create complicated post processing issues with multiple white balances," explains David.

So, how was the shot finally completed? Well, after a few attempts as side lighting, things were improving but the results weren't quite showing enough drama and a new approach was needed.

"We lined out cameras up and Rob got me into position behind the stones where I span the torch in my hands," explains David. "This created fabulous shadows extending outwards while Rob skillfully painted the stones, without biasing the one at the front."

It took 15 takes which took until after midnight to complete but as you can see from the final shot, the results were worth the effort!

To see more of David Clapp's work, visit his website.

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