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Moonlight Photography Tips

Use the reflective light from the moon in your imagery.

|  Landscape and Travel
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It might be a quarter of a million miles away, but our moon is a pretty capable reflector of the sun's rays – at least it is during a full moon (which if it's clear you should see this evening). On a clear night, moonlight is strong enough to cast shadows and it is definitely worth having a go shooting scenes with it.

In this example, we are talking about shooting by its reflected light rather than direct shots of the moon's disk. In the latter instance, quite short exposures like those you would use in daylight need to be used if you want detail in the moon's disk. Remember, the moon receives roughly the same amount of light as we do here on earth.

Moonlight photography
Photo by David Clapp -


A DSLR, such as Nikon's D4, with whatever lenses you favour is essential. The B (bulb) setting will come in handy and you will need a lockable remote release to keep the shutter open, although a camera which has shutter speeds of around 30 seconds will also be fine if your model doesn't have a bulb mode. You can count 'one elephant, two elephants etc.' to time your long exposures but you are better off using a stopwatch for more accurate and repeatable timing. Some cameras and top-end remote releases let you set timed B exposures and that makes life easier.
Nikon D4
Every DSLR has integral noise reduction of some sort, but it might not be worth using. Try it on a convenient night scene before you try it on location.

Night scenes make it obvious if you have any 'stuck' pixels. These are the red, green or blue pixels in the CCD or CMOS sensor that no longer functioning correctly and in a night scene appear as tiny, tiny specks of red, blue or green. They are easy to identify and clone out.


Of course, you need a moon in the first place so keep and eye on the weather forecast. For moonrise/moonset times, try ROE or time and date.

A full moon on a good night is bright enough to cast shadows and your camera at ISO 400 will give decent results. Try one of the automatic modes and see how the camera copes. You might be surprised. Use the exposure compensation feature to fine-tune exposure and if you are still not happy, try shooting with the B setting.

Moonlight photography
Photo by David Clapp -

Focusing can be challenge because it is really dark so take along a powerful torch to light up the subject to help you focus, whether you are focusing manually or using the autofocus system.

It is best not to use the camera monitor to assess exposure because often the image may look very dark and lack contrast. Expect to do some work during Raw processing or Levels annd Curve tweaking.

As for white-balance, this is for you to try different settings. Auto white-balance should be fine but using one of the presets may give more attractive results.

Have a play and see what you think.

Find out more about Nikon's products by clicking these links:
  • Learn more about the Nikon D4
  • Have a look at the D800

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alistairfarrugia 9 164 88 Malta
22 Mar 2013 12:52PM
One way I found that helped me achieve accurate focusing when using an ND 3.0 filter was to raise ISO to a very high level and focus using Live View mode (on my Canon EOS 600D). I'm saying this as I think it would probably be applicable for such shots. Using the monitor on your camera, switch to manual focus, raise ISO to topmost level, focus manually (if possible, zoom in on the image to be even more accurate), and then, when you achieve focus, lower ISO to whatever level you'll be using and shoot the picture. Worked for me.

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