The Moon Composite Photo
The Velvet Elvis Painting of Photo Manipulation
I love the moon. On special events, like lunar eclipses, I like to take photos throughout the phases (if I can stay up). So far, I've made it halfway. I figure the other half is probably a lot like the first half, only backward.
The moon is also easy to shoot. The rules are very similar to the "Sunny 16" rule of daylight photography which says that you can set your camera at f16 and the shutter to the reciprocal of the ISO setting and get a decent exposure. If you are at ISO 100, you can set your shutter to 1/100 or 1/125 and know you'll be pretty close to a good exposure. If you want to use f8 (letting a full stop more light in), compensate by making your shutter speed faster by a full stop to 1/250 (letting one stop less light in).
Moon shots use a similar principal, except starting at f11. The "Looney 11" rule. But if you want detail, you need a good long lens, at least the equivalent of 400mm and up or use a telescope with a camera mount. At 300dpi, a 200mm moon shot is about 550 pixels wide, whereas a 500mm moon is about 1200 pixels.
Since the same side of the moon is always facing the earth, there are only so may different shots of a full moon you can take. Either it's full or not, in eclipse, rising or setting. But, it's still a moon. Try to include a perfectly exposed moon in a photo and you are sure to have a black landscape. Give the landscape enough exposure and your moon is washed out. There is only a small period of time where the moon is rising and the sun is setting (or vice-versa) where you can include a well-exposed landscape with a well exposed moon. And that evening/morning has to be clear enough to have both visible.
Here's one I tried with the moon setting in the morning in Chicago.
I chased this setting moon one morning North up Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. The sun was rising behind me illuminating the buildings. I don't know the exact exposure because this was in the days of slide film and the Chicago Police were watching my every move. I was probably at the widest I could be at 200mm, probably f5.6 or 6.3. The shutter speed was probably around 1/250. I exposed for the moon, but I didn't have much time. Parking on the bridge got me noticed. The Chicago Police car I missed pulling up sat silently waiting for me to move on. I nodded a thank you and moved on. This was before 9/11, so it's not likely I could repeat this again any time soon.
So this was a legitimate shot. I didn't have to paste this moon into this image. On another occasion (below), I did have to paste the moon into the shot, but it was actually the same scene exposed for the moon, but in that case the sun had already set and there was only twilight lighting up the barn. I had to use a longer exposure and washed out the moon. I took a second exposure for the moon and pasted that into the first shot. That's what I saw, so I think it's acceptable. Usually, I draw the line there. If a moon isn't part of a scene, I won't add it. But this is what I saw. The camera does not have the dynamic range of the eye, so you need to be able to handle it in post production.
I've seen some really baffling images of moons inserted in other shots where there is not indication by the author that the image is a composite. Are they assuming everyone knows and can judge it accordingly? Comments are baffling as well with things like "Beautiful shot!" and "Amazing composition". The photo in question had streaks of car headlights and taillights, which indicates a long exposure. But the moon was perfectly exposed. An obvious composite, but the author didn't indicate that it was. The photo was put under "Nature" on 500px, so everyone assumes it was a single shot, not thinking of the contradiction in exposures. I questioned him, hoping he would at least add something to the description about it being a composition, but there was no response. Still, the praise earned the "photo" one of the highest scores on the site.
There was another photo where the moon was so insanely large that it only belonged on a bad sci-fi book cover. Also a high scorer. That says something about the audience on 500px, I guess. I probably should start slapping one of my many moon images on other photos that I've taken that were somewhat boring without it.
Here is what I started out with. I cropped out a circle as close as I could and pasted it in. Set the blending to "Lighten" and lowered the opacity. You can see the process I used at http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/how-to-add-the-moon-to-a-photo-in-photoshop/
I picked this one to start with...
DSCN0133File name :DSCN0133.JPG
Ok, not bad. I had forgotten about this one. I took this in Joshua Tree many years ago. I didn't pick it as a standout. I like the textures and the overall shapes, but something wasn't doing it for me.
But add the moon, instant classic! And the best thing about it, you can put it anywhere you like! Space and time are simply playthings in my hands!
DSCN0133-EditFile name :DSCN0133.JPG
Or how about this one?
This one actually did have the moon in it, albeit not full. But this was wide angle, so the moon is always a point of light, regardless of if it's full or not.
Why not make it BIGGER?
And MOVE it somewhere more convenient. But I couldn't bend the physical world THAT much. I mean, the moon would never be full so close to sunset in the West sky, right? I had to make it believable, so I made the moon a waxing crescent like it was at the time, only 100 times larger than it actually is. Because, Photoshop!
Here's another one
Actually, I don't know why I want to screw with this one. I like the little ship (which isn't so little) against the negative space of the sky. This was taken on Lake Michigan during the tall ships festival. You know what would make this perfect?
You guessed it
Ok, I guess perfect is relative. Now my senses are starting to hurt. I can't look at this and say, "Golly, what luck! I was out on the lake at just the right time to see the harvest moon rise just as a tall ship was passing by and so I pulled out my telephoto and snapped this gem... oh God, just kill me."
Now that I've completely sold my soul. Why not one more to finish off?
When worlds collide
This is all kinds of wrong, I won't even try to justify it.
So, the moon is the moon is the moon. And if the moon isn't already in your shot, it's your decision if you want to slap it on or not. Just don't pass it off as a pre-planned single frame grab. Be honest and call it a composite. Better yet, go out at the full moon rise or set and use the setting/rising sun to light your scene. You'll get some fresh air and see something many people usually miss.
What did we learn here?
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.
That's no moon - that's a battle station
Nice blog Jim and superb captures.
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