How to Photograph the Moon in the Landscape

January 2018 – On the eve of a total solar eclipse

Part I: The Best Time to Shoot the Moon

What is a full moon landscape?
My personal definition of a full moon landscape photograph is a composition in which the moon is above the horizon and also includes elements of the landscape that give the viewer a sense of re-witnessing the event photographed. This type of photograph differs from what I call “moon portraits,” which feature the moon, greatly magnified and usually alone in the sky or with minimal landscape details in the composition.

June 2011

The best day for full moon photographs
Many beginners try to photograph the moon on the actual day of the full moon, usually with disappointing results. The problem is that by the time the moon appears above the horizon, the landscape is too dark to capture details in both the land and moon simultaneously.

The moon rises about 50 minutes later each day as it approaches the day of maximum fullness (astro full moon), when it rises at about the same time as the sun sets. The best day to photograph the full moon in the landscape is generally from 1-2 days before the astro full moon when it rises somewhat earlier than sunset. On those days the moon will clear the horizon and glow brightly above any hills, trees or building while there is still enough ambient light to record details in the foreground below. The trick is to choose a day that the moon’s position at sunset is high enough to clear compositional elements, but not so high that it seems disconnected to the landscape below.

October 1990

Exceptions always possible
Generally speaking, on the day of the astro full moon the land is too dark by the time the moon has risen to an agreeable position in your composition. Even so, some good moonrise landscapes can be made on the day of the astro full moon if there is an unimpeded horizon or interesting shapes available that can serve as foreground silhouettes in the composition.

Sept 1989

The best time of day for full moon photographs
The best time to catch the glow of the moon is around sunset, from several minutes prior to several minutes past the moment of sunset. Around that time the moon takes on an agreeable contrast to the sky which is beginning to darken. In deconstructing my own best moonrise photos I found that they almost always occurred within nine minutes before or after the moment of sunset. In a future lesson I will go over the tools I use for accurate prediction of day, time and place for a moonrise photograph.

Willow Pt. 10-28-20 6:15 PM (sunset), Moon@100/10° Loony +2 70mm lens

Exposure considerations for moonrise landscapes.
Manual exposure only, please!
Using auto exposure during the optimum time for photography (see above) will generally cause extreme over-exposure of the moon. Since the foreground has already darkened, the camera will attempt to bring more light (excessively) into the photo. Your foreground may look great but you’ll get a blank moon that looks more like the sun.

Start with Loony Eleven and bracket to +3
Loony Eleven defined: With aperture set on f/11, set your shutter speed to same number as your ISO setting. ie: if ISO is set to 200, then set your shutter speed to 1/200 sec. Then bracket in full stops to +3 by adjusting your shutter only. In this example your series would be:
Aperture f/11, ISO 200 shutter: 1/200, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25. Back at your computer examine your results. You may find, like me, that in the future you only need to make a couple of these exposures. From my own experience I determined to just make the +1 and +2 for most moonrises.

I hope you found the information above interesting and perhaps useful. In the Part II I’ll write about the methods and tools I use to predict where and when to be for the next great moonrise photo opportunity!

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

It’s been getting pretty darn cold the last few mornings in Point Reyes. We’ve been wearing gloves, hats and double coats as we take the dogs for their daily morning walk. I keep on sniffing the air for moisture above, but alas not a snowflake to be found. The last time it snowed in these parts was nearly twenty years ago when we awoke to a beautiful sight on the morning of January 28, 2002. 

Oak and Standing Stone in Snow ©2002-20 Marty Knapp

Last weekend, on Saturday afternoon, the sky took on a leaden, anticipatory cast. It was bone chilling cold and if I  didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was looking at a “snow sky.” December’s low-angled sunlight, the chill and a low heavy sky will do that to a native New Englander.

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful…

Back in the warmth of the house I daydreamed of long past winter childhood memories. The phone jangled, awakening me from my reverie. It was a call from a fella who was standing in front of my gallery. He was wondering if I had any photographs featuring an iconic oak tree and standing stone on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I was well aware of the place, having driven past it for more than forty years. In fact, back in the nineties, I made a photograph there that featured the old oak and companion stone under a full moon with a lone cow grazing nearby. I walked down to the gallery to meet him and show him a sample of Moonrise at Treerock. Hmmm, that wasn’t the view he wanted…. He preferred one taken from the side that showed the separation between the tree and the upright stone.

And since we’ve got no place to go…

I thought for a  moment and remembered I had made just such an image on the morning of a rare north coast snowstorm. I hurried home to find the original negative from 2002. As I scanned the film, the lyrics from a classic Christmas song started playing in my mind’s ear:

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
I couldn’t resist–The refrain and title is linked to a melodious rendering by Frank Sinatra.

Oak and Standing Stone in Snow has never been shown in my gallery or on my website. It’s a companion piece to the better known Snow and Ranch Fence which was made on Olema Hill when I first awoke to discover the snow that January morning in 2002.

It’s Sunday evening as I write these thoughts down. The temperature is dropping again. Do you think we just might get a little snow on the coast this winter?
I’ve got my fingers crossed!

Snow and Ranch Fence ©2002-20 Marty Knapp

Shooting the Stars: Walking Beneath a Starry Sky

The following includes excerpts from the essays of the book SKY WALKS: Celestial Photographs. The excerpted text is set in Italic.

Since childhood I’ve been fascinated with the unfathomable beauty of the starry night sky. These early experiences have had a profound effect on the way I see and think about light…. Light emanating from the darkness or backlighting my subject, still draws me close.

I was introduced to astro photography by my friend and fellow photographer, Hadley Johnson. Hadley accompanied me on several trips to the high deserts of southern California. We worked both at the Alabama Hills and at Joshua Tree NP, where he shared with me the essential techniques needed to record the Milky Way with my digital camera…. I remember shivering in the autumn air, one evening, as he explained the exposure and other photo techniques I would need to use to successfully capture the stars in a darkened sky…. The first successful image I made of the stars was during that night in October. 2014.

Boot Arch, Milky Way although not included in the book, is shown it here as it marks the beginning of an exciting six year journey photographing the night sky. Boot Arch was made at an iconic arch in the eastern Sierra at the Alabama Hills. I waited for the moon to set so the sky darkened enough to reveal the Milky Way’s fantastic stream of stars. You can see some of the glow of the just setting moon backlighting the rock to the right of the arch. Hadley lit the underside of the arch subtly with a tea light.

On a subsequent trip to Joshua Tree, several of us rented a house just outside the entrance to the park. From there we spent several nights exploring the night-time terrain during the wee hours around midnight. On one windless evening, just outside of our lodging, I set the camera on a tripod and pointed the lens at the North Star.  Fifteen exposures were made via an intervalometer over a one-hour period. The camera rested for a minute between each three-minute exposure. While the camera did its thing, I went inside the house and made myself a fresh-brewed cup of java. Voila! Later, the exposures were stacked together to make Star Circles.

The excitement of witnessing and photographing the wonders of the night sky in the desert was a revelation. As I drove back to Point Reyes I mulled over a creative Idea. I was returning to a landscape where, for many years, I had made many classic daytime landscapes. What if I revisited those scenes of those favorite locations, but this time with the Milky Way rising and setting instead of the sun? And so I did! It felt as if I was visiting brand new worlds as I photographed the starry night at once familiar locations. Drakes, McClures and Kehoe Beaches to name but a few! All three of the following  photographs are featured in my new book. Click on the images to see the larger versions.

My creative juices were now flowing! I continued photographing the starry night sky at coastal locations near my home, alternating those explorations with forays out to the drylands of eastern and southern California. In the next installment, come with me as I return to the desert with a new camera and deepen my search for celestial photographs.

To be continued….