How to Photograph the Moon with Foreground
Learning how to photograph the moon with foreground is on the to-do list of many budding night sky photographers. However, when you first try to capture a landscape image that incorporates the moon, you may be a little surprised at the results.
If you’ve tried this before but struggled to get a good image, it is likely one of the following describes your results:
- the moon was a bright, overexposed blob in the sky
- the foreground was far too dark; almost entirely black with details lost in the shadows
- the moon looked much, much smaller than it did to your eye
1. How to expose both the moon and the foreground
A bright moon will give you ample light for a long exposure image, but the moon is much brighter than your foreground and will consequently be overexposed as a result.
You’ve probably found yourself in a situation where you are battling the exposure of the moon and the landscape, resulting in one or the other losing all details.
Well, luckily there is a quick and easy solution. Employ bracketing to achieve a high dynamic range (HDR) image. Bracketing is where your camera takes a number of images at different exposure levels in quick succession. The aim is to then blend these together during post production, achieving a properly balanced exposure.
2. Making the moon look “correctly sized”
Using a wide-angle lens to capture your foreground (and the landscape as a whole) will make the moon look small in the frame. This is just basic physics and, whilst it may look larger to your eye, it is difficult to convey this in a 2D space.
Consequently, a technique that some moon photographers use is it capture one image of the landscape using a wide-angle lens, and then take a closer shot of the moon using a longer focal length.
These two images are then composited together, overlaying the tighter shot of the moon into your landscape scene.
If you go down this route, it is important to ensure that your moon is in the correct position. Otherwise, you’ll no doubt be called out by some lunar experts!
Learn more: How to Photograph Moonscapes
3. Choosing a focal length for photographing the moon with foreground
Think about what kind of scene you want to use. A wide-angle lens will capture a vast landscape and foreground detail, but is that absolutely necessary?
Why not try a telephoto lens to close in on the details. This will also help to make the moon appear larger in your frame, rather than a small spot in the sky.
An image of the moon rising above the treetops can work well. An added benefit is that the trees might work as a silhouette, removing the need to employ HDR techniques or similar to balance the exposure.
4. Use apps to find the position of the moon
Just like with any good photo, composition is absolutely key. Using augmented reality functions on smartphone apps can really help you to compose your night photos. I recommend downloading an app called Lumos. Point your camera at the sky, and the app will overlay the position of the moon (or sun) at any given time of the day.
This means that you can precisely line-up your shot, knowing exactly where the moon will be when you press the shutter. It’s also great for time-lapsing and capturing more complex images.
5. Keep your expectations realistic
Lunar photography suffers more than many genres of nature photography from photo-manipulation. There’s no problem with that, but when photographers do not declare that their images are doctored it creates unrealistic expectations. Almost all of those images you see of huge, dramatic moons above city skylines are fake. That moon has been composited in, as I have mentioned above, and many people go a little too far – it looks completely unrealistic.
There’s nothing wrong with compositing, as long as you don’t try to pass it off as something that it isn’t.