Shooting a rising moon

There are several ways to approach this subject but I developed this way over a few moon risings. The main problem with a full moon is that the sun sets just prior to the moon rise and the moon rises fairly quickly plus it gets brighter as it rises. And of course the sun sets during this time and the whole scene besides the moon gets darker.

So I decided to use a HDR (High Dynamic Range) process. In HDR one takes several images adjusting only the amount of time the shutter stays open between shots. A tripod is required to hold the camera steady during the process.This allows a wider range of light from dark to light to be exposed correctly in the camera. Assuming 3 images in an HDR sequence. In the 1st image the shutter speed is faster causing a darker image. In this image the bright parts of the scene gets exposed properly but the darker parts become really dark. Software will sort this out later. In the 2nd exposure the whole scene is exposed as the camera meters it so all the mid-tones get exposed properly. In the 3rd image the darker parts get exposed properly but the highlights become way over exposed and they can become pure white lacking any detail. Software then combines the 3 images taking the correctly exposed parts from each image to produce a nicer photo.

But, the moon is moving during the process so all the shots have to occur quickly or you get a smudge when the images get combined and you do want a round moon. In the 1st couple of images HDR is not required as the mid photo pretty well covers the light range but I did not want to change camera settings once I started shooting. Plus HDR still works here.

For moon and star movement in the sky causing streaks in the photo I use a simple formula of Shutter speed = 350 / Lens Focal Length. My 35mm, 1.4 lens = 350/35 = 10 seconds. For these shots at ~300mm 350/300 = 1.17 seconds. So for a rising moon i try for 1 second total time for all 3 shots. Other people use a larger number than 350 but that’s a complete new subject.

To get 3 images all in a row and in a short time span I did this (On my Canon 5D-Mark III camera):

  1. I set “Number of Bracketed shots” to 3 get the correct number I wanted. Could have done 5,7, or 9 buts that’s not needed. Found in Camera Menu C,Fn1.
  2. I set “exposure metering” to evaluative metering. Done using Quick Menu button on back of camera. This tells the camera to use the overall scene for light metering.
  3. I set the Camera Mode to M (manual) using left rotating wheel on top of camera. You can also use Av (Aperture Priority). The camera will adjust the shutter speed on it’s own only during the 3 bracketed shots. In both cases the Aperture will remain the same for all 3 exposures. This is important to maintain a consistent scene. You do not want the depth of field to change between shots.
  4. I set the lens focusing mode to M (manual) not A (Auto). I do not want the camera to adjust focus when the shutter is pressed. You manually focus ahead of time and then leave it alone.
  5. I select from F/8 to F/16 for an aperture. You can vary this to adjust shutter time. In the sequence below I used F/14. F/11 would have been better but it worked. I wanted to insure good depth of field as the moon is way back and I focused on the buildings. Turns out the moon isn’t really sharp anyway when it is low because of the atmosphere. It gets sharper as it rises. Also loses it’s orange color.
  6. Now I manually focus on the buildings using live view on the back screen and I zoom in 10X with the zoom button at left of screen. Then leave the focus alone.
  7. Then with Live View off and the Quick Menu on I move to the Exposure Compensation which has the Exposure range of -3,0,+3. Rotating the top wheel will change the AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) range. I set -1,0,+1 as the 3 settings for the exposure sequence.
  8. I change the shooting mode from Single shooting to Sel Timer: 2 sec mode. This provides a delay of 2 secs after pressing the shutter before the 1st exposure is made. This allows you to get by without a remote shutter switch as well. I always use my remote switch however.

OK, so now we are ready to shoot. Adjust the zoom for the desired scene and review focus and make sure camera is steady on tripod. Use live  view mode – this opens the mirror and displays the scene on the back screen. Important to have the mirror up as this will reduce camera shake as well as get the camera to make all 3 exposures on it’s own after the 2 second timer expires. The mirror opening and closing between shots can cause camera shake and will slow down the process.

Now there are 2 settings to make and they both change the speed. Actually 3 if you include Aperture but I like to leave it alone once set. One is ISO, this will speed up the overall process time as the photo’s are made as ISO increases and slow the process down as it is reduced. On the sequence below I used ISO 400 to get all 3 photos in ~1 second. On the 5D3 ISO is changed using the ISO button at the top of the camera and the upper wheel.
The 2nd setting is Shutter Speed. In live view mode this is done by pressing the shutter 1/2 way and adjusting the shutter speed with the rear panel wheel while watching the LCD readout on the camera top. When the middle bar (there are 3) is on the black square then the 2nd exposure will be correct for the overall scene. The shutter speed will also be displayed and you need to to do some quick math in your head to see if you need to adjust ISO and repeat this step. Remember one stop is 1/2 or 2x the shutter speed.

In the sequence below the 2nd exposure is 1/4 sec and I used 1 stop for my bracketing.The 2nd exposure (one used for metering) = 1/4 secs so 1st exposure would be 1/8 sec (1/2 the time), and 3rd exposure would be 1/2 sec (2x the time). That tells me the whole sequence is over in ~1 second which is good to keep the moon still. In my case I used ISO 400. But assume I had used ISO 200. Then the three exposures would be 1/4s, 1/2s, and 1s. Remember ISO 100 to ISO 200 is 1 stop. So ISO 200 would be too long and I could just change it and reset the shutter speed.

All these adjustments get done pretty fast as your shooting so you need to understand what’s happening well so you can think fast. The moon will not wait for you. Also, the lighting for the overall scene is changing on the fly so exposure needs to be checked on each shot. I quickly do a review of the shots right after and check the histogram for exposure. This influences the next shots settings.

If all that isn’t enough I watch for boat traffic in the water. I don’t want boats moving horizontally too much as it makes the final image harder to process. The small motion of boats rocking in the waves can be removed by de-ghosting the image in software. Photomatix does this step for you.

The 3 images out of the camera (without editing) 1/8s, 1/4s, 1/2s. The moon is only exposed right in the 1st exposure. The bottom of the buildings and the water get exposed well in the 3rd exposure.


    In Lightroom I edit all 3 the same but make only 2 changes. I adjust color temperature as these are RAW files. I adjust the temperature from5200 to 6000 degrees Kelvin to reduce the blue cast. Then I got rid of the incoming airplane in the sky with the Spot Removal Tool. Then I select all 3 and Export to PhotomatixPro. I use these options:
    1. Align Images – Taken on a Tripod.

  2. Show options to remove Ghosts. Gets rid of the wiggly boats riding the waves.
  3. Reduce Chromatic Aberrations.
  4. Automatic re-import into Lightroom as TIFF 16 bit.

As a side note I’m using Lightroom 5.6 but 6.0 has this process included and you also get a RAW file for the final HDR image but I haven’t seen how well it works in comparison to Photomatix Pro.

Images then get combined and adjustments can be made in Photomatix on the final image. I won’t go through all the possible adjustments as there are plenty but they get done and I click “Apply and re-import”.

Then back in Lightroom I go through more editing steps that won’t get explained here as that’s also another subject. Rarely will I need to go into Photoshop for anything but it can happen.

So there you go, Easy as pie………. 🙂



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