In-Camera [Moon] Double Exposures

Posted by CWade in How-To | Tagged | 2 Comments

Today, tomorrow, and Tuesday are excellent nights for getting outside in the evening and practicing night and low-light photography. Why? The moon (of course)- it’s full tomorrow.

The moon actually provides a lot of extra ambient light that can be helpful for illuminating otherwise dark scenes. Of course, it’s also a beautiful sky/ landscape element in its own right.

Moon: 1/30 of a second at f/13 ; 300mm, ISO100

I made this double-exposure photo just a few hours ago. It was done in-camera, although many photographers prefer to take the shots separately and then combine them later with their software of choice.

The idea behind using two exposures to capture a scene including the moon is this:

If you meter for the scene, then the moon will be overexposed (you won’t see any detail on the craters) since it’s lit by reflected sunlight & is very bright in comparison to any low-light scene. If, on the other hand, you meter just for the moon, the rest of your image will be very underexposed. This makes two, overlayed exposures almost necessary.Additionally, exposing for the landscape will result in a shutter speed too slow to freeze the moon’s motion, and it will blur. The moon actually moves across the sky faster than you’d think.

Why in-camera? When using two exposures to include the moon in a scene, I prefer to combine in-camera simply because I find it faster & easier. (Your mileage may vary.) When creating other types of multiple exposure pictures, I do prefer Photoshop or GIMP, simply because they allow more control over element placement, exposure, ect.

Night-time canal near where I used to live! (2008)

To make these types of pictures, you’ll need:

  • tripod
  • a telephoto lens with a focal length of somewhere between 70- 400mm
  • a wider lens to capture the rest of your low-light landscape: ~ < 70mm
  • remote (or cable) release

It’s a good idea to set your camera’s exposure compensation to -1.0 EV if you’re doing two exposures. This allows the camera to combine the shots without overexposing the final image.

Your camera’s EV comp. button should have a +/-and look something like this:

I usually take my moon shot first, and then compose the rest of the scene for exposure #2.

Here’s how my in-camera double exposure process typically goes:

  1. Adjust the EV compensation: maybe -0.5 EV or -1.0 EV
  2. Enable your camera’s double exposure mode.
  3. Set ISO as low as it will go. (This is generally a good practice for reducing noise in night photography.)
  4. Use your longer focal length lens to photograph the moon. I find anywhere from 100-300mm to be adequate. In fact, 300mm can create too-large-of-moon, although the effect can be fun.
  5. To expose for the moon, use a smaller aperture- f/11 through f/16 – and meter accordingly. Take some test shots. The sunny sixteen rule also works. The moon in the first image of this post was shot at f/13 & 1/30 of a second; 300mm, ISO100.
  6. Switch to your wider lens.
  7. Meter the rest of your landscape normally; this will typically result in a longish exposure- but that’s ok because you brought a remote release, right?
  8. Voilá - you should now have a lunar double exposure!
  • Important: remember whereabouts in the frame you shot the moon! If you don’t, you might end up with a moon sitting on top of a building or car. I like to enable my camera’s alignment grid overlay, and use the lines to help me remember where exposure #1′s moon is.

Here’s an example of a double exposure in which I “placed” the moon poorly:

High tide at a Ft. Lauderdale inlet; (2008)
It just looks unnatural.
  • Another common mistake is creating a composition with incorrect lunar lighting. Here the moon’s light is seen shining on the water at a very low angle from the left side of the frame:

Strange property lighting & high tide at a Ft. Lauderdale inlet; (2008)

I placed the moon in a position in which, realistically, it could not possibly cast the light seen on the water.

Now I realize many DSLRs lack double-exposure modes; in those cases, software would be the way to go. As a Nikon shooter, I can tell you that the D80, D90, D200, D300, & D700 do have multi-exposure modes. Consult your manual.

Lastly, here is an awesome websitefor tracking lunar phases, so you can plan your moon-lit photo outings!

Have fun experimenting! The moon is so enjoyable to shoot, it makes me wish we had more than one natural satellite!

2 Responses to In-Camera [Moon] Double Exposures

  1. Julie Magers Soulen says:

    Your photography is beautiful and well thought out. Thank you very much for sharing your expertise!

    Julie Magers Soulen Photography
    Blog of Note

  2. Kaleidoscope Alchemist says:

    Once again, fantastic pictures and like Julie said, well thought out. It's people like you who make me realise I have no idea of how to REALLY use a camera.

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