Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Moon Dilemma

To edit or not to edit?? Moon photos can be flat out frustrating. The moon is so bright that it often makes getting the right exposure impossible. You photo-bloggers know what I'm talking about. If you set your exposure for the background, the moon turns into a bright, undefined mess. Nothing at all like what you actually saw when you so carefully composed your photo! On the other hand, if you expose for the moon, you get great moon detail surrounded by blackness. You lose all your background detail. Again, nothing like what you saw live, in person! Let me share an example.
In the image above, I exposed for the people on the walkway (taken at the Fullerton Train Station). A bit underexposed purposefully so the moon didn't wash things out too much. The moon, unfortunately, turns into a bright light with no definition. This is very different from what my "eyes" saw at the time. It was a beautiful moonrise and I could clearly see all the detail in the moon. Did I mention moon photography can be frustrating?


Without moving my camera (it was on a tripod), I adjusted the exposure for the moon. A much faster exposure which resulted in a totally dark background but good moon detail. I superimposed the moon over the first image to get the best of both worlds (background + moon detail). Often referred to as a "composite" image, it's kind of cheating. But it truly looks much closer to what I saw with my eye as I was taking the photo.

Whew, thanks for letting me get that off my chest! I think as photographers we struggle with how and when (and how much) to edit. And that's especially true with moon shots. So let me say that with very few exceptions, when you see a moon shot with good moon detail and definition, and you see good background detail, you are very likely seeing a composite or otherwise edited image. The photographer may or may not disclose this. With today's camera technology, you can't have it both ways... you need to either expose on the moon or the background, one at the expense of the other. Other options are to use bracketing (which puts you back into composite images), spot adjustment to reduce the moon brightness (works so so) or perhaps flash fill or light painting for long exposures.

So with that being said, read on, but know that most of these are composite images!
Nope, not a composite. No background to worry about here!


Yes, definitely. I was really focusing on the people walking on the bridge and admiring the moonrise. The freight train came along at just the right time, and the exposure was long enough to capture some blur!


It's obvious, right? This is a crop of the image above, and you can just imaging the people on the bridge going "oohhh" and "aahhhh".


Nope, just a single image. No moon definition as it becomes visible from behind the palm tree and bridge. But I like the overall feel of this photo, with the people walking up on the bridge and down below on the platform, the the blur on the passing train. Lots going on!


Definitely a composite. The original (bright, washed-out, undefined moon) looked crummy. I loved how this guy was stopped in his tracks when he spotted the moon and was moved to take the picture. The photo is a lot more powerful when you can see the moon as it really looked!


Yes, a composite. One of my favorites from the night. This train came flying through the station, and I had no idea I was capturing these bright colors and lines until I pulled it up on my computer later that evening. Like a space ship blasting off!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
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Thanks for stopping by!!

45 comments:

  1. Beautiful, beautiful....believe it or not, I don't know how to use layers...

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  2. Composite--- Shumplosit! It doesn't matter how you did it, you created what you saw and you presented it to us beautifully. These are wonderful. I especially like the train shots.

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  3. Compositing in the way you described is basically a form of HDR, but without the artificial-looking results. I like these.

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  4. I agree with Bill. These are wonderful.

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  5. Totally cool. I've never tried composites

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  6. Truly Awesome pics. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Great photoessay. I do okay with just the moon and as you say lots of good detail in a sea of blackness. You've given me something else to think about.

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  8. That makes me feel better about my feeble moon shot attempts!

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  9. Edited or not, these are great pictures.

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  10. The best supermoon shots because also of the explanations. I've long wanted to do composites, but i still haven't started to learn. I hope to do that soonest. Thanks a lot.

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  11. fabulous moon pics and you've captured the moment with shooting other people waiting to do the same.

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  12. This is what makes me love the city, the lights at night! See your dilemma about the moon, but love both of the first two images. You can be proud of your work!

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  13. o my, I did not even bother. The moon is boring. You actually only need one to know you can do it. :) Love all your editing.
    On FB lots of moons gets lots of likes, but only if the photographer "has a name" I saw one image that was the best one ever and it hardly had no likes at all. He captured the moon over a landscape, very beautiful and it even had mist in it. But of course the moon lacked detail, as this was what was actually seen. :)

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  14. Great shots,love the last one.

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  15. Such an interesting post, I like the way that you work towards what you actually experienced rather than just sticking with what the camera chooses to give you, which can often be a disappointment. I like all your images, the clarity and intensity of colour seems to be your speciality. My computer skills are minimal and don't extend to layering so I'm going to have to study my computing for dummies book!

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  16. What a stunning set of photos! And the second one and last one photo are incredible!

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  17. Hello, your moon shots are awesome. I love the bridge too, great captures. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

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  18. Oh my God! So I have never heard of the composites and these images are just beautiful. learning that is an art too.

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  19. I'm glad you kept playing. So many nice versions. Love the blur of the train.

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  20. All the shots are great, but the train is superb! Well done!

    Cameras are amazing devices, but this demonstrates the even more incredible capabilities of the human eye.

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  21. Very nice work. I've never tried composites, but I may venture into that realm after seeing these examples. Have a blessed week-end.

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  22. I know what you are talking about, as I have been trying to get a few moon photos, too.
    Your last image is my favorite
    Have a great week-end!

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  23. Awesome, professional shots. I can never even attempt to an amateur shot.

    Worth a Thousand Words

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  24. Hi SP&P! I love this post! A while back I was trying to capture a moon shot and experiencing all the frustration you mention about getting the moon and background as seen with my eye. I want to thank you for explaining how it's done! Excellent! Of course, if you've seen many of my posts you will know I love trains, so your photos here with the speeding train are just outstanding. Thank you for sharing, as always, and thank you for your kind comments on my blog. Wishing you a fine weekend!

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  25. It is amazing what you can do with editing!!! Your pictures are wonderful.
    Me, I'm not that talented. My pictures are just what I take with my little point and shoot camera.

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  26. Amazing shots and helpful tips.

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  27. I've never attempted a composite.

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  28. Yes, yes, yes!! Making the composite is basically doing a shortcut HDR image [without all the tone mapping distortions that are too frequently added]. Kudos for some great shots!

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  29. Great post with wonderful images, Peter.
    I read it with pleasure and I have had some of this small cheats too. I don't have a problem with it, except when it is about news pictures.

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  30. Great moon pictures ! the once in the middle look like a big balloon !

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  31. Wonderful shots! Thank goodness for composites.

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  32. Interesting and good to read. Love all the pics ;-)

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  33. I do not have much photographic knowledge, so this helps explain why I have so much trouble taking pictures of the moon with my iPhone. I have never been satisfied with the results. I did enjoy your "composite" photos, like so many of your other shots.

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  34. Definitely a challenge. But your images are 'out of this world'!!!

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  35. These are all wonderful shots. I think the second one is my favorite.

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  36. I have never done these composite shots - I think I like the first one the best - where I feel the scale is more believable.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  37. Very interesting and a lot of great photos! I don't even own any editing software, but as time goes on, I think I need to check some out. I really like the two photos with the train hurtling through the scene.

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