Dawn, Frosta. Norway, november 2014.
Ok, so this may seem a little basic to some of you, but I’ll take my chances and post it anyway. I just wanted to share this image and how it was made.
Images of coastal landscapes are very popular. Just have a look at 500px, google+ or any other photography-site and you are likely to find hundreds of captivating, wonderful seascapes. Furthermore, it is something about the moon that adds an element of mystery or tranquility to a scene and I think the combination of long exposure seascapes with the moon often work out very well. If you are planning to create such an image, be sure to find a good location well in time before the capture. In my opinion, important elements are a low horizon or a horizon with an interesting focal point (e.g. a mountain peak). The foreground is equally important. Be sure to include som nice rocks, a beach with sand-patterns or anything with lines leading the eye towards the sea. When you have found an interesting location, use “the photographer’s ephemeris” (iPhone app) or other programs that describe the moon’s location and phase at different dates. Find the ideal date when the moon is in the right phase and at the right place. This image features an almost full moon, which in my opinion, is not ideal. I think that either a 100% full moon or a thin crescent works best. Also, notice when sunrise or sunset is. As in any landscape-capture, the most important element of the image is the light. You want to be working at dusk or dawn when the sun is just under the horizon. At that time, the exposure differential between the landscape and the moon is not very big, and you avoid getting a pitch black landscape and a burnt out moon. At the same time the skies are still somewhat dark so that the moon stands out. These times also open the possibility for longer exposures without filters, so you can work with different exposure times to capture the movement in the water. When you have found a nice location and the ideal date and time of day to photograph, you want check the weather-forecast. If skies are totally overcast, plan for a different shot. For an image like this, ideal skies are partly cloudy, so that the emerging sun has something to enlighten. Strong winds are also ideal as it produces wonderful waves that adds to the foreground.
Ok, so you have found your location, the exact date and time of day to capture the scene, and forecasts are promising. Lucky you! Be sure to arrive at the location at least half an hour before ideal conditions and plan the details of your shot. Scrutinize the foreground elements and find the best possible composition. A wide-angle lens is ideal to emphasize the foreground, but this is a trade-off as the moon gets very small at the widest angles. Use a focal length that balances this. I have found that 24-50 mm (on full format) often work well. You definitely need a sturdy tripod and a cable release. Many use the self-timer set to 2 sec delay instead, but for capturing waves at the exact right time, that technique is not ideal. Set you tripod fairly low close to the surf to underline the foreground and the waves and use a small aperture such as f16 or f22 to get enough depth of field. Focus on the hyperfocal point or about 1/3 into the depth of the image. Play around with different ISO’s to vary the shutter-speed as this captures different moods in the waves. This image was taken at a shutter speed of 5 sec because I wanted to blur the waves totally to add to the tranquil feeling of the scene. A shorter shutter-speed would have frozen the movement of the waves to a larger degree, and would have given a more energetic feeling to the image. If you use shutter-speeds longer than ca. 10 seconds, be aware that the moon moves and may become blurred. To get a five second exposure in this image, I used a 2 step neutral density filter. In addition, I used a 2 step graded neutral density filter to minimize exposure differential between the foreground and the sky and moon.
If you are totally unfamiliar with these techniques, be sure to practice before the ideal date and time!
Also, there are numerous digital techniques to help you in creating images like this. Most obvious is of course adding a moon to a nice landscape in Photoshop by merging two files. Many (including me) find that such images may look very unnatural, so be aware. I have used this technique from time to time, but always pasted a moon from another image taken at the same time and location on top of the moon that was there in the original file! This may be to minimize exposure differential or to enlarge the moon slightly. But as mentioned, be aware that this may look very un-natural and awkward if not done very carefully and subtle. Also, techniques of focus-stacking to get infinite depth-of-field or HDR techniques to minimize exposure differential may be employed. However, if you choose to use digital techniques like this, remember that this does not compensate for bad originals. I think it is always best to get the original as good as possible even though this may involve some compromises e.g. size of the moon etc. This image is made from one single raw-file and only minimally adjusted. I hope you like it, and feel free to comment and follow me if you like my work. Have a super weekend!