Dealing with a blown-out moon in landscape photos

Using Photoshop to create natural landscape photos that include the moon

In landscape photography at twilight, the moon will most likely be blown-out. Here’s how to get a natural moon exposure in your images by using Adobe Photoshop.

When photographing landscapes at twilight that include the moon, proper exposure can be nearly impossible to achieve. That’s because while the dim light of twilight requires a relatively long exposure, the moon requires nearly a sunny-16 exposure. As a result, there is no one camera exposure setting that will get the scene right. Your options are:

  • Under-expose the scene and recover shadows & highlights in post
  • Properly expose for the landscape and blow out the moon
  • Bracket exposures and combine them in post

All of the above options have drawbacks. In an under-exposed image, you’ll be prone to getting noise when you try to recover shadow details, and you may or may not be able to recover detail in the moon. If the moon is very small in the frame (as with wide-angle lenses), you can make the conscious choice to just allow it to blow out completely. Bracketing exposures is another option, but I’ve found that traditional exposure blending or HDR tone-mapping just doesn’t quite produce the results I’d like, because the blown-out areas around the moon often bleed into the sky or are exacerbated by thin clouds.

Recently while I was in the field, I decided to try a variation on exposure blending. I captured two shots: the first was exposed only for the moon, and the second shot was properly exposed for the landscape. I then used Adobe Photoshop to combine the images, but instead of just blending them (as with a traditional composite), I had to completely remove the blown-out moon from the landscape photo using Photoshop’s Content-Aware Fill tool.

Video: Processing Landscape Photos with the Moon (Photoshop)

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