Using Photoshop to create natural landscape photos that include the moon
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)
Tonight is yet another “supermoon” event, in which the moon is closer to the Earth than usual. Of course, Astrophysicist Neil Tyson has already pointed out that the difference in the moon’s apparent size is in reality, quite small. Nevertheless, the moon is still a fun subject to photograph, if you do it right.
There are two kinds of “moon shots.” Landscapes, and close-ups. Both of these shots have challenges, because the full moon is so bright that it requires a daylight (sunny-16 exposure) to preserve details. For landscape shots, it’s important to be able to photograph the moon when it rises near sunset or blue-hour. The sheer brightness of the moon will cause it to become blown-out if you are exposing for a dark foreground. For telephoto shots, it’s important to use a fast shutter speed to prevent the moon from blurring out due to its apparent motion in the sky. You’ll want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/250s to keep the moon sharp.