It was just awhile after sunset and I was not expecting an amazing view. We setup camp on the barren landscape of a tiny lake in the New Mexico desert, near White Sands. We ran the usual paces, unloading kids from the truck, planning dinner, getting settled. This is an image from an unlikely place that’s reminded me to never overlook potential.
I noticed what that moon was doing. A sliver moon, but with it’s shadowed area beautifully visible (there’s probably a name for that). I realized it was setting fast and that I had to do something, so I setup just a few yards from camp and started to work. It was not an easy image due to the rapidly setting moon and the low light, but I made this before it set fully and I’m thankful for a good night and an unexpected image.
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For Photographers. How it was made…
Technical Notes: Canon 5D MK2 – Canon 70-200L @170mm – f4 – 1.6sec – ISO3200
It was actually quite a challenge and in truth I was a little surprised to get one this good. Not for reasons of composition, line or tone. I knew I liked what I was seeing in those areas. The problem was the low light and the moving moon, moving faster as it neared the horizon. Detail is critical for my wall prints and a few second exposure is all it takes to blur a moon like this. That was quickly confirmed it with my first few images.
I rapidly tried differing combinations of aperture and ISO, trying to strike a balance. I used the histogram solo and did not take time to get my meter. I whizzed thru highs and lows of ISO, visualizing my scene while trying to find a way to make it work. Finally the moon set and I called it a night, unsure of what I had. When I went through the results next day, I found one frame clearer than all the rest. A high ISO image, but good enough that with a bit of work it should make a fine print. It was time to develop.
I spent a good deal of time considering the best approach. I actually considered changing to a black and white scene, but I’m glad I didn’t. I then worked a lot with white balance to determine where I should be and I decided a gentle cooling blue really worked. Then I used an effect from Color Fantasies called Blueberries. Nothing too drastic, but it gave it a nice hue. I decides on a fully square crop and took some time balancing where the moons should fall.
Finally I went into Photoshop. A bit of burn and dodge was in order to make the moon sing the way I wanted. Keeping the bright sliver at Zone 8-9 and the shadows area a few values lower at about Zone 6-7. But most of my time was spent pixel painting. The technique I teach in Cloning Magic to carefully paint over noise and smooth out tones. It can happen easy with digital, but higher ISO images in particular can get blotchy on really smooth colors.
I worked, brushing in and using soft gradients that matched the natural color as close as possible. Not wiping out the original pixels, but gently painting in at partial opacity to smooth artifacts without losing important details. It works wonders and gave me the smooth finished look I needed.
On another note is my final aperture. It’s actually a bit wide, but I needed every ounce of light I could get to stop the moons movement. It’s good the water has some ripple instead of a glassy perfection. First it defines the top and bottom, so it doesn’t look like a faked mirror image. Also it negates the fact the foreground water is a bit soft. I was pushing it here in everything from ISO to Aperture to Shutter Speed. But thankfully I found a happy medium that worked. And I’m satisfied. It was a good nights work.
Thanks for reading… Gavin