Moonlighting at Caprock Canyons State Park

During my last trip to the Texas panhandle I’d hoped for one perfectly clear night to shoot some star trails from the canyon floor. I never did get the opportunity to shoot any star trails but there was one evening when the clouds over Caprock Canyon’s State Park cleared and the moon illuminated the canyon floor beautifully.


Moonlighting at Caprock Canyons – Quitaque, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/18 for 20 seconds at ISO 100 using Canon’s in-camera Long Exposure Noise Reduction. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Shooting with the moon as your only source of light and obtaining a correct exposure can be a bit tricky so here are a few tips for getting this type of shot.

  • The real key to shooting in moonlight is to understand the limitations of your camera’s exposure meter and shoot in Aperture Priority (Av) or full Manual (M). I usually start out in aperture priority but quickly switch to manual after getting a ball-park exposure reading. I use my camera’s histogram exclusively for judging exposure in this situation. Don’t Trust Your Eyes. Use Your Histogram!
  • A good sturdy Tripod is vital in a situation like this where you’ll be shooting at shutter speeds well over one second. At very long exposures (< 1 second) any camera shake will soften the image and ruin your shot. I prefer Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods because of their light weight and vibration damping characteristics but any good quality tripod will do.
  • Always enable your camera’s Long Exposure Noise Reduction setting to help eliminate the digital noise created by the long exposure. On Canon cameras this is done using custom function C.Fn II-1 Long Exposure Noise Reduction which works with both RAW and JPEG files.
  • In very low light situations your camera’s auto-focus system may not work. This is especially true in older model Canon DSLRs like the 5D and 5D2. I usually switch to manual focus right after sunset to prevent my 5D2’s antique AF system from “hunting” when it can’t get a focus lock. I focus manually using the hyperfocal distance method for most nighttime landscape shoots. At f/16 or smaller aperture everything from 3 meters in front of the lens to infinity should be in perfect focus.

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