Moonlight on water difficulty
Specifically, trying to shoot moonrise over the ocean and cannot get it right after probably 50 shots..

Is there a trick to this tricky exposure?.

There is a VERY bright moon, low, and orange, over the ocean at night, and bright reflection on the water, which I want as part of the scene. Of course all other elements of the scene are completely dark. No tripod, but not handholding either. Placing camera on the porch rail..

I guess I need to focus on the moon, but what do I meter? Every shot I have EXECPT the ones I put on auto, and ONLY shoot the moon (not reflection), I get a blown out literally looks like the sun..

1600 ISO I presume? When I bump it to that, it looks like a sunrise instead of a moonrise!.


I have the following tools available (I think I have tried with all three):.

50mm prime 1.817-55 IS Canon55=250mm IS Canon.

Body (if it matters) Canon Rebel Xsi.


Comments (9)

Bruce,Here are settings to go:.

Timer, manual mode, manual focus to infinity, min ISO (100 or 200) 50mm at f/2.8, 30 sec..

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This one made with 24mm f/2.8 with ISO 800 , f/2.8 at 1.5 sec.

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Comment #1

Thanks Stan. I have almost exactly the same shot as your first, but noticed you have the same "problem" I do...the moon is blown out and doesn't show contrast. Anyway to get the grey "pock marks" of the moon AND have the reflection on the water in focus at same time?.

The moon in your first pic, and almost all my pics...could easily be mistaken for the sun..

Maybe I am asking something that is technically impossible though..

Thanks for quick response...will try your setting tonight...

Comment #2

You are not considering some items..

-the dynamic range of the camera's digital sensor is only so much. for jpoeg it is about 6stops, for raw about 7-9stops(depending on which camera)..

-if the dynaimic range of the scene you trying to shoot is more than the above then you are going to blowout one end or the other, the lights or the darks..

This means that a single shot of yopur scene is not going to cover the DR no matter how many shots you take..

-the only answers are in 2 techniques. HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE IMAGING or EXPOSURE BLENDING..

They both have one drawback in common. and that is they are really made for scenes that have no movement. if anything moves it will show up as movement between the different shots, as it takes time to shot the 3 or more shots needed for either technique..

Hdri means that you are atking a center matrix or average metered shots then bracketing with shgutter speed only so many shots on each side of the center shot. how many shoits depends on how big the dynamic range that you are trying to cover. I would guess that 5 shots might work, each 2 fstops from the adjoining shot. remember bracket with shutter speed ONLY. after you take the 5 shiots they are then combined in a hdr image. to make this image you then use hdr software like photomatrix or dynamic photo hdr.

This cannot be seen on your monitor but it has a huge DR. using the software you then convert this image via a process called tonemapping to an ordinary image called ldr(low dynamic range). this can be seen and printed normally..

Exposure blending is very similar to hdr but the tonemapping step is deleted. instead your software simply picks out the correctly exposed parts of each of your 5 images and combines them into 1 image. the draw back is that though the image is correctly exposed you will loose the relationship between the adjoining areas of different brightness. they each will appear correctly BUT to each other they will not be right..

The only other method of doing what you want to do is to take 2 shots one exposed for the moon, and a second shot exposed for the water and surroundings. THEN combine the 2 images with photoshop. this requires some photoshop expertise on your part.the above 2 methods rely on the software to do the work..

If you are interested in hdri technique, I have a how to in my attached reply..

Note- my how to is using a 1 bracket setup for hdr. but for your use I would go with 5 or 7 shots each stops apart...

Comment #3

Bruce,Did you ever made a shot with "detail" of sun and sparkling reflection on water?.

No, I'm not asking you about "blown out sun" but real sun details - spots on sun surface?.

Sorry for joking analogy.To get detail on moon you need about 1/500 sec at f/4 and ISO 100..

At this exposure reflection area on water surface will be pure black..

Of course, you can use couple ND Graduated filters to darken the moon while exposing for water..

But I personally don't see reason..

Human eye actually is setting different "exposure" for water surface or moon detail when we look at moonlight perspective.

Comment #4

HDR=High Dynamic Range photographyto do hdr-.

If you put camera into full auto matrix metering, take first shot note fstop and shutter speed. put camera into full manual, see if camera still has the matrix fstop and shutter speed. if yes, then using shutter speed go up 2-4 shutter speeds 1 fstop worth of shutter speed at a time. the back to matrix shutter speed and go down same number of shutter speeds..

Christian bloch in his hdri handbook did a test of 1 fstop bracketing vs 2fstop bracketing. there was an obvious image quality falloff using the 2fstop bracketing.this is on a tripod with cable release..

No, you should not use 1 raw shot and convert 1 stop up and down, because their is not enough dynamic range in the 1 raw shot. dynamic range is why we are doing this, hdr is trying to get all it can..

The group of shots can be raw or jpeg. if jpeg they can be used as is. if raw remember that you HAVE to batch process all 5-9(?) shots. this is because the pp has to be all the same on every pic. you cannot, for example make any attempt to get the shadow details of the group of raw pics, because that would require different amounts of pp, and you cannot do that with hdr. the pp for all shots has to be identical..

For me I just shoot them in jpeg and use them from the camera, that way they are all identical because the camera jpeg settings are the same for every shot. I also put my hand streched in front of the lens and take a check shot and when done take a ending shot with hand. this tells me where the hdr group is on my memory card when I transfer to the pc..

The only important item is to bracket using shutter speeds only. if fstops are used it changes dof between shots. and shoot enough shots, 5-9(?) is the optimum. the only other thought is to shoot a scene that deserves the the hdr technique, too many people are shooting hdr because it is new or different or whatever. many people are using hdr software on scenes that do not have enough dynamic range; they end up with images that have been enhanced by hdr software, they are not hdr images. the dynamic range was not in the scene to begin with.

This can be checked with a spotmeter on different areas. NOTE: use of auto bracketing on a camera may not work unless you know the bracketing is using the shutter speeds to bracket. in any event, you really need 5-9(?) shots for hdr; this is more than the auto bracket fcn on almost all cameras. and the bracketing has to be both sides of the middle shot. make you use enough brackets to cover the previously checked dynamic range.

And the scene should have no movement, if so the item will blur in the hdr image..

Do not adjust the focus. set the focus on infinity or use a hyperfocalsetup for focus..

Do not adjust the white balance for individual shots. go with awb or 1 setting and do not change it..

Remember, hdr was created and meant for scene that have a dynamic range that exceeds the dynamic range of the camera sensor, about 5-6stops. hdr with the required software allows the user to capture a scene that has very high dynamic range..

I currently use Dynamic-Photo HDR and recommend it. Less than the price of photomatrix and it has 6 different looks, (the photomatrix look is included, and each of the 6 looks can be fine tuned. Get Dynamic-Photo hdr here- also included is a program that is part of DP hdr that can make a fake hdr look image from a jpeg...

Comment #5


Take a look at this shot:.

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Only reason why this shot was possible, because low moon near horizon line was very dim, while road/city lights bright..

Exposure ISO 200, f/5.6 (max opened diaphragm at 300mm end of my lens) and 6 sec..

Moon water reflection will will not be as bright as city traffic lights..


Comment #6

Should do the trick. The problem is one of too much DR as has been noted..

Split or graduated ND filters will let you reign in the moon while properly exposing the water. Luckily you are probably talking about a nice flat horizon..

Not a moorise, but here's a sunset using the above mentioned techniques. Taming the moon should be a similar situation..

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But I did notice another aspect to what you want. You said you want the moon in sharp detail as well as the water. That might require two different focal lengths depending on the hyperfocal distance of the lens used. Which means combining two shots anyway, so going the blended route might be best after all.Chefziggy

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Comment #7

Stan_P wrote:.


Take a look at this shot:.

Only reason why this shot was possible, because low moon near horizonline was very dim, while road/city lights bright..

Exposure ISO 200, f/5.6 (max opened diaphragm at 300mm end of mylens) and 6 sec..

Moon water reflection will will not be as bright as city traffic lights..

Thanks again, Stan. EXACTLY what I am going for. And this is the same moon I have had twice in the past few days...huge and orange. OK, so I am trying to do the impossible...just not enough light in the frame I guess, to get all my wants!.

Thanks so much all, for the education about this...

Comment #8

Was yesterday's weather good for your try?.

Technically, if moon reflection will be very bright and you will use 2 stop ND GRad filter, and overexpose cold orange moon surface by +1.5 stop you may get reflections too..

I don't live near ocean but would be very exited during vacation to try this possiblity. More complicated are lighting conditions - more I like challenge to get perfect photo..

Do you know that at certain haze/fog conditions you can get sun detail?I'll try to dig my archives and post here..


Comment #9

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