There are some popular conditions for landscape photography that every photographer already knows: sunrise and sunset, storm clouds, fog, and so on. But one that doesn’t get mentioned very often is the light produced by a full moon on a clear night. The subtleties of moonlight aren’t always visible to the naked eye, but long exposure photography can lift the curtain. The results may have hints of familiarity, but they also have unique characteristics that make them stand out from typical, daytime photos. Photographing landscapes under the full moon (also referred to as “moonscapes”) is a process with its own set of challenges, so I will explore it in more detail in this article, and hopefully provide some tips for those who are interested in trying it out.
1) The Influence of the Landscape
When you’re taking pictures at night, the landscape — specifically, its reflectivity — plays a larger role than during the day.
For example, you’re not going to get good photos of a dense rainforest under moonlight, since the scene won’t be bright enough for a camera to record. However, if you’re in an empty field (or, best of all, a place with bright sand or snow), you’ll be able to see plenty of details.
A good rule of thumb is that conditions are good for photography if you can see well enough at night to walk around without tripping. Done well, the results will be just different enough from daylight to strike viewers as unusual, showing a side of the landscape that is normally hidden from view.