Photo by David Carson. There's a nice vertical version at his website.
This past weekend was the "supermoon," so called—the time at which the moon comes closest to the Earth, and is at its largest and brightest—and the National Geographic collected 11 photographs of it by photojournalists. This shot by David Carson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is particularly excellent, although I think Tom Fox's shot is original and all of them are enjoyable to see.
I tried to photograph the supermoon too, being a lunatic. (That is, the moon is one of those "trigger subjects" for me—every time I see a nice moon scene I reflexively think it's an opportunity for a photograph. Which is lunacy, of course.) The full moon rising through the trees behind my house is a lovely sight. Unfortunately it's way beyond the DR abilities of any of my digital devices, because there's a steep ridge behind the house and the moon is already high above the horizon by the time it rises into view from here.
Here's the scene exposed for the moon...
And here it is exposed for the scene...
Those two shots are a whopping 13 stops away from each other, if I counted 'em up right. Way beyond the capacity of the aging Sony A900 to record. The top file has no information in the dark areas—it's pure noise—and the highlights in the file on the bottom are thoroughly blown.
HDR is a wonderful tool—I use it all the time—but with this camera, no exposure in between these two extremes has acceptable detail in both the moon and the trees. Even though I want only slight information in the trees, that is, black on dark gray in a B&W print.
So what's the solution? Well, the way to photograph this scene would be to do a multi-exposure HDR merge, which is beyond my capability (because in general it's beyond my interests—with photo technique you learn to do what you want to do, and the rest you let go).
And the way to shoot very bright subjects in general is to balance the lighting. That is, with the moon, catch it when there's still light in the sky, so the brightness range of the whole subject—called, not surprisingly, the subject brightness range or SBR—is within the range of the sensor or film to record. It's possible, of course, to "shoot* the moon" when the brightness of the moon and the sky are nearly the same (here's an example of that; photo by Becky Anderson).
What I ended up doing was driving out to the countryside, stopping on a lonely abandoned road, killing** the car engine and the lights, and just enjoying the sight of the moonlight on the fields and farms and distant hills. The cold night wind in the telephone wires made an eerie hum like a distant keening.
Getting back to the original subject: nice work David Carson!
(Thanks to Charles Heuer)
*Not with a gun.
**Not murdering or assassinating. I turned it off.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Tom Walton: "I admire Mr Carson's editorial discipline. I would want, with every fiber of my being, to nudge that moon ever so slightly to the right. On the other hand, the slight lack of symmetry adds a little tension to the image."
MJFerron: "See that photo by David Carson? This is why I did not attempt to shoot the moon. (Nice job David.)"
JG: "One doesn't need to photograph the supermoon itself in order to take advantage of the photographic opportunities it presents. For example, I photograph mostly at night and the additional light provided by the moon over the past few days has made it possible for me to photograph scenes I otherwise couldn't or wouldn't, by raising the shadows and reducing the exposure range my camera is required to capture. Here is an example...without a brighter-than-average moon overhead illuminating this scene, the highlights would blow out and the shadows plug up, making a single-exposure photo impossible to take. (I know this for a fact, because I've tried to photograph it many times before, always without any success.)
"So rather than fret about not having the proper equipment, think outside the box a bit and before it's too late, get yourself outdoors tonight and take some photos! A little sleep is all you stand to lose.... 8^) "
Geoffrey Heard: "I don't want to mention that I have trouble sleeping at the full moon! Supermoon? Perigee full moon is the term you are actually reaching for—which caused no photographic hysteria back in the day when it was called that before someone labelled a slight increase in visual size (about 7% above normal) 'super.' Here in paradise, where natural phenomena really count, life just went on as normal. Your supermoon did not affect the crops we live on. Or fishing."