Behind The Image: David Clapp is dancing in the moonlight with a Canon EOS-1D X

Behind The Image: David Clapp on dancing in the moonlight with a Canon EOS-1D X

In his latest guest blog post, professional photographer David Clapp recounts his ongoing night photography experiments shooting in moonlight and how one of the biggest challenges is retaining the sense of night. To read about and see more of his work, follow David on Facebook or visit David’s photo blog.

Behind The Image: David Clapp on dancing in the moonlight with a Canon EOS-1D X

Well it was a gorgeous full moon last night, so strong that it looked a little too strong. The one thing I have learned about shooting in moonlight over the last few years is that just like lunchtime sunshine, the light can be rather ‘hard’.

Half moon, moon rise or moonset can be far more flattering on the lunar landscape, but last night I learned a few more things: doing the torch dance in the early hours with new moonlight cadet, Rob.

The biggest issue when shooting under a full moon is retaining the sense of night. The light levels are surprisingly high, which means a well exposed image is going to look like daylight, which is somewhat uninspiring.

Underexpose the sky and the ground becomes less than interesting, so last night at Spinsters Rock, the challenge was very apparent.

After a straight shot with the remarkable 1Dx at ISO800, shooting f2.8 looked like a summer afternoon. Bold greens, cyan sky and a rather dubious looking white sun.

Rather than drop the ISO, I increased the aperture to let less light into the camera, which darkened the sky and gave far greater depth of field. Nice.

This rendered the cairn looking somewhat lacklustre, so out with the torches – lets create our own light.

I have been using a fabulous new torch, a SpotON 1150 High Performance Lamp. It’s pocketable, comes with a separate power pack that lasts hours, and can burn you’re your retinas out in a single glance.

In fact it’s so powerful, it can be used to paint entire cliffs from 1000m away! What I love about this in particular is that it’s the same white balance as the moon itself, which means a complimentary white light, instead of the usual yellowy beams. The latter can create complicated post processing issues with multiple white balances.

Setting up the shot
So, how was this shot assembled? After a few attempts at some side lighting things were looking good, but not good enough. The stones were in alignment with Orion and the moon on high (druid moment), but there was just not enough drama going on.

So with the cameras lined up, Rob got me into position behind the stones and I span the torch in my hands. This gave fabulous shadows extending outwards, whilst Rob did the honours, skillfully painting the stones, without biasing the one at the front.

So, here’s the spec – Canon EOS-1D X, 14-24mm, 30secs at f/8, ISO 800, with 20secs from Rob on the ‘side’ torch and 30secs from me in the centre.

After 15 takes, until just gone midnight, we had it in the bag. I have no idea what the farm over the road thought was going on – two grown men doing ballet in a field of sheep.

But then moonlight does funny things to people.


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  • Alex Teo

    Hi Jeff,

    Please let me know if there is light pollution there (from the nearby farm(s) especially).

    I wonder if something interesting could come on a starry night.