Camera tricks: make fake moonlight photos in-camera

Camera tricks: how to make fake moonlight photos in-camera

Looking for fun photo ideas? Below we show you how to do one of our favourite camera tricks: adjusting your camera’s white balance and exposure compensation settings to create fake moonlight photos in-camera.

Camera tricks: how to make fake moonlight photos in-camera

If you’ve ever tried taking pictures by moonlight, you’ll realise it’s not easy! You need much longer exposures, obviously, but the real problem is that you end up with a shot that looks almost as if it was taken in the daytime. That’s because moonlight really is just reflected daylight, albeit far dimmer.

But the image we have of moonlight is quite different. To our eyes, moonlight is dark, mysterious and heavily tinged with blue, while shadows appear dense. So how do you get the camera to ‘see’ moonlight in the same way?

Well, you can do what film-makers have been doing for decades. It’s possible to simulate the appearance of moonlight by shooting in broad daylight but with heavily modified camera settings and the help of graduated filters.

For the illusion to be complete, you need the right kind of subject, so we used the ancient ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset to create the perfect ‘moonlit’ atmosphere.

How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera


How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera: step 1

01 Change the white balance
First you need to change the colour balance to give the blue tones associated with moonlight. You can do this by changing the White Balance to the Incandescent setting. This is designed to counteract the warm tinge of artificial lighting, but when used in daylight it gives a blue look.


How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera: step 2

02 Apply EV compensation
Daylight is bright, moonlight is dark. By reducing the exposure, you can get closer to the moonlight effect. You could shoot in Manual mode or, easier still, shoot in one of the auto modes, press the EV compensation button and turn the command dial to reduce the exposure.


How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera: step 3

03 Judge the exposure
The amount you need to reduce the exposure by will depend on the subject and light. Start with a setting of -2EV, take some shots, check them on the LCD display and adjust the exposure if necessary. Forget ‘correct’ settings; this technique is all about what looks right.


How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera: step 4

04 Select a Picture Control
To the eye, moonlight appears less saturated than daylight, but with more contrast. To achieve this look, select one of your Picture Controls (Shooting menu) that you don’t use for anything else, then press right on the multi-selector to change its settings.


How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera: step 5

05 Change the settings
There are sliders here for adjusting a series of picture properties. Reduce the Saturation value to just one notch above the minimum setting, then select the Contrast setting and move it up to maximum. When you click OK, these settings are saved – you can change or reset them later.


How to create fake moonlight photos in-camera: step 6

06 Use a graduated filter
These adjustments can create a convincing moonlight effect. There’s one more thing you can do to complete the illusion. A graduated filter, or two used in combination, applies a heavy darkening effect to the sky, which really does make it look as if you’re shooting at night.


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