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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Landscape Photography Technique: Snowy Mountain in the Moonlight

2022-11-11
2
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Mountains are always awe-inspiring, but when covered in and surrounded by a thick blanket of snow, they also evoke a sense of wonder and tranquility like no other. There are many ways that you can photograph the scene to express your feelings about it. Here, landscape photographer Takashi Karaki shares what he paid attention to when he shot this starlit image of Mount Daisen and the Motodani Valley, located in Western Japan. (Reported by: Takashi Karaki, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS R5/ RF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 30 sec)/ ISO 4000/ WB: 3,500K
Moon: 6.9 days

In this article:

 

The location and inspiration behind the shot

When people ask me about the best place for stargazing on Mount Daisen, Gendani Valley is what immediately comes to mind. It’s located near the 3rd station of the Mount Daisen summit trail, and gives you a view of the stars in the southern sky.


High altitude gives a clear view of stars, even under moonlight

At almost 1,000m above sea level, the air surrounding the valley is usually clear in winter. As the main image shows, you can see many stars even on a moonlit night! The white, snow-covered northern face of the mountain range, however, is also an impressive sight, rising up against the darkness, lit by moonlight.

For this shot, besides the stars and the tranquility of the scene, I also wanted a contrasty image that also showcased the dimensionality of the mountains. While composition and camera settings were important for achieving my goals, the most crucial step was to plan my shoot so that I was at the location at the best timing.

 

Step 1: Shadows and dimensionality—right time, right moon


Under a quarter moon or larger

To achieve the shadows and dimensionality that highlight the details on the mountain, there needs to be moonlight. Shoot under at least a quarter moon (where half of the moon’s surface is lit)—otherwise, the image would be too dark. The main image was shot under a first quarter moon, 6.5 days into the lunar cycle.


1-2 hours before moonset, when the moon shines from an angle

At this location, about 1 to 2 hours before moonset, the moon shines at an angle from the west, leaving parts of the mountain in shadow. This contrast gives the scene more dimensionality.

The image above was shot under more even lighting. It’s still beautiful although there are no shadows, but I felt that the mountain looked less impressive as there was less dimensionality.

More tips on mountain photography in:
6 Useful EOS R Features for Photographing Mountains with Clouds

For more ideas on photographing landscapes under moonlight, see:
Sand Patterns in Moonlight: How I Made Night Look Like Daytime
Nailing the Shot: Moon and Milky Way Stars Over the Sea
One Location, Two Looks: Photographing a Lighthouse in Moonlight v.s Under the Stars

 

Step 2: A dynamic composition that emphasises the mountain

One other benefit of shooting under moonlight is that the snow-covered northern face of the mountain appears bright and clear. Here, I chose to shoot at 35mm—close enough for a dynamic, detailed shot of the mountain.


What happens with a wider shot?

This image was shot at 24mm. When shooting landscapes against the starlit sky, it’s tempting to use a wider focal length to capture more of the scene. However, that would also reduce the impact of the mountain.

 

Step 3: White balance and exposure

To emphasise the contrast, I exposed the shot for the mountain slopes. This retained the details on the snowy slope, and also deepened the shadows in the snow-covered valley and trees.

Depending on the camera, Auto White Balance might add warmth to scenes shot under moonlight. Here, I set the white balance manually to 3,500K. This gives the image cooler tones, which brings out the nighttime atmosphere better.

 

Useful equipment: Tripod stone bag

Some valleys, like Motodani Valley here, are susceptible to strong downslope winds from the surrounding mountains. A lightweight tripod alone won’t be enough, but you can supplement it with a tripod stone bag. This is a foldable pouch made of durable material. It doesn’t take up much space, but can hold rocks and other heavy items to stabilise the tripod.

The tripod stone bag that I use.


For other tips on shooting snowy scenes, see:
3 Ways to Capture Compelling Images of Monochromatic Winter Scenes
2 Picturesque Winter Scenes in Biei, Hokkaido (with Composition Tips)

Planning a trip to Japan in winter and wondering what to shoot? See:
2 Mesmerising Winter Photography Spots in Hokkaido
Magical Winterscapes: When Diamond Dust Becomes Sun Pillars

You may also be interested in:
How to Protect Your Camera for Cold Weather Photography

About the Author

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Takashi Karaki

After some experience as a sports instructor followed by 10 years in magazine production and editing, Karaki moved to Yonago City in Tottori Prefecture, where he became known for his landscapes of the San’in region of Japan. His works have been published in Amazing Village, a booklet of beautiful Japanese villages produced through a CANON × Discover Japan collaboration in 2017, and his shot of the sea of clouds at Akechi Pass in Tottori Prefecture was among 12 images selected by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) to represent Japan.

Instagram: @karakky0918

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