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Sand Patterns in Moonlight: How I Made Night Look Like Daytime

Light quality can change an image, but in landscape photography, apart from researching and planning your shoot timing, there isn’t much that you can control. If shooting in the daytime isn’t getting you the results you want, why not try a long exposure under moonlight? It could give you that beautiful, soft contrast that is harder to achieve under harsh sunlight. (Reported by: GOTO AKI, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/FL: 24mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 120 sec)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Auto


The story behind the shot

While outdoors shooting on a sand dune one night, the light from my headlamp illuminated these patterns in the sand.

Moonlight is a lot softer than sunlight, so when you take a long exposure with it as your only light source, the resulting image will have a mild contrast that is different from the harsh contrast you tend to get under sunlight. Thus, I decided to use it to capture my newly discovered sand patterns.


Key #1: Avoiding camera shake

I shot in Bulb mode with a 120 second exposure. Long exposures such as these are extremely prone to camera shake, so to prevent it, I did the following:

- Use a tripod
 I set mine up so that the camera was at a low angle.

- Use a remote shutter release (or Canon Camera Connect)
The impact when you press the shutter button could introduce camera shake. I used the in-camera bulb timer function and a shutter release cable. You could also use the 2-second timer to start the exposure.

Canon’s free Camera Connect smartphone app has a Remote Live View Shooting function and a Bluetooth Remote Controller, both of which can be used as remote shutter releases. During Remote Live View shooting, if you are using the in-camera bulb timer, the time elapsed will show in the area indicated by the red box. If your camera has no built-in bulb timer and you need to end the exposure manually, you can simply tap the stop button onscreen.

- Block the wind
If it’s windy, the wind could still cause camera shake even if you are using a tripod. I identified the direction of oncoming wind and used my body to block the wind from the camera.

Also see:
Nailing the Shot: A Sea of Clouds in the City at Night
6 Useful Tips for Remote Shooting via Wi-Fi with the Camera Connect App


Key #2: Finding focus in low light

This is how dark my surroundings were when I took the shot:

Under such conditions, depending on your camera and lenses, your autofocus might not work at all. My LED headlamp—something you can easily buy from a shop that sells outdoor gear—proved useful for more than just seeing in the dark. I shone the light on the sand, and then switched to manual focus mode, magnifying the Live View display to fine-tune the focus. I turned the light off before taking the shot.

Know this: Low light AF performance depends on your camera and lens

Scenes like this are where cameras with a lower minimum low light AF limit will perform better. For example, the EOS R6 can focus in conditions as dark as EV-6.5*, and the EOS R and EOS R5 can focus in environments as dark as EV-6*, which is roughly the exposure value of moonlight from a quarter moon. 

As Canon cameras meter scenes and carry out subject detection at maximum aperture, the maximum aperture of your lens also matters—the wider the maximum aperture, the more light entering the image sensor/AF sensor and the easier it is for the camera to acquire focus in the dark.

* f/1.2, at 23°C, ISO 100, One-Shot AF


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Born in 1972 in Kanagawa Prefecture and graduated from Sophia University and Tokyo College of Photography. Goto published a photo collection work titled "LAND ESCAPES" and is also actively engaged in works such as “water silence” an installation that merges photographs with videos.


Digital Camera Magazine

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