A sudden planning led me to a trekking trip to the top of Triund, Macleodganj in state of Himachal Pradesh, India. We planned to camp atop the mountain and witness the starry sky. We knew that moon will rise but as there were big mountains shading us that would have given us more time to witness the sky. As the place had extremely less light pollution it was exquisite, as the moon rise happen the entire landscape glow in faint moon light, at that time it was Waning Gibbous phase of the moon. Yet due to so much less light pollution one could see another being so clearly as if everything were lit in dusky evening.
I always wanted to take images using the biggest reflector for the sun’s light thus the night seemed to be just right.
The portraits taken in moon light have some other worldly quality in it. The light is so subtle and exquisite, over that the stars in the backdrops add to the Bokeh of image. While taking portraits in moonlit environment the corporation of the models becomes really important, due to such low level of light for the camera you need to have 4+ seconds of exposure time. What I find best in such scenario to get best results are as follows.
Communicate: Talk to the person you are photographing and let them know why they need to be as still as possible and show them the result, so that they could see the process and do their best accordingly.
Pose and Stability: This process reminds me of big wet plate camera when your exposure use to be 4-5 plus seconds and you need have poses and gestures as relaxing and stable as possible. Thus to do so you need to pose the model in such a way that either they are in sitting and relaxed position or leaned over something and have that solid support, with the facial expression you could experiment, however simpler and calmer expressions are better.
Camera settings: Any camera with manual settings could give you the result, Use the fastest lens possible and based on your camera’s ISO capability you can choose your ISO, usually 1600 to 2000 works fine in Full frame latest cameras. The goal is to get good exposure in minimum length of shutter speed possible. (Tip: look to your histogram for good exposure, such low light scenario could fool you by seeing results on back of your screen)
Focusing: Getting the right focus in such light is really hard, even the flagship DSLR’s might find it hard. Best is to have camera on tripod and use a flashlight on your subject and focus and switch focus to manual without moving anything (subject or camera); if you are using Nikon system like I did, you can always use focus assist lamp if the subject is relatively near.
Compositing and lightning: Try different style and approach. Do it as you might go with any other portrait shoot, irrespective of all disadvantages the advantages are many; You get a beautiful star filled sky as backdrop, make use of that. Work around direction of moon light and however faint the light might be, the moon light got some hard nature.
Post-Processing: For best result if it’s possible then it goes unsaid that you must shoot in RAW format. You should edit images to around the look you were able to see from your naked eyes or little more than that. It is always a good idea not to go overboard in editing. This could be a learning curve for you and you could learn a lot and come up with better results as you shoot next time. Make sure you make note of all the issues which you encountered pre and post the shoot and work around them.
And finally have fun and marvel upon the type of look you get. Good Luck.