Winter in The Netherlands. This shows one of the centuries-old windmills
scattered throughout the country.
Double exposures are interesting for artistic purposes; since the moon is so much brighter than the
landscape at night, you can never photograph both in one frame with proper exposure. It is a fun technique
to try, but don't take it too seriously. You can, however, express all your creativity with double
In this document I will assume you try the technique at night, by full (or gibbous) moon.
You will need a camera with a multi-exposure option. Not all cameras have this option. The
Nikon FE cameras which I use now have a convenient lever for it, as probably do other newer SLR bodies.
Maybe your camera will even have a program mode for it.
If you have an older SLR camera which does not have a multi-exposure option, there may be a way to trick
it. I found a way to trick my old Praktica camera doing multi-exposures as follows:
- take a photo (the first frame of the series);
- retension the rewind lever, so that the film is tightly rolled, and hold on to it so it doesn't roll back;
- while holding the rewind lever, push in the winder-unlock pin (this is used to unlock the film winding
cylinder when you want to rewind the film);
- While holding the rewind lever and pressing the rewind unlock pin simultaneously, wind the film as you normally would.
However, you will notice that the film does not transport to the next frame, since you have the transport mechanism
If your camera does not have a double-exposure option, when you try the double-exposure technique
as described in the text you have to take care that the film does not move in between the exposures, or the moon will
be shifted, as on this photo. Here, it should have been more to the right.
Now the shutter is ready for taking a picture over the first picture. You can repeat this as many times
as you want.
Note: it is a last-resort method for making double exposures, and sometimes (if you don't have the rewind
lever tensioned all the way) the film will still transport a bit, or even rewind a bit if you have the
lever tensioned too much. Hence, you may end up with shifted frames. But it works, if you don't have
Typically, you will make a double exposure (as opposed to multi-exposure of several more frames). The
two exposures differ greatly in exposure times (shutter speeds), due to the difference in magnitude of
the moon and the landscape.
If you want a real big moon, you have to use a lens somewhere in the range from 500mm to 1000mm. Aperture
should not be a higher number than f/11 (or the moon will be blurred due to Earth's rotation). For the landscape,
any lens will do, depending on your frame composition.
Apart from the obvious equipment, use a tripod and cable release for both the moon and landscape exposure.
Use a sturdy tripod, especially if you will use a very long focal length telephoto lens for the moon, such
as a 500mm or 1000mm. With longer exposures (longer than 1/100 sec) with such a lens, the photo may be
blurred already by just the tremor of the SLR camera, when it flips the mirror upward. When I photograph
with the 1000mm lens or longer, I use an old army-surplus tripod made by wood, used for theodolites, and modified for
fitting a tripod ball-head on it.
Snowscapes do well with this technique. These photos sell well as Christmas wishing cards.
Typically, you will need exposure times for the landscape at between 1 and 4 minutes, f/2.8, using 100 ISO
film. The exposure times for this differ so widely that I can't possibly give a correct value; it depends
a.o. on lunar altitude, cloudiness, light pollution, lunar phase, time of year and day (night), albedo of
landscape, etc. So, use your camera's exposure meter, and expose 1/2 to 1 stop longer than indicated to
account for the film reciprocity error. Make sure you also bracket your exposures (one stop less and another
with one stop more, to experiment).
It is better to choose a higher aperture such as f/5.6 and f/8 combined with a longer exposure time, so
your photo will be sharper and show less vignetting.
For the moon, the exposure differs too, and this is even more difficult to determine because of the various
phases of the moon. The brightness of the moon is not just the percentage of disk illuminated! Due to
the dry-heiligenschein effect and retro-reflective minerals on the lunar surface, the full
moon is much more bright than one would think based on phase angle. So, I'm giving you a formula to
determine the proper exposure to within 1/2 stop or so. This formula worked well for me.
t = F2 / (K * ISO)
- t is the shutter speed in seconds
- K is a constant:
|20||for crescent moon|
|40||for first/last quarter moon|
|100||for gibbous moon|
|200||for full moon|
- F is the focal ratio (e.g. F=16 for f/16)
- ISO is your film speed, e.g. 100.
So, say you are using a 1000mm lens on f/11 with 100 speed film for the moon, and the moon is gibbous.
Then t = 112 / (100*100) or t = 121/10000 sec, or about 1/80 sec.
There are a few things that will make your pictures look more realistic (or less unrealistic, if you will):
- First of all, make sure that any shadowing
in the picture is not too well visible, because you will in general have the moon at a completely different
place in the sky on your frame than it was. So, try to have the shadows of structures (if at all visible
on your photo) coming towards you, which would be more logical with the moon being in view.
- Also, if the moon is high in the sky, photograph the moon at an angle, depending on which direction you
will make the landscape photo. If the moon were low in the sky as the photo will suggest, the lunar structures
(maria and craters) would appear to be rotated. This is especially important when you photograph a crescent moon, which
will never show vertical if it is just above the horizon (the light crescent should always face more or less
downward, with the horns facing upward).
Don't make your photos look too unrealistic - i.e. don't have the moon too big on the photo
when it doesn't match with the composition.
- The most important thing to take into account is the position of the moon in your frame. Make sure that
you remember well exactly where the moon would be located in the frame, when you do the landscape exposure, so that no
structures end up in front of the moon. If that happens, the moon will appear to be in front of the structure.
If there are clouds in the sky, that will make it even more complicated, but if the clouds are not too thick
(like cirrus), generally it will still look realistic (it may even look beautiful).
- You can also create stunning photos with a lunar eclipse, this way. But then the exposure time for the moon
would be much longer.