83. Lilies by moonlight at Marybank

Lilies by moonlight at Marybank. 28 September 1985

This still-life was just outside our house at Marybank, Nelson. Exposure took an hour or more, at around f8 with the Pentax Takumar 50mm, on Kodachrome 64. I recently re-scanned the slide and with greater attention to levels, contrast and colour in Photoshop, I made some gratifying improvements.

Moonlight photography at home has two initial hurdles – your houselights, and then nearby street lighting. In domestic domains the available moonlight is frequently overwhelmed or discoloured by street lamps. Artificial light does not rule out night camerawork in general, of course, but moon rays do not thrive in competition.

In the above case, we turned off the lights in the two adjacent rooms, as even thick curtains will leak wattage over a long exposure. While the camera did its slow work we went to another living room on the other side of the house. Three cheers for obliging housemates!

The further challenge of moonlight close-ups is depth of focus, for which by daylight you usually stop down. At night, though, this can lead to over-long exposures – without even considering battery power. Fortunately my Pentax Spotmatic did not need power for the shutter (unlike the 6×7, I have belatedly learned), but power drainage is a definite concern with most digital cameras.

Then there is the wind. The slightest breeze will make all your efforts for good depth of focus quite pointless. A decent breeze, on the other hand, should give you some scope for motion studies of flowers. Depth of focus is then scarcely relevant, and 60 minutes is unlikely to give you any better flow of colours than 15 mins. However brightly coloured flowers such as poppies are best for this – once you have found some with petals still open.

Vertical tripod positions seem much fussier than the horizontal camera. Angles and levels need more attention, as does tripod balance with the extra weight side-long to the head. Be sure to tighten all screws, and especially your head!