How to Shoot a Nighttime City Skyline with a Crisp Detailed Moon

How to Shoot a Nighttime City Skyline with a Crisp Detailed Moon
Shoot a Nighttime City Skyline with a Crisp Detailed Moon

Article by: Jijo John

Many beginner photographers who attempt to capture the nighttime city skyline with a very attractive moon in it end up with a perfectly exposed shot but with a white bright circle where the moon was. Most people try different exposures which might result in a correctly exposed moon but with the city skyline so underexposed that there is no detail present.

Why is it so difficult to perfectly expose the city skyline and the moon in a single shot?

We have published an article on photographing the moon earlier in this blog which can be found here:- How to Photograph the Moon. In the article we have clearly mentioned that light coming from the moon is sunlight being reflected off the moon۪s surface and it is much brighter than most people think it is. Therein lies the problem; when we include a very bright object in our otherwise dimly lit scene it falls out of our digital camera۪s dynamic range. The camera is simply not able to record that much contrast; so depending on the exposure values, it would either expose the moon properly there by clipping shadows or it would expose the city skyline properly and clip highlights.

How to Shoot a Nighttime City Skyline with a Crisp Detailed Moon

In the days of film photographers used a technique called multi exposure to capture such scenes; the process was to capture two different exposures in the same frame. Even some modern DSLR cameras allow you to do this in camera. But the easiest and more precise way to get what you need is to shoot two different exposures; one long exposure shot for the city skyline and one for the moon and combine them both later in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop.

Step by Step Explanation

1. Photograph your nighttime city skyline.

photograph of nighttime city skyline
photograph of nighttime city skyline without the moon

To photograph a nighttime city skyline you will require some very long exposures and this makes a solid tripod an absolute necessary. Use your wide angle lens to shoot the city skyline, consider using a relatively narrow aperture of f/11 or narrower to ensure sufficient depth of field, depending on how light or how dark the city skyline is the exposure time may wary from several seconds to even minutes.

2. Photograph the Moon


Now take a photograph of the moon with the longest focal length lens you have, preferably 400mm or longer. Zoom in tight so there is nothing but the moon and the black sky in your shot.

3. Combine Both shots in Adobe Photoshop

a. Open both shots in adobe photoshop.

combining two photos in photoshop

b. Drag and drop the moon over the other picture.

including moon in architecture shots

Re-size the moon and move it to the desired location.

image compositing in adobe photoshop

Now change the blending mode of the top later (moon shot) to lighten.

using blending modes in adobe photoshop
And we have our perfectly exposed city skyline along with a crisp detailed moon. See the first picture in this article for the final result. We will discuss how to make the moon a bit more interesting and much more convincing in a later article.
Have Fun.

Learn Good Photography Tips

  1. Shaped Bokeh Tutorial
  2. How to Photograph Light Streaks
  3. How to Photograph the Sun
  4. How to Photograph the Human Eye, Iris or Pupil
  5. Night Photography Tips

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