One of the most enjoyable challenges for me is adding a moon to one of my images. When photographing the moon, everyone usually starts by trying to fill the frame with a full moon, then selecting an exposure that provides some detail of the features on the moon, like craters, valleys, man in the moon, etc. This does not take too long and soon you have several images on your card for your efforts, all that look about the same. So you wait a day or two and get another set of images with the moon in a different phase. Maybe you buy a new long lens to get closer with even more detail or get up very early to capture a setting moon, with a nice orange-ish color from a rising sun.
It doesn't take long before you decide that the best moon photos are ones that have something in the foreground Maybe a building, mountain, tree or some other recognizable landform, object or structure that adds place to your composition. For inspiration, you can go to a local grocery store and look through the rack of postcards. Landscape photos are usually in abundance and many have beautiful moons rising over a local landmark. If you are like me you will ask yourself, why can't I do that? How did they get that shot? Soon it becomes clear that Photoshop played a part in the post processing, with some skill in capturing the images. Getting the moon and landscape into one shot in-camera is difficult because you have to deal with a totally different set of conditions including exposure, depth of field, telephoto vs landscape lenses, etc.
Above is a photo of a Super Moon over downtown Seattle I took this summer. Unfortunately, the moon was not that big in the frame compared to the city with the lens that I had. It was not even at that position in the sky - although it was close. However, this is a single image that came from my camera, with very little post processing. So how could that be? There must be a 5-6 stop difference between a correctly exposed moon and the night scene of downtown Seattle!
To accomplish this, you first will want to shoot in Manual mode and use a zoom lens, like the Nikkor 28-300mm. Then you will need to come up with an exposure estimate for both the moon by itself and downtown Seattle.
The moon is easy. There is even a website that you can use to calculate the correct exposure. After a while you just know that the number is somewhere between 1/60 to 1/120 of a sec @ f6.3. Take a test shot to make sure. Check for detail on the surface of the moon. Remember the camera and lens settings that gave the best results. For the above image I used 300mm at around 1/60 sec @ f6.3, ISO 100.
Next, downtown Seattle is fairly easy too - take another test shot. The exposure for Seattle that night was 8 sec @ f11, with the lens set at roughly 90mm. Note: I probably did not need f11 but I was also trying to get some detail of Mt Rainer 50 miles away.
Finally, I switched the camera to Multiple Exposure mode - 2 images with auto gain ON. The first exposure was of downtown Seattle, leaving room for a moon in the upper third of the image. Then I dialed in my moon settings, recomposed and focused on the moon, before taking the second shot. After making a couple of corrections, this is what I came up with. Note: Multiple Exposure mode does not allow you to use differing ISO values - so ISO 100 was my choice in this example.
Shooting the moon is fun and including recognizable foregrounds in your composition can be rewarding. Next time you get a chance give it a try. Let me know if this was helpful.