Photography lessons

Full moonSaw the full moon last night over our back deck, and remembered reading in The Digital Photography Book that there were some cool ways to use Photoshop to take two shots of the same image, then combine them to show the moon in its detail while simultaneously showing the surrounding area. (Scott documents the process on his website, in case you’re interested.)

So I gave it a shot, recognizing that what I was trying to do was a bit different than what Scott documented: there was no skyline or other detail to view, just a dark outline of the trees in the backyard. But it was fun to experiment, and while I’m not entirely happy with the end result (as I note on the Flickr page, I think it looks a little too obviously manipulated), it was a great learning process. Here’s what I did:

  • Put the camera on a tripod, took two shots (in RAW, more on why you should shoot RAW here): one at 1/20 shutter speed (f14) to capture the detail on the moon, and one at 5 seconds (f20) to let a little light in to see the trees.

  • In Photoshop Elements, used the RAW import to set the white balance on the detailed shot of the moon to get as much clarity as possible, while upping the contrast on the second to see as much of the trees as possible. (I actually may re-try this, see below for some guesses as to why I don’t like the finished product.)

  • With that done and both pictures opened in Photoshop Elements, I used the ‘magnetic lasso tool’ to circle the moon in the detailed shot, then cropped it to just that. Select all, then copy, then go to the shot of the trees, and paste. Since the pictures were both oriented in the same place, it pasted where it should have, I didn’t need to move the “detailed” moon at all in the shot with the trees.

Now, a couple things stand out for me in the finished product: depressing the brightness to get the clarity on the moon ends up making the moon too different from the “glow” of the second shot. The result is too jarring, I think. If I try again, I’ll probably try and blend them a bit more – decrease the halo in the second shot (without sacrificing the detail on the trees) while upping the brightness on the detail of the moon – and I think the result would be a little more subtle (and more effective).

One other thing I learned: as Kelby wrote in The Digital Photography Book, I need a better tripod. In several of the shots I tried, when you zoomed in, you can actually see the movement from my finger depressing the shutter release. Not good. Until I invest in a better tripod, I’ll just start using the camera’s timer to push the shutter release, then step back so that the camera has a second or two to steady itself before firing. (I’ve also got my eye on the Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote Control.)

Disclosure: the camera I’m using for the next few months, the Nikon D80, is a loaner from Nikon. It’s part of the “Picture This” project, which I discuss in more detail here.

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