Moonlit Mountains

Often times a bright moon at night is unwanted by photographers that want to capture the night sky as the moonlight overwhelms most of the star light in the sky. But one evening years ago while camping at Guadalupe Mountains National Park during a full moon, I really enjoyed seeing the mountains lit only by moonlight. The color was still there and some of the stars could be seen above and I had never really seen it like that before.

When out at Big Bend last week, I took my daughter to an overlook with great view of the desert and mountains below and most of the sky from horizon to horizon. I have been to this overlook to shoot the night sky in the past. The moon was approaching full and was very bright in the night sky, so the landscape had a similar look to as I remembered from years ago. So, I photographed it.

First below is a photo from the overlook at dawn a couple of mornings later. This photo shows the desert and mountains by morning light.

Next up is the photo I took by the light of the moon.

It is not the most beautiful landscape image, but I really like having the color of the landscape and the night sky. I am used to night landscape images featuring the glorious stars above and a landscape that is mostly shades of dark grey. I suppose I could merge two images together to feature both, but the above image is what was there and it is a single exposure with no Photoshop magic applied.

You can see that the dusty air really scatters the moonlight if you look at the horizon and this does block out the lower stars. Even when it is calm out there, the air is a bit dusty which gives the horizon a warm color gradient after sunset.

You can also see that the stars have run a little in the photo if you look closely. It was a 30 second exposure at 24mm. I used such a long exposure to keep the ISO lower (640) as I was mainly trying to capture the landscape and not as focused on the sky.

Thanks for reading.

48 thoughts on “Moonlit Mountains

  1. I’m not noticing much run in the stars, but I was wondering while reading this, how long the exposure was. To me, 30-seconds seems like a fairly safe amount of time for avoiding star motion. I like the photo. It comes across as kind of dreamy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The stars are not super bright because it is a relatively low ISO for shooting stars and because the moon was really lighting up the sky.

      There is some rule of thumb about how long you can shoot with a given focal length without noticeable star motion and I can’t remember it, but I would expect to see star motion blur at 30s and 24mm. If I had widened out to 14mm, probably not so much.

      I could have done an exposure for the sky and then an exposure for the landscape I suppose and merged them to make a more impressive image. I was mainly thinking of the moonlit landscape.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hadn’t thought of focal length as a factor, but that makes sense. I like the natural look to this photo, without any doctoring. I like to take moonlight walks through the desert, and this is pretty much how the lighting looks to me, except that the moon shadows are visible and distinctive. I can’t figure out why you don’t have moon shadows in your photo, unless the moon was to your back.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t know how I missed seeing this post before , but glad I found it! The morning light picture is pretty, but the moon lit one tops it.Tippy took my word, its a dreamy photo of the night sky. Enchanting, Well done!
    Would almost make me want to spread a blanket and sleep under the stars. If it wasn’t for certain critters crawling around!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I am coming to the conclusion that moon lighting is greatly under-appreciated in landscape photography.

      I don’t think that the certain critters would bother you. I think those particular critters try to avoid people. You could always park up there and sit in your car instead.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So you need to do your part and take more moon lit pictures so that we have the chance to appreciate it more. πŸ™‚

        Hmmm….perhaps it would be better to lay a blanket on the hood of my car. Safe from the creepy crawly critters and a better view than from inside the car.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Bring a beach type chair that reclines way back so you comfortably look at the sky. Apply some bug repellant. Don’t look at your phone or anything else bright for 10 minutes or so to give your eyes time to adjust. And on a moonless night, you can see an amazing amount of stars. Something that us modern human types rarely see anymore since the advent of electric lighting. It’s quite stunning.

          Liked by 1 person

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