Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Moonlight Reflecting Across the Ocean - My Vision

"Moonlight" across the ocean ~ © Royce Bair (Click image for a larger view)
This photograph was from the deck of a cruise ship, while cruising the Mexican Riviera in early December. I was teaching a photography workshop on this trip, and I took this shot in between classes. The idea in my mind was to create a romantic, moonlight evening view of the ocean, as one would see from the elevated deck of a cruise ship.

This shot is only an illusion to the nighttime. The image was taken in the daytime, with the sun just outside the camera view, so I had to shade the lens with my other hand. Photographing the reflection of real moonlight across the ocean would have required a time exposure that would have blurred the ocean waves to almost complete smoothness -- not to mention the fuzzy horizon line due to the ship's motion. This illusion is similar to how movie makers do "night" scenes -- underexposing the scene and using a blue filter, or changing the color balance in post-production. Note: in the early B/W days, a red filter was used, not to change color, but to increase contrast in the B/W image.

The original photograph was mainly shades of gray, with very little color. Post-production of the raw image in Photoshop changed the scene into millions of shades of blue. The sky also had to be darkened considerably. The final touch was to give the image a slight pinch-cushion distortion to increase the curvature of the ocean horizon. This less than 3% curvature has an amazing effect on the mind. The image becomes less static, more recognizable, more memorable, and more exciting.

I photographed some stunning locations on this trip, but this simple, conceptional icon has made more stock photo sales that any of the other images I took.

September 2012 update: A real moonlight shot is now possible with some of today's new high sensitivity DSLR cameras (full-frame sensors, capable of high ISO's and low noise), such as the Nikon D4s and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. However, the results would still be very noisy. Let me explain: Daylight is about 300,000 times brighter than moonlight. The above daylight photo was taken at an exposure of f/18 @ 1/500 second, ISO 100. A similar moonlight shot would have had to have been taken at ISO 30,000,000! Since both of the cameras mentioned only go up to ISO 102400, I'd suggest a more reasonable exposure of f/1.8 @ 1/60 second at ISO 29,297 (or the camera's closest equivalent of 25,600) -- which would still be very noisy.

You can also view my Flickr Photostream to see more of "My Vision."

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