It is just one of those things. It is just there, all the time. It is so present that its aura can become lost through its continuous presence overhead. However, its relative positioning makes the world of difference. The moon is to night photography as the sun is to wildlife photography.

As the nearest, prominent celestial body to Earth, the moon reflects a great deal of the Sun’s light rays back onto us when we are facing away from the Sun (during night time). It takes slightly less than 24 hours for the moon to complete its orbit around us and so from a single observation point on Earth, its presence may only be seen across the sky for several hours a night. That, coupled with its relative position to us and the Sun, mean the amount of visual surface of the moon reflecting light changes every night, until finally full moon occurs (normally) once a month as it rises while the Sun sets.
For a few nights either side of true full moon the appearance of the moon is still magnificently large and “full” of light, as the majority of its visual surface reflects sunlight back at us. This drastically changes the game for night photography.

moon, TMP

An very full moon, with all of its visible surface reflecting sunlight back, looks bright white will high in the night sky and is therefore a great source of white light which is not as harsh as the midday white light from the Sun. 1/320 at f/4; ISO 100. Photograph by Trevor McCall-Peat.

With a moon surface filled with reflecting light, the night is not so dark. This is often considered unfortunate timing for those wanting to experiment with astrophotography. It is true that the moonlight dims out many of the stars, but close to the full moon period astrophotography is still possible either early in the night before the waning moon rises or later (very early morning) after the waxing moon sets but before the sun approaches. The latter requiring either dedication or jet lag.

sunset, SC

As the Sun disappears, a new opportunity for photography begins. 1/400 at f/10; ISO 500 [at 200mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.

milky way, satellites, SC

Without any moon in the night sky, all celestial bodies appear clear and bright! This long exposure on an area of the Milky Way reveals its amazing colours, the large shine of Jupitar, and three separate low-altitude satellites bypassing one another towards the centre of the image. 25,0sec at f1.4; ISO 800 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.

In my opinion, it is much more enjoyable to use the great big glowing white moon to your advantage and attempt to capture a completely different type of image during the night. With either a very wide aperture or a very slow shutter, one can achieve beautifully unique landscapes using only moonlight. As the moon’s cool light casts shadows beyond trees and textures the entire scenery, stars litter the skyline behind.

moon lit landscape, SC

With a bright moon in the night sky, images like like are possible. Stars remain visible in the background while the entire landscape becomes illuminated with moonlight. 10,0sec at f/1.4; ISO 100 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.

land rover, moonlight, SC

A less saturated process of the same scenery, including the iconic Land Rover as a subject this time. Note the sharp shadows the moonlight has cast. 1,0sec at f/1.4; ISO 1000 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.

sand river, finfoot, moon light, SC

An otherwise pitch dark scene is revealed through moonlight. The Sand River is bathed in cool moonlight while the stars glitter beyond. 3,0sec at f/1.4; ISO 320 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.

From a purely photographic perspective, make the most of a bright moon as it only comes around for a short few nights every four weeks. Get experimental and let us know what you walk away with.

moonlight, SC

Eager photographers set up cameras in the dark to capture moonlit landscapes, and so use a flashlight to light up a nearby tree as a subject on which to manually focus before beginning the shot. 1,3sec at f/1.4; ISO 1000 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.

Next on my schedule is to try using the full moon to backlight subjects like tree canopies, dead Leadwoods, or even old and vacant buildings. Another idea is to start photographing animals with moonlight; noting the slower shutter speed and thus the need for stationary animals. Perhaps a standing rhino or seated lion could make for an interesting photograph?

The world is at your fingertips, with the moon as an alternative source of lighting. Play with it!

Filed under Photo Journal Wildlife

About the Author

Sean Cresswell

Safari Guide

Sean is one of the humblest rangers you are likely to meet. Quietly going about his day, enriching the lives of the many guests he takes out into the bush, it is only when he posts a Week in Pictures or writes an ...

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on Photographic Journal: The Light Side of the Moon

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Jill Larone

Very interesting blog Sean! I have so much to learn about different photography techniques, so I love these write-ups . Your pictures are stunning!

Michael Klauber

Great post Sean, love the way you guys shoot the night images. Can’t wait to get back there to try again with you all!

Rienie Denner

Please can you check the share otion to facebook. In the past I shared many of your posts to my wildlife group there. The shared posts always came in with a picture, currently not any more. I find that FB users don’t click on the link if it just gives the title of the post and not accompanied by an image. The image serves an important function to entice interest in the post and motivting others to find out and learn more. As a result, I now have to copy all the text and images from your website and paste them onto group page on FB, but it takes much more time for me – something that I don’t always have and concurrently, I share far less of your posts than I did in the past. Please, can you look into the matter and fix it?

Amy Attenborough

Hi Rienie. Thank you so much for letting us know. We have checked from our side and are all able to share the Londolozi posts to private and group pages with the image always showing. When did this problem start for you? And is there no way that you have changed some personal settings? Many thanks, Amy


Beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing. I will never forget watching the full moon rising one night when on safari, when a gentleman from America exclaimed ” Oh you have a moon here too “


Wonderful perspective Sean! We often get so tied up in the game drives(as well as hungry and tired!) that we forget to “look up”. I thank you for showing us the splendor of the chilly night sky when we returned from our last evening night drive with you! You seem to be quite the astronomer! We just cannot get such wonderful views in North America!

Sue Prince

Great pics Sean…

Andy Francombe

Great blog Sean

Mike Waller

Spectacular photography Amy and James. Thanks for sharing these moments with us and our clients.

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