I've just returned from a wild camping expedition to the Isle of Skye with my partner Helen and my brother and sister. The trip was a birthday celebration for Helen, but I also used it as a chance to get some classic landscape shots with a twist - moonlight. We picked some beautiful spots but the most spectacular was Loch Slapin, near Torrin.
Inspired by the beauty of our first camp spot, we couldn’t resist a swim in Loch Slapin before the tide receded. When the waters lowered and the beach was exposed, the photographic potential increased and I fetched my tripod as the moon ascended.
I love working with moonlight; the ethereal glow of a waxing, full or waning moon is enough to counteract many technical issues associated with low light photography. At the same time the light is gentle enough to allow for long exposures, enabling the capture of movement in clouds, water, people and more.
Helen, Anieka, myself and Jacob relaxing around the campfire under the constellations Ursa Major and Bootes. The brightest star is Arcturus, meaning ‘guardian of the plough.’ The plough is the famous part of Ursa Major sometimes known as the ‘Big Dipper.’
All in all it’s a great middle ground between day photography and dark sky photography. During my photography workshops I encourage people with entry level DSLR’s to get out under the moonlight. Whilst these cameras often lack a full frame and the ISO capabilities required for dark sky photography, they can obtain some great results under moonlight. For beginner astrophotographers there’s nothing like a moonlit shoot to get your foot in the door, especially as it’s much easier to see what you’re doing and compose an image - not so easy under starlight!
Helen and Anieka watching the embers glow under the rising moon.
The moon will also wash away detail in the night sky, but it carries it’s own beauty nonetheless. For example these ‘moon dogs’ or ‘paraselene’ (meaning beside the moon) occur when the moon has a halo. Moonlight is refracted by hexagonal shaped flat ice crystals in the high atmosphere - specifically in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. An Otter fishing in the moons' dancing reflection in the Loch added to the magic of the celestial display of the moon dogs. We don’t have a word for the road like river of light when the moon shines on water, but the Swedish call it Mångata (moh-angata). I doubt even the Swedish have a word for what happens when there’s an Otter fishing in the reflection, but it was beautiful!
Ice crystals in high atmosphere clouds refract moonlight. As the light from our largest natural satellite is split, curved rainbows appear along the lunar halo.
When the tide had lowered enough for me to get level with the foot of the mountains, I ventured out onto the beach, pausing to notice some delicious looking mussels hiding amongst the seaweed (we foraged and cooked some shortly after). Seeing one sky reflected underneath the other is mesmerising, and I’ve tried to do the view from that night justice in this final image.
A calm Loch Slapin mirrors the mountains and Ursa Major.