Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


Photoshop Tutorials: Supermoon Composite Image

View on YouTube to see this Photoshop tutorial in HD

To my regular readers, the title of this post may come as a surprise to you. You know I'm not a big Photoshop guy. I'm more of a "get the image right in camera" guy. I think Photoshop is overused these days to distort our view of human beauty and to create digital abominations passing themselves off as "photos," so I tend not to put out Photoshop tutorials.

BUT, I'm certainly not opposed to using Photoshop to do something that couldn't be done in the camera or couldn't be done with better quality in the long as it's done with good taste. And "good taste" is key. It's always amusing to me when someone will spend 3 hours working in Photoshop to create an image uglier than sin (*cough* HDR *cough*).

So I ran into a situation recently where the image I envisioned was literally impossible to create in-camera on a single exposure. Thus, I had to resort to Photoshop.

We recently had a supermoon, which is where a full moon happens to coincide with the moon's closest approach to Earth in its orbit. The result is a bigger and brighter moon, which I envisioned photographing in Laguna Beach, CA with some silhouetted palm trees in the foreground.

It is, in fact, possible to create this exact photograph in a single exposure, but only if the conditions are just perfect. To do it in a single shot, the moon has to get into the desired position in the sky immediately after the sun has set. Basically, the moon's gotta be where you want it at twilight, not nighttime. That's what happened in the following photo I took in Joshua Tree National Park. I was lucky to have the moon rise up over the mountains immediately after the sun set. The twilight light kept the foreground cactus and the sky illuminated enough so that I could accurately expose both the foreground and the moon.

Moonrise over Cholla Cactus in Joshua Tree National Park

If the moon gets into position just a few minutes too late, the sky and landscape will have no lingering light from the sunset to illuminate them. Thus, if you try to lighten the exposure to get detail in the foreground, the moon will blow out white. If you try to darken the exposure to get detail in the moon, the foreground goes too dark.

That's what happened on my most recent shoot of the supermoon in Laguna Beach. You'll see in the pictures below that when I exposed bright enough to see the palm trees, the moon became overexposed. But when I exposed darker to see detail in the moon, I lost the trees.

Photoshop Tutorials - Supermoon Composite Image

The purist in me really just wants to scrap these photos and do a reshoot when the moon is in the right position at the right time, but the next supermoon is over a year away, so until then I'll venture to the dark side and utilize Photoshop to fix this problem.

The general idea in this Photoshop tutorial is that I will extract the better-looking darker supermoon from the second exposure and overlay onto the brighter moon in the first photo. The process is simple and best explained in the above video tutorial, but here's a write-up to walk you through it:

Step 1
Take your two exposures and make your usual adjustments to color, white balance, contrast, and whatever else you like to do. I did this in Lightroom.

Step 2
Open these 2 exposures in Photoshop and lay them out side-by-side.

Photoshop Tutorials - open both images side-by-side

Step 3
Using the move tool in Photoshop (shortcut "v"), drag the darker exposure on top of the lighter exposure. Hold down Shift when you do this so that the images line up perfectly. You should have 2 layers in your image now - the top layer is the darker exposure, the bottom is the lighter exposure.

Photoshop Tutorials - Drag darker image on top of lighter

Step 4
Now it's time to delete that black sky around the supermoon. I used the magic wand tool and simply clicked on the sky. Photoshop automatically creates a selection around the moon.

Photoshop Tutorials - magic wand tool

Step 5
At this point, I opted to expand my selection by 4 pixels so that it overlapped the moon a tiny bit. This will prevent a black border showing up around the moon. I also feathered the selection by 2 pixels so as to create a softer transition around the moon. This will help create a more seamless blend into the brighter background.

Photoshop Tutorials - expand the selection

Photoshop Tutorials - feather the selection

Step 6
Center the darker supermoon over the brighter moon using the move tool. Use "Free Transform" to enlarge the moon a little bit if necessary.

Photoshop Tutorials - Reposition the supermoon

Photoshop Tutorials - Enlarge the supermoon

Step 7 (Optional)
I then dropped the opacity of the darker supermoon layer to 85%. This lightened the moon a tiny bit by allowing the bright exposure behind it to shine through. I did this because I felt that the darker supermoon looked too dark and out of place on the brighter background exposure.

Photoshop Tutorials - Drop the Opacity

Step 8
Save the new file, because you're done, baby.

Photoshop Tutorials - Supermoon Composite ImageThe completed composite image
Click to Enlarge

Monochrome at Little Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach

Little Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach, CALittle Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach, CA
Click Any Image to Enlarge

Man, oh, man...I have not been keeping up on my blog posting and image sharing like I should! Summer is a crazy busy time for me, so sharing new work has been on the back burner for awhile. But the whole point of this photography stuff is to share my photos with you lovely people! So that's why I made sure to carve out some time today to post these new pictures from Little Corona Del Mar Beach in Newport Beach, CA.

I've been to Little Corona a thousand times before, sometimes just to take pictures, but more often than not I head there with a student for a good old-fashioned Orange County private photography lesson. There is a great cluster of massive rock formations to the north end of the beach that has had my lens pointed at it more times than I can count. And it's a really good place to practice manual metering and filter use for landscape photography with my students.

Since I obtained a Lee Big Stopper 10-stop neutral density filter, I've been playing around a lot with ultra-long shutter speeds. It's a lot of fun getting that shutter speed down in the 30-second to 2-minute range when photographing the ocean because it turns the water into an ethereal fog that departs wildly from reality. And there's something about these ultra-long exposures at the beach with a nice cluster of rocks that just looks awesome in black and white. It takes a pretty basic landscape scene and turns it into a work of art. Sure, it ain't postcard material, but who wants that anyway? The resulting look is more suited for large wall art or a nice calendar image.

I did all of these photos on analog black and white film, but the techniques are the same with digital. You need a low ISO (my film was ISO 200), a small aperture (f/22 or f/32 on all of these) and a nice dark neutral density filter to hold back the light even more. The name of the game is "cut down light coming through the lens as much as possible" so that the shutter speed can slow way down. Oh, and best be using a rock-solid tripod because there is no way you're holding the camera still for this long!

The shutter speed for the first 2 pictures came out to 1 minute. Over the course of one minute, the water advances and retreats so many times that all you get is a nice layer of fog crawling through the gaps between the rocks. I love the way it complements these rock formations at Corona Del Mar with their almost Gothic shape rising up out of the mist. The final shot featured here utilized a shutter speed of only 1 second on account of the brighter light source and lack of ND filter. The movement of the seaweed winding between the boulders was a nice little surprise when I developed the film.

If you're in Orange County, head down to Little Corona Del Mar Beach in Newport Beach sometime. It's worth an exposure or two.

Little Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach, CA

Little Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach, CA


Guest Blog Post: Photography in Motion

Hi, folks! Nick Carver here. Today I wanted to try something new. Below is a guest blog post by Molly Stillman all about taking pictures of subjects in motion. Check out more of Molly's work at Artsy Couture. Enjoy!

Photography in MotionPhotography in Motion - Photo by Nick Carver, Article by Molly Stillman

You know that picture — the one of the exact moment the wide receiver catches the winning touchdown. The one of the bullet busting through the glass. The one of the droplet of water falling from the leaf.

Super-exact moments in time. Beautiful details captured in a way that the human eye can barely see, yet that particular photographer was able to frame a beautiful moment in a way that no one else could.

But how does that photographer do it? How is the average semi-professional, professional or even hobbyist photographer supposed to capture that moment in motion so perfectly?

It’s high-speed photography at its finest — and it’s not as hard to do as you might think!

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are people that study and practice the craft and art of high-speed photography for years. It’s not something that you’re going to become an expert in overnight. And certainly, I’m not going to be able to teach you all the tips and tricks in one little blog post — there are entire books on the subject. There’s also a ton of equipment out there — timing devices, flash units, etc. that can aid in getting that perfect moment. But you don’t have to have those when you’re just starting out and getting the hang of things.

When I started learning photography as a hobby, I was the sideline photographer for the football games at UNC Chapel Hill, and all I had was my entry-level DSLR and a zoom lens. I didn’t have the fancy expensive equipment other photographers had, yet I was still able to capture many of those exciting moments without them being a total blur.

There are some things that you can do starting today to practice and begin to learn the basis of the art of high-speed photography, before you start investing in other equipment.

Understand shutter speed
The core of high-speed photography is all about the shutter speed on your camera. In the technical sense, high-speed photography refers to any image captured at 1/1000 of a second or shorter (1 millisecond or shorter). That is, ultimately, the speed at which the shutter opens and closes. That’s pretty fast if you ask me. So, the more you are able to practice shooting at extremely fast shutter speeds, the better. [Editor's Note: Check out the free video & lesson guide here explaining the shutter speed]

Practice outdoors
If you understand manual photography, you know that the faster the shutter speed, the less light that is let in (because there is less time for light to enter the lens). So, the more light you can give yourself to work with as you practice, the better.

Use the continuous shooting (aka “burst”) mode
Select the continuous shooting mode on your camera and click away. This can help to alleviate some of the delay that often occurs in high-speed photography, which can cause you to miss the moment or blur the images.

Grab a buddy and start with something small
Have a friend help you by bringing a cup of water outside and have them slowly pour the water on a leaf — we’re talking slowly here. One drop at a time. Then, play around with your manual settings at 1/1000 of a second and shorter to see what kind of results you get. You will likely (or definitely) need to adjust your aperture and ISO to get the right lighting adjustment the shorter you make your shutter speed. Then, using the burst mode, start snapping away. See what works. See what doesn’t. In the beginning, it’s all about trial and error.

Once you really start getting the basics down of what you’re able to capture at what short shutter speeds, you can start exploring more advanced techniques and introduce equipment like timing devices and flashes.

Then, you’re well on your way to shooting that Pulitzer Prize-winning image. Or, you’re at least ready to try.

Molly Stillman is a writer for Artsy Couture. She is a marketing executive, blogger, mama, and wife. She also is extremely passionate about lifestyle and portrait photography and loves encouraging others in the pursuits of their goals and dreams.