Another Benefit of having “A SPOT”

Now that you have developed a few “Spots” in your local area, you can experience the benefits.  You have cut down on the “uncontrollable variables” and now you can start with an experiment.  The first experiment I wanted to do was “Moonlight Portraits” but going out live with a client is not a good idea.  You need to still work out the gremlins, light can be rough and the right combination of lighting conditions can often be the difference between an acceptable image or an amazing image.   Differences in the light are now the variables not the changing challenges of the landscape.  I have 2 spots, the places that I worked out the kinks in my “Nightscapes” the first was overlooking Lake Murray in San Diego.  The second location is a beautiful beach location called Hermosa Park in La Jolla California.

I had the idea to do shoot bridal and engagement couples in this way, while taking part in a podcast interview.  But to get models out in the freezing cold to do “TEST” shots is not realistic. I had to be my own Guinea Pig.  When trying new things it is important to create a set routine for working out the details.  The following are just a few things that I always make myself aware of before I go out.  Anything less would be winging it, and you will spend more time fussing over settings and troubleshooting than you will on composition.

  • Location of the Sun
  • Location of the Moon
  • What phase is the moon in
  • cloud cover
  • wind conditions
  • ambient temperature

When I first tried this I waited for a clear sunset (as to not have to contend with clouds).  I wanted to start with the beginning of the night and experiment all the way to dawn.  I carefully walked out on the rocks and positioned my tripod for a shot.  I wanted the shot to not read “Portrait” but a beautiful landscape that I (the subject) was experiencing.  Setting up shots in this way can tell a story and create an emotional reaction in the viewer.   I walked out to the end of a walkway and then remotely made a 30 sec test shot. This test shot ended up being the shot I decided to walk away with that night.  It was powerful and I needed to reflect on the image and what I could to to make it a more clear portrait.

“Edge of the World”

Image by:  Douglas Lee Coon

f3.5 at 30 sec ISO 400


I was able to return at a later date and try again to create an image that was not a silhouette.  I knew that shooting the first image 30 min after the sun set would create the same results as the first time.   I then decided to return at midnight, and use the same formula.  Well the same formula with one exception I wanted to wait for the moon to act as my main light.  This would allow me to create a better balance of light and details of my face would be clearer in the second try.  The result was mind-blowing.


Second try.. “Moonlight Portraits”

Image by:  Douglas Lee Coon

This was shot at  F4 at 30 sec ISO 400


I think the result is clear.  “Moonlight Portraits” is a real viable idea.  Now I can get a couple out there and do a real run in the dark.  It is important to shoot several shots before you go live with real clients.  Messing up or not being aware of all of the variables can make your clients lose faith in you and set you up for bad images and a burnt bridge!



Moonlight Portrait:

Image by:  Douglas Lee Coon

I talked this couple into finishing off their engagement photo shoot with a midnight session.  The result here was very magical.  There were a few mishaps but the results were very nice.  I of course spent time in post production and could have made use of my portable speed-lights.  But then I would have lost the dreamy even light effect of the “Moonlight Portraits” idea.  I will discuss working with models and clients for this in a later article as its too complicated to just say get them to hold very still.  The only way to get better at this is to go out and try it, be patient and ask for advice if you run into any problems.  I am always willing to help!

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