Tag Archives: Michael Kenna


18.30 Saturday 27th February….and I’ve just experienced that special ‘tingle’…and it gets me everytime.
It’s the first sight of the full moon as it appears on the horizon!

As you can see looking through the photos I’ve posted on the website, I do like taking photos by moonlight and it’s always fascinated me; it’s just so ‘magical’ and I was always so pleased if I could capture the moon somewhere within an image when photographing a night shot.

Let’s photograph by the light of the Moon.

Knowing Michael Kenna had taken many of his ‘very minimal’ images by moonlight, I started about 15 years ago, trying to also capture some of that ‘magic’ with my camera, by photographing landscapes by moonlight. That’s the ‘whole scene’ just illuminated by the moon I mean.

Full moon shining on Three Cliffs Bay, The Gower | Low tide Photo: David Taylor
St Nicholas Church and Farmhouse | Middleton, (Longparrish) Hampshire Photo: David Taylor

How to expose for Moonlight:

So how do you expose for ‘the full moon’? Well I still shoot on film, and there’s an old exposure rule of thumb that was used by photographers, for ‘full sunlight’; it’s called the ‘Sunny 16 Rule’:

” The rule states that on a sunny day, you should get correct exposure with camera settings of aperture f/16 and shutter speed as the inverse of the ISO (film speed). So if you have an ISO of 100, then the shutter speed should be 1/100 (or its closest setting of 1/125s).”

It’s a rule that really does work on a sunny day, and we used this when we didn’t want to keep popping out the light-meter.
If you’ve got 100 ASA film, or a digital camera set to 100 ISO, then set your shutter speed to 1/100th (ie 1/125 in practice) and the aperture to f16. You then allow for any slight differences within the image, like a maybe a bit of shade and if you wanted to shoot at an aperture of f11, in the ‘full sun’ exposure, the shutter speed then goes up to 1/250th; f8…that’s 1/500th etc.

Now here we are, wanting to take a picture, not in sunlight at all but in ‘full moonlight’…and ‘the science’ tells us that full moonlight is 18 stops less than ‘full sunlight’! That ‘1/125th’ exposure therefore now becomes 32 minutes at f16 or say 8 minutes at f8. (Kodak give a guide figure of 30 seconds at f2 with 100 ASA/ISO, which works out at the same thing – advising “For scenes lit by the unobscured full moon to show full detail in the surroundings, not including the moon in the picture.”)

If the moon is less than full we can adjust it, and useable guides would then be: If the moon is ‘Gibbous’, like say 3 or 4 days have past after it being ‘Full’, then allow say 1.5 stops more, and if it’s a ‘Quarter’ moon, then up the exposure by 4 or 5 stops.

Now you really don’t have to be super accurate with long moonlight exposures, but with film, as the exposures increase, then ‘reciprocity’ seriously comes into play. That’s the extra exposure you need to allow when shooting a very long exposure on film.

On film however, I either use ‘reciprocity’ to give me that very long exposure that I’m after, or I chose to shoot on Fuji Acros 100 because the ‘reciprocity’ factor is low on that film.

Digital sensors do not however suffer from noticeable reciprocity and although they do differ, you can often up the ISO to quite high figures before noise becomes a major factor.

Oh Dear, Michael Kenna changed the rules again.

It was in 2007 though that Michael Kenna did produce a ‘moon light’ picture that did include the moon in a fascinating way and that made me choose to shoot a completely different ‘full moon’ shot!

Full Moonrise, Chausey Islands, France, 2007 Photo: Michael Kenna

He has photographed the complete sweep of a rising moon over the sea. This is looking out to the islands of Chausey in France.
This image has the wonderful curvature of the ‘moon rise’, accompanied with a couple of planets ‘rising’ as well and that’s the passing clouds that have produced the ‘thickening and blurring’ in the centre of the shot. Very long exposures often only register the clouds that are illuminated brightly by the moon and everything except the bright moon will take a long time to register.

I was so impressed that I started doing my own images of the rising and setting moons.

1 hour of a ‘Supermoon’ rising | Chilbolton Observatory Hampshire Photo: David Taylor

It was obvious that a very, very long exposure was going to be needed, to get the moon ‘rising’, or in fact ‘falling’. The one above was 1 hour long on a 250mm lens on my Hasselblad.

Blea Tarn | 2 hours and 30 minutes of fullmoon setting behind Blake Rigg with mist Photo: David Taylor

The shot above shows the moon ‘in a different scale’, as this time it’s a 50mm lens. It’s also the ‘setting moon’, which I find is harder to shoot than the ‘rising moon’, as it so often sets as daybreaks…or even later. This was Blea Tarn in the Lake District, I think it was about 3.30 in the morning when the shot was finished after a 2 hour and 30 minute exposure. It does help to have a nice warm ‘campervan’ parked nearby to retire to when you leave the camera running for that long on a freezing cold and misty night. A heater, like that used on telescopes or even just ‘hand-warmers’ help keep the lens free of condensation.

Lyme Regis harbour with Lyme Bay stretching away behind. The moon rising has started over Portland in the distance.

The closest I’ve come to copying that Michael Kenna image I guess is this one of Lyme Regis harbour, and I’ve plonked my tripod down here and shot this a couple of times now. my earlier version had the shutter open for 3 hours and 15 mins, but because of the brighter foreground this time I went for an exposure of 2 hours and 40 minutes with the 50mm lens.
It almost sounds like I know what I’m doing….but there’s a lot of guess work and trust in being able to get the image back to looking like I want it to be afterwards!

The longest I’ve done is 4 hours 30 but in his book, ‘The Forms Of Japan’, Kenna has exposures of twelve hours long. I guess if you put an ND filter on….you can just keep going until ‘daylight’ blows out your exposure!

I realised that the camera can reveal things your eyes have missed and over time new elements in the scene will be brought out. The sea in the Lyme Regis bay image was only illuminated ‘in sections’ as the moon’s reflection moved across it….the eye/brain combination can’t store that…only the camera can reveal the ‘final version’- likewise, below:

The oft photographed ‘Low Lighthouse’ at Burnham-On-Sea photo David Taylor

I had stopped at Burnham and tried to get an ‘original’ image on a number of occasions, but I wasn’t happy until I took this one. I’d waited for a full moon and a low tide to coincide and hoped my tripod wouldn’t sink lower into the mud during the 3 hours and 15 minutes the shutter was open. It was the coming dawn light that made me curtail the exposure in the end. The mud of course was never visibly as bright as it is in this photo, as the light ‘played over it as the moon climbed higher, during that long exposure. That’s the magic!

I think very, very long exposure images may be pretty impossible with a digital sensor though, as the heat will have become a serious issue over an hour or so. Although I guess someone will prove me wrong!
Also some cameras, like the beautiful digital Leica Monochrom I used to have, always insist on shooting a ‘noise reduction’ image after a long exposure. It was infuriating waiting while the Leica ‘re-shot’ it for a ‘black frame’ image, doubling the exposure time!

How bright the moon?

The full moon of course is surprisingly bright, as that famous Ansel Adams photo of ‘Moorise, Hernandez, New Mexico’ showed and the moon is going to lack any detail unless you can manage a shot of around 1/2 second at f2.8 and 100 ISO. But we are used to seeing that burnt out white globe of a moon, and in my long exposures the moon is of course extremely blown out, but thankfully the ‘knee’ of the film curve helps. The moon is also moving surprisingly fast and will blur into an ellipse with anything over about 30 seconds on a wide-ish angle lens, and less on a telephoto lens.

So that movement of the moon brings us back to just capturing the full moon in the shot, and then usually bright lights are needed to bring some detail into a foreground. Here I just let the moon ‘peep through’ the cooling towers at Drax, with some bright lights in the foreground.

Drax Cooling Towers with full moon Photo: David Taylor

Now whilst I’ve been writing, and not photographing, the full moon has steadily climbed, but although it now lacks the lovely yellow glow, that my monochrome film wouldn’t have showed anyway, it is still a wonderful sight, through the trees behind my house! No wonder the owls are hooting.


Laverstock Dorset



September 2019

Driving past Chichester on Wednesday last week, I couldn’t help dropping in to see more of Michael Kenna’s prints at the superb Bosham Gallery.

In my previous post I talked about my delight at the ‘Michael Kenna – 45 Retrospective Exhibition’ that was showing through the summer. They had followed it up with another featuring his work called ‘New and Rare Works’ running from 2nd to 28th September…so just a few days left to see it as I write this.

I was able to chat with the owner Luke Whittaker, who had obviously set up a very good relationship with Michael to get more prints personally produced by him to show. There were indeed some ‘New’ ones but also some that had ‘sold out’ of the artists 45 print editions. For these Michael had released ‘Artist Proofs’ from his archives.

I was bold over by one of his images taken in Hokkaido back in 2002. A picture I had never seen before.

Tree portrait-study 1 Wokato Hokkaido 2002
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I’ve finally made it to the wonderful 45 year retrospective exhibition of Michael Kenna’s work at the lovely little gallery at Bosham, near Chichester.

Picture from Bosham Gallery website: www.boshamgallery.com

It was pleasing to see the care with which the owner Luke Whitaker and manager Angus Heywood had put into choosing and hanging the 42 prints from Michael’s years of image making since the 1970’s through to this year.

Michael has always been the most intelligent and thoughtful of photographers and you can’t help but notice how consistent his photographic style has been since his earliest days. Quite remarkable in fact to have distilled your ‘vision’ into something so long ago and not feel the need to change it, only to refine it.

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JULY 2019

I’ve been shooting long exposures of the moon ‘rising and setting’ ever since I went back to using a film camera, a few years ago now. I was taken with an image by, once again, Michael Kenna, of the moon rising over the Chausey Islands off the French coast. I realised that over the years I had photographed the moon many times, but never as a really, really long exposure. The magic that happens during an excessively long exposure is quite wonderful and Kenna had started a whole ‘minimalism movement’ in monochrome photography with his ‘frozen water’ and also his many images by moonlight. Others had done long exposures before but Kenna did lots of it and made some outstanding pictures…as he still does.

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Trees – hard for the photographer to catch

APRIL 2019

I do love trees, but their beauty is pretty hard to capture in photographs.

I feel much of monochrome photography is similar to producing ‘line drawings’ and one of my favourite artists producing really great pen and ink drawings of trees is Sarah Woolfenden.

Here’s one of her exquisitely detailed pictures, of a Yew:

Sarah Wolfenden: Twisted Yew

Incredible detail in Sarah’s drawing. Sarah has the artists’ advantage over the photographer…she can ignore the background. Us poor people behind cameras haven’t got any easy ways to eliminate confusing backgrounds, so we often turn to choosing subjects where the background just doesn’t exist.

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Acknowledging your artistic influences

MARCH 2019

We all have influences and it’s only fair to recognise them, but hopefully move on to produce your own work and certainly not copy others.

However sometimes it’s thrilling to get as close to those ‘influencers’ as possible and one way a photographer can do this is by standing in the same spot and seeing…and hopefully feeling…something akin to that felt by your hero sometime before.

One of my great influences is Michael Kenna and in 1986, Kenna was in Halifax and took a photo reproducing a well known image of Bill Brandt’s,’ A snicket in Halifax’ taken by Brandt in 1937.

Here’s Brandt’s image, taken from his book ‘Shadow Of Light’ (Gordon Fraser):

Bill Brandt: ‘A snicket in Halifax-1937.

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Le Mont St. Michel – working a ‘photographic location’

MARCH 2019

In the early summer of 2015 I took my dear little Toyota campervan to France.

I headed to Mont St. Michel on the Normandy coast and found a quiet parking spot on the west side, that looked out across the marshes to the Abbey of Mont St.Michel.

A heavy rain cloud produced this image.

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