Full moon rising over the Truchas Peaks, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico. Real image, not a composite, taken with a 560 mm focal length lens.
Real or Fake?
Photographs with a gigantic moon can look unreal. Do we ever see the moon that large in life?
Are these “monster moon” photographs real or fake – (i.e., “Photoshopped”)?
The short answer is that when a long focal length lens is used, the moon can look larger than life in the photograph.
Not all photographs of large moons are real. Some photographers create the illusion of a large moon by combining two different photographs. This process, known as creating a “composite photograph,” merges a large moon photo with a landscape photograph. Often the two photos are taken at different locations and times.
I do not create composite photographs to portray a scene that did not exist. I love the challenge of photographing nature’s unique beauty.
My focus here is the science of why the moon can look large in real photos. To learn more about faked photos, composites, and ethics in photography, I wrote additional content that you can Read More
Composite photographs often include a moon, lightning, rainbows, or the Milky Way that were not present when the original photograph was taken. There are all kinds of advanced trickery to create composite, fake photos. The latest versions of Adobe Photoshop and Luminar provide a “sky replacement” tool. If you want a stormy sky or rainbow to spice up your photograph, you can easily add it — even though it was taken by someone else in some unknown location.
I do respect artistic freedom, as long as the photographer discloses if their photo is a fake, oops, I mean “composite.” I do think photographers that take these, “shortcuts” if I may, are missing out. One of my favorite aspects of nature photography is putting in the hard work and occasionally having everything come together. Things rarely do come together, though, and that is good! If I could easily make each photograph a gem, I would no longer be interested in photography.
Psychology research has found that authentic happiness occurs when we are rewarded for putting genuine effort into achieving something. As the tools and methods for “faking it to make it” in photography improve, I predict more people will use them to get their dopamine hits on social media. I get it. The instant gratification of being acknowledged positively on social media is damn addicting!
The true story behind the photograph is eternal, though. I will remember the photographic opportunities I experienced forever. I quickly forget how many likes I received on my photographs on social media.
Moonrise over the Brazos Cliffs, New Mexico. Taken with an 840 mm focal length lens. When looking through a lens this large, the moon really is this big!