Fork, Spoon & Moon: story behind the photo

A Fork, a Spoon and the Moon

A Fork, a Spoon and the Moon

So this image of mine has been getting a bit of publicity recently after being shortlisted in the Royal Observatory of Greenwich's "Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016" awards.

So I thought I would give a bit of background to the shot, and show how it was processed to achieve the final look.

The Evening Shoot

I headed down to the banks of the Ngaruroro River in Hawke's Bay (about 1/2 way between Napier and Hastings) to shoot the sunset in February 2015, and to see if the rising nearly full moon would yield any interesting shots.

TIP: if you are planning to shoot the 'full' moon it is best to shoot the moon a day or 2 before it is full, as it rises whilst there is still light in the sky from the sunset. This helps to add a bit more interest to the sky rather than having it appear black and it also allows shots which incorporate the moon as a background to still have light on the foreground objects without the bright moon dominating the exposure.

The moon on that evening rose about 50 minutes before sunset, and was 99.5% full.

I walked about a kilometre from the car, shooting various scenes of the sun setting, the moon rising over grasses and also of a flock of Royal Spoonbills that were flying around, and occasionally roosting in some old, dead looking, trees.

I didn't really get any great shots, but there were some that I thought might turn out ok, including some of the moon shots. So about 8:30pm I started to walk back towards the car along a cycle path which is located on top of a stop bank.  As I was walking I noticed that the Spoonbills had perched themselves on one of the trees I had seen them on earlier, but this time I was on the other side of the tree to where I had been before.

And this time the moon was rising on the other side of that tree.

When I first saw the flock of Spoonbills in the tree there were probably about 12 of them, and I saw that with the location that they were in, and the location of the moon (which moves surprisingly fast when you are trying to line things up with it), I could possibly get them silhouetted against the moon, but to get in the right spot to line up the moon laterally (i.e. in a straight line when viewed from above) I needed to walk another couple of hundred metres, and as I was walking and looking at the Spoonbills they were starting to fly away, one by one.

So I hustled the last few metres to get in position, by which time there was only 2 birds left on the tree (there is one on the left of the frames below as well as the one I was interested in ). I grabbed my longest zoom lens from my bag and lay on the ground to get the moon behind the bird I was trying to shoot.  As the moon was rising higher, so I had to get lower to keep the moon behind the bird.

And I captured this series of shots below (these are as the files came out of the camera with no adjustments)

So that was it; 8 photos over the space of 30 seconds before the last 2 Spoonbills flew off.

Spoiler: as you can see from the shots above, even with my longest zoom lens the Spoonbill is still quite small in the overall picture.  So now you know that the final image is a severe crop from the centre of the original photo; it is about 20% the size of the original image, or approximately 7MP

The 4th image in the sequence is the one I chose to process and turn into the image that has been shortlisted (I also processed the 7th image separately as a black & white photo which can be seen here:

Here is the 4th image after being cropped in, with nothing else done to it. 

The most common question I get asked about the "A Fork, a Spoon and the Moon" image is "is it a single image or is it a composite" (or more accurately "did you photoshop the Spoonbill into the photo, because there is no way it wouldn't be a silhouette" )

As you can see from the shot above the Spoonbill has detail visible, even in the shot as it came out of the camera, due to the light from the sunset which was directly behind me, and because it is a white bird that reflects a lot of light.  By contrast the tree that it was standing on was dead and dark in colour so it looks like a silhouette.

Processing & "B&A"

In terms of the processing of the image to bring out as much detail as I could from the file, and to recreate the look that I saw with my eyes, it took quite a bit of time and effort.  This was more to do with avoiding the urge to lighten all the dark areas which makes the image look unrealistic and fake, and to ensure that the changes to the image were a subtle as possible.

All the editing on this image took place in Lightroom.

If you compare the Before & After below you will see that the biggest changes to the image were to enhance the colour of the sky and the moon (the nature of cameras is that they tend to turn images towards shades of gray) and to lighten the Spoonbill's body to bring out the detail.

As a simple example of how the colour in the finished image is not fake, go outside on the next clear sunset, and look to the east about 5 minutes after sunset; the sky will not look like the sky does in the photo before I processed it.  At the very least it will be blue.


Hopefully that has shed some 'light' on this image, and explained how I captured the shot.

And to finish I will show the 'one that got away' and probably the reason the Spoonbills flew off when they did.  This is a New Zealand Hawk passing by a few seconds after the Spoonbills had left, and unfortunately too low for me to get a shot of it in front of the moon.


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Thanks for reading.