Timelapse over the Glass Igloos of Finland

Posted on

I’m very excited to be going back to one of the most spectacular places to view the Northern Lights – the Lapland region of Finland.  Nestled in the “Land of the Giants”, and well within the Arctic Circle, this is one of the most magical and consistent places to experience the Auroras.  Last year, on our PhotoQuest Adventure, we were able to photograph the Northern Lights every night!  This looks like it will be the last year that we are offering this workshop and we raised the stakes by adding a second night in the famous glass igloos of Finland, where you can watch the green fairies dance all night long.

Here is a short timelapse I made of outside and inside the glass igloos:

You can also check out my blog from last year’s Finland adventure to see some of my favorite photos and get a better feel of the overall experience!

But wait there’s more – PhotoQuest Adventures is not your typical workshop experience – it is a full-on photographic adventure!  You’ll lead a team of huskies on a two person sled ride, immerse yourself in a reindeer village and local Sami culture, explore the fjords of Norway and visit a small fishing village, go snowshoeing, sledding, and have a killer cocktail in the Ice Bar, that is you guessed it, is made of ice.

Need further enticement for this once in a lifetime experience?  Use the code COOLQUEST when you register before 2/25/16 and save $250 off the workshop and get the Arctic Gear Rental (Coat, pants, boots, gloves, and a nice fuzzy hat) valued at $350 for FREE as well!

Carpe Finland!

Announcing National Parks at Night

Posted on 2 Comments


Seize the Night.

Thanks for being a subscriber on ruinism.com.  I have a very special announcement:

I am teaming up with four other very talented photo educators to create a new night photography workshop series focused on teaching in some of the most beautiful locations to be found. It’s called National Parks at Night and I invite you to learn more about our program: Our stable of instructors include

Tim Cooper, Matt Hill, Lance Keimig, Chris Nicholson and myself.

Our first workshops in 2016 include:

Acadia National Park

Arches National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Death Valley National Park

And since time is both our friend and the enemy, we have decided to teach in each location only once. There are many National Parks and only so much time. So if you dream of photographing any of these, sign up soon!

We will have small class sizes, and that means you get personal attention. All our instructors teach first – your experience is most important. And we all want to have fun in the extraordinary locations. We hope to see you at one or more workshops!

Please sign up for the email list on NationalParksAtNight.com to receive future announcements from the program.  

The website “goes live” Thursday October 23 at 10am. Until then, you can use the password, “seizethenight” to get a private preview.


Crater Lake National Park



Once in a blue moon…

Posted on

FullSizeRender (5)Once in a blue moon
…We have all used this expression to describe an exceedingly rare event. But where does this phrase come from? And why does it seem like these out of the blue occurrences are happening at a more frequent pace?

We used to live and count time by the seasons and the lunar calendar.  There would be 3 moons per season and 12 moons per year and it lasted 354.37 days. However, our Gregorian calendar streamlined us to a 12 month and 365 day calendar so every 3 years we would have an “extra moon”. We were fond of naming moons to define the seasons: Harvest Moon, Hunter’s Moon, Snow Moon, etc. This ritual held through to modern times, and when we had the extra full moon every three years, Maine Farmer’s Almanac dubbed it a Blue moon. I’m sure it was named a blue moon before the Almanac was ever published, but they were the one who standardized and listed when the moons would occur.

The modern version of the blue moon defines the blue moon as the second full moon in a Gregorian calendar month. We can thank James Hugh Pruett’s miscalculation in an article in Sky and Telescope Magazine in 1946 for this definition. It was quickly refuted, but because it’s definition was simpler, it gained a wider following with the general public. Today, this second definition of the blue moon is the one more communally accepted. The twice a month blue moons can happen a bit more frequently, though the last one was August 31st 2012.

To celebrate this year’s Blue Moon on July 31st, I’m leading a night photography workshop with the Center of Photography at Woodstock.   This is my 3rd year teaching at their school, and I wanted to go beyond the night instructions. So, to take the theme of the blue moon one step further, we will be utilizing the cyanotype process to printing our night images. This is something that I have been exploring for several years and I’m finally ready to share. I first got hooked on this historic process at the Maine Media Workshops during Brentan Hamiliton’s Alternative Process class. However, I definitely have to give a big shout out to Tom Persinger, of F295, who helped me successfully streamline my night digital negatives. Tom’s Historic Process Quick Cards are a simple and invaluable reference for creating Cyanotypes as well as many other alternative processes for printing out your images.

Cyanotype Fort, Delhi

I have missed the “process” of printing in this digital age. Yes, I do enjoy pulling all the details and stacking stars on computer programs. But the inkjet print can frequently lack any “essence”.   I’ve enjoyed results of prints on metal, but as a former darkroom guy, I wanted to get my hands and heart into creating a unique print. So now I can combine the digital wizardly with a one of kind print. I do all my manipulation on the computer and then invert it to a negative file. I print this negative on special clear inkjet transparency paper and I’m ready to make magic. The Cyanotype Process was invented in 1842, and utilizes two simple and inexpensive chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. The chemicals are mixed with water, brushed onto a watercolor paper of your choice, and then exposed to light for a certain amount of time. Once the paper is washed, they reveal the most beautiful Prussian blue tones.

We are also very fortunate to have access to shoot at the awe-inspiring Opus 40 during one of the nights of the workshop. This massive earthwork sculptural space was solely constructed by Harvey Fite, one of the founders of the Bard College of Fine Arts. It took Harvey 37 years to create the 6 ½ acre Opus 40. It looks like something ancient that has been unearthed at an archeological site. Ironically, the material he used were millions of pieces of indigenous bluestone. These stones were laid by hand to create a stone labyrinth that can lead you through subterranean pathways, up wide ramparts, and around the spectacular scenery of Overlook Mountain and the Catskills.

Though the moon has hardly ever been blue in color, the night has long been associated with the color blue. There are still a few spots left for the workshop, so I hope to see or share this once in a blue moon experience with you.

Waiting for the Ferryman

The Journey to Glacier National Park

Posted on 2 Comments

Two weeks ago, I was in Missoula, Montana to introduce the Rocky Mountain School of Photography’s 2015 Summer Intensive students to B&H. I’ve been visiting the school since 2006 and it is always a thrill to help usher in the next generation of photographers. SI is an immersive 11-week course over the summer, in which the students learn and improve their photographic skills. We were there for week 1 and showcased the tools that would help prepare them for a successful foundation as a photographer.   Of course I kicked things off with a group shot with the Theta 360 camera! None of the students had seen that camera before and as I passed around the interactive image on my phone…the magic of photography created panoramic smiles around the room.

Ricoh Theta 360 RMSP Group Shot



All these years that I have been coming to Missoula, I’ve never made it to Glacier National Park. Known as the Crown Jewel of the Continent, I was determined to make it out there this year. To find the best spots to shoot, I tapped the minds of my good friends, Tim Cooper and David Marx, who have been teaching workshops there for many years.   The no-brainer decision was to rent Harley Davidson Street Glides and make it an official road trip!  My coworker, Jason Geller and I, followed the yellow lines as we chugged past Flathead Lake. The many twists and turns finally guided us to the entrance of the western side of Glacier.

Even though it is open year-round, the season had really just started for Glacier, and only 15 miles of the Road to the Sun were open. There were hardly any tourists and we had the road to ourselves. Glacier isn’t just about the journey on the Road to the Sun; there are many destinations along the way. 

The weather totally cooperated with no rain and minimal clouds in sight. Our cabin was a stone’s throw from Lake MacDonald, and the sun wasn’t setting until 10pm, I knew it was going to be a late night of shooting!   We walked along the shore looking for the best vantage points during the day and I returned at 11pm when the first stars began to appear. The moon was waning and wasn’t going to play a huge factor, as it wasn’t due to rise until 1am and actually never made it over the ridge of mountains before dawn. However, with pure darkness not appearing until after midnight and twilight starting just after 4am, I didn’t have a large window to work with. National parks are wonderful to shoot at night, mainly due to such minimal light pollution, and of course dramatic landscapes. Glacier did not disappoint.

Milky Way over MacDonald ~ Fujifilm XT1 w/10-24 lens ~ 30s at f/4 ~ ISO 6400


I had two systems with me: the Sony A7s mounted with my favorite lens – the Zeiss 21mm 2.8. Right now, the A7s is the undisputed king of Milky Way capture because the attainable higher ISOs (I feel comfortable up to 51,200) can give you more optimal apertures and shutterspeeds. In this case, however, it wasn’t cutting it. The lens just wasn’t wide enough for me to capture the majestic Milky Way, Lake MacDonald, and the Lewis Range of Rocky Mountains.   My other kit, that I brought for more daytime shooting, was the Fujifilm XT1 and the 10-24 lens (15-36 equivalent lens). This was exactly the focal length I needed and pretty much shot it vertically and at the widest focal length. The XT1 is no slouch at night; if you can keep it under 6400 ISO I would put it toe to toe with all the other contenders.

I absolutely love the 10-24 f/4 lens for night work. I used to always lean on the Zeiss Touit 12mm 2.8 lens, but I find the 10-24 to be sharper, wide open. Yes you lose a stop at f/4 but the wider focal length allows you to squeeze ½ stop back with a longer shutter speed. I was forced into ISO 6400 with an exposure time of 30 seconds at f/4.   Embracing the grain with Milky Way images is typically not a bad thing. I converted it to B&W using DXO FilmPack 5 for the image you see above. The brightest part of the Milky Way, the Galactic Core, is the cluster of stars on the right hand side. I wasn’t able to include any more of it because of tree interference.

So I switched gears and decided to go for a 1 hour+ star trail shot. The temperature was around 60F, so I knew I would need to take multiple shots and “stack” them later in Photoshop. I did a few quick test shots, with my main consideration of lowering the ISO. Celestial shots can work with higher ISO grain, but generally we like our star trails to be richer and cleaner.


MacDonald Trails_Fujifilm XT1 w/10-24 lens ~ 2m stack = 1 hour 20m at f/4 ~ ISO 3200

My end decision was ISO 3200, f/4, for 2 minutes. This was a stop more than the equivalent Milky Way shot and brought my histogram more to the middle. Higher ISO’s and wider apertures will also increase the amount of stars your camera can capture. I would have generally gone with a lower ISO and longer shutter speed – like 1600 and 4-5 minutes, but I like the brighter stars and stronger sense of movement achieved from this shorter stack of 2 minute shots.   The north star just made it into the upper left hand side and I absolutely love the long trails reflecting in the lake. I was fortunate enough not to experience any planes trailing through my image. But I did appreciate the car lights opening up the Road to the Sun several times throughout my 40 shots.   The total time that is “seen” in this image is 1 hour and 20 minutes. I would have gone longer but moonlight was really making a bright impact on the image and I was worried about it washing out too many stars. I am thankful that it lit up the mountain range beautifully, enhancing the detail and their reflection even more.

The last shot I’d like to share with you is from MacDonald Creek Falls, which really shouldn’t have the name creek in it at all – because it was moving like the Mississippi! This was one of those rare daytime shots that I take.  I used a Hitech/Formatt 6 stop full ND filter, to take this shot from 1/15 of a second to 5 seconds. 1/15 of a second didn’t emphasize the motion of the water enough. The 10 stop ND would have made it around 1 ½ minutes, which would have made the “creek” too smooth. I also love the human element in this image – that’s Jason on the bridge. We didn’t plan this, but when I saw him walk over the bridge I started yelling over the roar of the falls and he did a damn good job of reading my hand signals! I also love that with 5 seconds we still retain the shape of the water as it moves us throughout the photograph.

Bridge over Smooth Waters ~ Fujifilm XT1 w/10-24 lens ~ 5 seconds at f/13 ~ ISO 200

The next day we looped along the southern end of glacier and wound our way up the eastern side with a beautiful stop at Two Medicine Lake.  Around each twist and turn in the road, an awe-inspiring vista awaited, as well as a precarious 6-8k drop!  We only had one night to spend at Glacier on this trip…but I’ll be back – The Road to the Night Sky is a constant journey.

Carpe Noctem!



The PhotoQuest Adventure in Finland

Posted on 1 Comment
I’m thrilled to finally share some of my favorite shots from my Finland workshop with PhotoQuest Adventures. When the founders of PQA, Mirjam and Najat, approached me about leading a Northern Lights workshop to the Lapland region of Finland, it took me about .0001 seconds to say “YES!” Located in the Artic Circle, the Laplands are comprised of the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and offer about 200+ nights of excellent aurora viewing.

We chose to go in March, because during the equinoxes, the tilt of the Earth’s magnetic field opens a wider window at the North and South Poles.   The solar wind carries the ejected electromagnetic particles from the sun, and if they enter these “windows”, they will mix and interact with the many particles in our magnetosphere and create auroras.

As most of you know, I am a road warrior. To say that I travel a lot is a bit of an understatement. Yet, this flight was extraordinary – I was in total awe flying into Tromsø, Finland. The spectacular scenery – snow covered and mountainous islands and fjord cutting rivers made me feel like I was truly entering the Land of the Giants.

Flying along the Norway Coast part 1 Flying along the Norway Coast part 2 Flying along the Norway Coast part 3
For the next 5 days we would base our operations out of one of the region’s largest villages, Kilpisjärvi, which maxed out at a population of 150. Our fearless guide, ironically a Kiwi, Gareth, fell in love and married into the Finnish Lapland region several years ago. The first matter of business was to outfit us with the proper winter-wear. Average temperatures this time of year were 0-20F at night and about 20-40F during the day. PQA made packing our bags much easier by organizing winter clothes to rent for the entirety of the workshop. Local tour guide, Jussi (sounds like Yussi), got us outfitted in the warmest clothes – hats, gloves, snowsuit, wool socks, and wool lined boots. I brought some REI warm weather gear but it didn’t hold a candle to the rental gear that we had. I have to say, that as long as we wore those clothes, we never felt the cold.Properly dressed, we jumped into a sled (pulled by a snow mobile) across the frozen lakes boarding Finland and Sweden to visit the reindeer! My popular daytime camera ended up being the 360-degree Ricoh Theta point and shoot camera. The three images below show the unique and otherworldly views that you can create with this $300 camera. The Theta has a lens on both sides of its simple body and you will capture everything except what’s underneath it. The first two images show the “Little Prince” like tiny planets that you can create when you hold the camera up high. For the third image, I placed the camera on the ground and then triggered it remotely with my phone as soon as the white reindeer got into the perfect position. The Ricoh creates a unique 360 interactive viewing that you can see here. However I like to manipulate the image on the phone and then take a screen shot and share. The screen shots are obviously a low-resolution quality, but as of right now this is the only option to “freeze” or print and image taken with the Theta.
The Sled ride over a frozen lake The Reindeer Tiny Planet Upside down in the Reindeer  World
That night we experienced the Northern Lights for the first time – we were all very excited and got some great shots. However, out of the 1800 photographs I took during our workshop, the first nights just missed the final cut.Now typically when I teach a night photography workshop, we don’t meet until 11am-12pm the next day. Unlike any workshop I have experienced, PQA emphasizes the total adventure, and there is no time to waste! The second day’s exploits were to include dogsledding and a night in a glass igloo! I’ve always dreamed of leading a pack of Artic dogs across the snowscapes and let me tell you it is no easy feat! There were over 150 dogs on the Husky Farm, and each one of us were divided into two-team sleds with 7 dogs. After a quick lesson on how to apply the braks and to Never Let Go – we were off! Man those dogs like to drive! We were led through curving paths, fell birch forests, and over frozen lakes – breaking and barking all the way! Our destination was a warm hut or kota, about 45 minute later, where we were able to warm up with a wooden cup full or comforting cocoa.The ride back was a bit hairier; the snow had picked up making visibility and the path hard to follow. My glasses were turning into pinholes and I’ll admit that I fell once or twice, but never let go! With the help of our wonderful team, I got back in the saddle and Onward Ho! It was truly a wonderful adventure and I look forward to playing Yukon Cornelius on our next visit!
King of the Dogs ~ Sony A7s w/24-70 f4 lens ~ 1/1000s at f/2.8 ~ ISO 400 The Planet of Dog Sledding Relaxing after the ride ~ Sony RX100m3 ~  1/800s & f/2.8 ~ ISO 400
Comforting Cocoa ~ Fujifilm XT1 & 18-135 lens ~ 1/30s at f/5.6 ~ ISO 3200
The night at the Glass Igloos was magical. No, they were not made of ice, but they did offer amazing panoramic views from the top of a mountain. We enjoyed a wonderful home cooked meal in the Kota and were introduced to the popular PQA game of LCR, as we waited for the auroras to appear. They auroras typically started to show themselves from 9pm-11pm and then again around 1am. Some were incredibly vivid and seem to melt the whole sky. Others are barely visible to the naked eye; they look more or less like milky, curiously shaped clouds. However, our cameras can “see” a wider range of colors than our eyes, and when we pointed our cameras skyward, we would start to see these subtle auroras dancing above us. The auroras can get as close as 60-120 miles from the earth’s surface. The shot on the right was the first lightening bolt from the green fairy that we witnessed, and it turned and twisted its away across the sky for a good 30 minutes. The image on the left was probably the most spectacular aurora I experienced. It was so huge and seemed to engulf the whole sky as it plummeted towards us, but at the last minute, it turned up and onto itself in an amazing fashion. The middle shot is later in the night and a bit more of a subtle aurora over my igloo. I tried to go to bed at 3am, but the northern lights were still playing in the sky!   So I put up my tripod at the head of my bed, pointed upward, and set the camera to take a shot at an interval of every 30 seconds. I’ll hopefully have a time-lapse of that to share with you in a later post.
The sky cries Aurora ~ Sony A7s  w/Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 4s at f/8 ~ ISO 6400 The Glass Igloo ~ Sony A7s w/Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 4s at f/5.6 ~ ISO 3200 The Aurora Strikes Back ~ Sony A7s w/Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~  4s at f/5.6 ~ ISO 3200
The next night Jussi and Gareth drove our sleds towards the mountain called Saana, looming over our hometown of Kilpisjärvi. The weather was not very cooperative, it seems like the giants were battling. We had a 1-hour window of aurora viewing before the clouds rolled in. So, we gathered in the warm kota and listened to the tale of how Saana came to be. According to the legend of the giants, Sullen Saana fell madly in love with the beautiful Malla. On their wedding day, the jealous Pältsä asked the evil and elderly women of the Lapland to help him release the northern winds upon the ceremony. The cold winds created a storm of epic proportions and froze everyone where they were. Saana and lovely Malla ran and tried to escape, but the winds were fierce. At the last moment, Saana rushed the lovely Malla to her mother, Big Malla and where those giants froze, they now became treeless mountains or fells. The tears of lovely Malla formed the Kilpisjärvi lake and the jealous Pältsä also became a frozen mountain in what is now Sweden.Inspired by this story and itching to shoot, several of us went back outside. The clouds were still hiding any auroras, but we had fun light writing and ripping some aurora-less nocturnal exposures.
Saana and the last outpost ~ Sony A7s w/Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 5s at f/8 ~ ISO 1600
On our way back to our cabin, we passed a pristine, snow covered, and “just out of a fairy tale” cottage. I had to shoot it. I set up the tripod low to emphasize the animal footpath on the left. This is one of those images where the bright lights on the door and the low ambient light created a dynamic range too high to capture in one shot. I took several pictures, careful not to move the tripod, as I knew I would need to blend them together as a composite or HDR image later. The final shot ended up being a composite of 2 images one taken for the shadows, a 60 second exposure and blended with one retaining the highlights 3 stops under. This helped saved the highlight detail of where the two lights were spilling on the snow and house.
Secret Kota ~ Sony A7s w/21mm 2.8 lens ~ 4/30s composite f/11 ~ ISO 800
Finland Fashion is trending!   There wasn’t much time for shopping but Gareth did take us to one of the biggest and family owned gift shops. You could find everything from gnomes and trolls to the popular 3D magnets and pictures and lots of winter wear and donuts in between. I really wanted to bring back an authentic sweater and when I tried on the one from our Sweater Gang shot below I knew it was a hit. I guess I inspired 4 more from our group, and one (Allison) who now regrets not joining our posse! The hanging snowsuit and wool lined boots show off a bit of the warm clothes that we rented and kept us super cozy – though they took about 10 minutes to layer everything on! I typically wore a wicking long underwear base layer, then a 2nd layer of jeans and a REI thin puff jacket, before finally jumping into the snowsuit outer shell. The third shot shows the group in full regalia
The Finnish Sweater Gang ~ iPhone 6 Essential Gear ~ Sony RX100m3 ~ 1/125s at f/1.8 ~ ISO 400 The PhotoQuest Adventurers ~ Fujifilm XT1 w/18-135 lens ~ 1/60s at f/8 ~ ISO 200
The last day was a bit blustery and I decided to put the weather sealed Fujifilm XT1 and 18-135 lens to the test. You can see a fun picture of all the gear I brought with on Instagram. I typically rolled with the Fuji during the day and the Sony A7s with the Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens, and metabones adapter at night. If you have gear that can shoot successfully in inclement weather, it opens up some pretty amazing shooting opportunities. I love the high key abstract studies of the buried birch fell trees that I was able to create during the height of the snowstorm.   Both were shot at 1/60 of a second but if you look closely you can see the snow movement against the black trees, which gives it a very brushed and painterly feel. I converted the images on the right and left to B&W but loved the warm wooden colors of the Kota against the cool blue snowscape in the middle photograph.   And the Fuji XT1 and 18-135 lens? They survived like champs for over 2 hours in the storm.
Snowstorm Study I ~ Fujifilm XT1 w/18-135 lens ~ 1/60s at f/9 ~ ISO 200 Snowglobe Kota ~ Fujifilm XT1 w/18-135 lens ~ 1/60s at f/9 ~ ISO 200 Snowstorm Study II ~ Fujifilm XT1 & 18-135 lens ~ 1/60s at f/9 ~ ISO 200
The storm continued until the early evening and it looked like we had seen the last of the auroras. We had a hearty final supper and reminisced on the many adventures we had experienced over the last 5 days. However, it looks like the giants were going to grant us one last wish – when we left the restaurant, the skies had mysteriously become clear and full of stars.  And about an hour later the green fairies lit up the sky for a wonderful last night of shooting.
The burning bridge to the gods ~ Sony A7s with the Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 6s at f/5.6 ~ ISO 1600 The Kota Dreams ~ Sony A7s & Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 8s at f/5.6 ~ ISO 3200 Tundrea ~ Sony A7s w/Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 6s at f/8 ~ ISO 1600
Farewell Saana ~ Sony A7s w/Zeiss 21mm 2.8 lens ~ 8s at f/8 ~ ISO 800
Gabe’s tips for shooting the Northern Lights:

  • Location Location Location. It is all about the location. Getting to a region that is within the aurora belt is the first order of business. Places like Alaska, Northern Canada, Iceland, and the Laplands are probably the most popular destinations. In fact, I’m offering an Iceland Workshop during the next equinox in 2015 with Tim Cooper. I know lots of Alaskan adventures but PQA is the only group I know that offers an Aurora and Adventure workshop in the Lapland region.  Stayed tuned for our 2016 dates!
  • Understand the Auroras. We discussed the best times to increase your chances are during the month of March and September, around the equinoxes. It is hard to predict when the auroras will peak; we’ve only been studying them for 100 years. But we do know a few basics. There is an 11-year cycle during which the sun produces sunspots and solar storms. The height of this cycle was in 2013/14. It takes about 2 days or 30 million miles for any Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or outburst from the sun to reach the earth. There are some websites and APPs that can help predict the activity. The one I’ve found the most useful are:




  • Like any good picture, a strong foreground is key. The Land of Giants offers a varied landscape and very little light pollution that would interfere with experiencing the auroras. I loved playing the man-made buildings against the heavenly skies. Don’t just point your camera to the sky – find something intriguing to anchor the image.
  • Auroras = Shorter Exposures. I think the longest shutter speeds I used were probably 30 seconds. The auroras are moving, some quicker than others but you want to capture the various shapes of the northern lights and not have them just turn into a blur. I was typically shooting at 4-8 seconds at f/8 at ISO 3200-6400. This was easy with the Sony A7s, which I feel comfortable shooting up to 51,200 ISO. Bring the right gear – cameras capable of shooting at 3200-6400 ISO, sturdy tripod, cable release, and a wide and fast lens will help you get spectacular shot.
  • Plan around the phases of the moon. Great images can be created with and without the moonlight. Some people feel a bright moon blows out the auroras, we didn’t experience this on our workshop which was had 3 nights of a full moon. The full moonlight helps light up the foreground. Without that light, you will need to work harder to find really interesting silhouetted shapes to play against the sky. You can also light paint stronger and smaller compositions.