By the Light of the Moon

As winter solstice nears, marking the year’s shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere – and thus the longest night – we present a gallery of photographs illuminated by the moon

Thomas Hoepker Monument Valley night at a full moon. Arizona, USA. 1995. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos New Mexico, USA. 1990. “In 1990, I was traveling to New Mexico for Stern magazine in Germany. The magazine wanted me to do a photo essay for their travel issue. The briefing was short: “Fly to Al (...)
Jonas Bendiksen A Soyuz rocket fuel tank lies on the steppe. Kazakhstan. 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Full moonrise over Mount Fuji viewed from Mount Sichimen. Mount Fuji, Japan. 1961. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Gueorgui Pinkhassov Inner Mongolia. 2012. © Gueorgui Pinkhassov | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson Angel of the Waters Fountain at Bethesda Terrace. Central Park, New York, USA. 1992. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Plague of Flying Foxes. Mataranka, Northern Territory, Australia. 2004. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Chris Steele-Perkins Moonlight over salt flats. Holkham estate. England. 2012. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos
Alec Soth Watertown, South Dakota, USA. February 2008. © Alec Soth | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn USA, NEW YORK. 1987. East side of Manhattan under full moon rise viewed across Central Park West. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Guy Le Querrec Concert of the Marital Solal Big Band broadcast on a giant screen: hands of the French jazz musician Martial Solal (piano, conductor). Marital Solal Big Band includes : Martial Solal (piano,leader) (...)
Peter Marlow The winding gear of the now closed Denaby Main Pit is now a monument to the coal mining history of the village. The Earth Centre. A project that has received a Lottery grant of 75 million pounds to (...)
Harry Gruyaert | .jpg Alexandria, Egypt. 1993. © Harry Gruyaert | Magnum Photos

Deriving its name from two Latin words “sol’, meaning sun, and “sistere”, meaning to stand still, the winter solstice happens when the sun appears at its most southerly position, making the day on which it occurs the shortest day of the year, and in turn creating the longest night for the Northern Hemisphere. The winter solstice falls annually on a day between December 20 and December 23 and is known by a number of names, including Yule, Midwinter, The Longest Night and Solstice Night.

It is an event that is observed by people all over the world through various practices unique to specific countries and religions. In England, thousands of people congregate at the ancient landmark of Stonehenge. The Neolithic monument in Wiltshire appears to have been designed in acute alignment with the movements of the sun, and it is a focal point through which the Winter Solstice is viewed and celebrated by attendees marking the date, which has long-been significant in the pagan calendar. In Japan, the holiday is known as Touji. In Japanese tradition, taking a hot bath with the citrus fruit yuzu on the winter solstice is believed to help ward off colds.

The darker hours, illuminated by the glow of moonlight or artificial bulbs, bring a new perspective to landscapes. “Just about anyone who ever picks up a camera quickly points it at the moon,” says Alec Soth. “And more often than not he or she is disappointed. We bring so much cultural baggage to the moon that it usually looks different on our cameras than it does in real life. So when I photograph the moon, I try to balance it visually with other elements. This can be tricky in total darkness. So I like to work at dusk. I like mixing the blue-hour with incandescent light and the small white light of the moon.”

"Just about anyone who ever picks up a camera quickly points it at the moon"

- Alec Soth

Photographing in this unique and low light also requires a finely tuned skills. When he captured a Soyuz rocket fuel tank in Kazakhstan, Jonas Bendiksen had to take an usual approach. “This image was actually made as I was hiding inside a truck,” he explains. I was with this gang of scrap metal dealers who were spending several days out on the steppe collecting rocket debris. Then one evening someone from the authorities showed up, and since I didn’t have any specific permission to be there we thought it was best if I keep a low profile inside the truck for the hours they were around. But the moon got up and lit the whole scene – and I couldn’t help myself. So I sat my camera up on some improvised stand and shot the rocket piece with a slow shutter.”

“This was back in the film days, so you really had no idea if the exposures were right – not like today when you can quickly check. So I got sort of lucky on this one.”

The above slideshow is a pit-stop journey though vistas made magical by the light of the moon.

Stay in touch
Learn about online and offline exhibitions, photography fairs, gallery events, plus fine print news and activities, on a monthly basis.
Get fortnightly tips and advice articles, find out about the latest workshops, free online events and on-demand courses.
Stay up to date every Thursday with Magnum photographers’ activities, new work, stories published on the Magnum website, and the latest offerings from our shop.