Mirror, Mirror

Sometimes an abrupt shift in how you see yourself occurs. Things you believed about yourself turn out to be unfounded. As my statistics professor repeated enough times that I cannot forget even 25 years later: “correlation is not causation.”

Just because we behave a certain way on a regular basis doesn’t mean this behavior is driven by our personality, character, core values, or anything that is uniquely “us”. Rather, our behavior may be driven by the particular set of variables in play at a given time that make it easy or rewarding to behave the way we behave.

This is a hopeful message for anyone who thinks people can’t change. It’s actually quite easy to change behavior. The most direct example of this I have is from working with sales people–I always knew when their compensation plan changed because they instantly behaved differently.

We are, it turns out, so easily and frequently influenced in what we do, what we believe, and even how we feel that it’s impossible to tease apart what is our “true self” and what is one of humanity’s most basic survival skills: fitting in.

Realistically, we cannot know what is part of our “core” self vs social influence until the moment we are tested–the moment we are called upon to make a choice.

These moments usually go completely unnoticed. There is no sound track with dramatic music telling us this is a pivotal moment in our lives. Often, there is not so much as an intake of breath before we go forward and do or don’t do without deciding.

Defaulting gives social influence amazing power. It’s also incredibly efficient–imagine if we consciously examined every choice we could possibly make each day and pondered all the possibilities? It would be hard to get beyond brushing our teeth in a 24 hour period.

But every once in a while, many variables in our lives shift. In this shift, a void appears. This void is either not knowing what is expected of us or suddenly having cause to reject what we feel is expected of us (such as when a loved one dies and we find ourselves wondering if what we have been doing with our lives is worth it).

These are the moments when social convention comes in handy. It gives us a framework to either fit within or to rebel against. The trick is figuring out what the rules are. And when there is no one to influence you, to find that influence.

This is, perhaps, the most surprising thing of all for me. I have seen myself as an independent thinker. A creative spirit. Someone “different.” The mirror my life is holding up right now forces me to realize that my independence, creativity, and different-ness are merely a rouse.

Without the boundaries of social expectations, there are too many choices. The greatest irony? These expectations were the product of my own imagination–this should be an easy problem to solve.


Chasing the Moon

I find myself on a vengeful quest to conquer my own personal Moby Dick.  In my case, it is not a whale, but the moon.  While my motives are more innocent and less violent than Ahab’s, a desire to vindicate myself drives me to follow the moon with a modern version of intensity that involves many goggle searches.

I think back to the day, now more than two years ago, when this quest began.  I had the idea of getting a shot of the full moon rising behind the Walnut Street bridge.

I had purchased my 100-400mm lens a few months earlier–far enough ahead to have learned my inexpensive tripod wouldn’t support the weight of the lens.  I took my monopod with me, hoping it would offer enough stability to get a good shot.  As I stood on the bridge in the dark watching the moon rise perfectly behind the bridge with people walking by in front of it, I was buffeted about by the wind.  My monopod was useless–my images were completely blurred.

Yet, I went home elated that this idea would work.  I sent my blurry photos to a photographer friend who said, prophetically, “You wasted some good moonlight.”  Naive in the nature of the moon, I thought, “well, there’s always next month.”

Over a period of weeks, I researched tripods and finally made an investment in one I expect to last the rest of my life.  Finally ready, I headed out the next full moon only to discover there was too much cloud cover for the moon to be visible.  The next month I learned that the moon was no longer rising behind the Walnut Street Bridge.  It would be another 8 months before I would have another opportunity.

In the meantime, I practiced shooting the moonrise.  In those months I learned just how fickle the moon can be.  The obstacles are many:  obscured visibility, daylight moonrises, my schedule, the speed of the moonrise, the unpredictability of the appearance of the moon, and focusing in the dark, to name a few.

At long last, the moon began rising behind the bridge again.  The first two months, haze prevented it from being visible until it was far above the people on the bridge.  On the one evening I had my chance, I arrived too late and missed the moment.  Next month, it will no longer be behind the bridge.

I will bide my time.  I will persist.  The moment will never return exactly as it was that night.  That is one thing I know with certainty–each moment is uniquely its own.  But chasing the moon has its own merit.  There is something to be said for tenacity.  While there is a time and place to let go and move on, having a goal that requires planning, making time, learning, and adjusting seems like an important lesson in life.

Super Moonrise – At Last


At long last, the super moon rose last Sunday evening.  I suppose it wasn’t really the super moon–after all, the moon was officially full nearly 12 hours earlier.  But whether you count it as the full, super moon rise or something less than that, it was dramatic.


At first, I was afraid the moon would not be visible at all that night.  The low-lying clouds around the horizon threatened to ruin the view altogether.  We watched and watched and suddenly a reddish glow started to show through the clouds.  The glow turned from a faint hint of red to a full moon with a silhouette cloud in the foreground in a matter of moments.  I barely had time to breathe before the scene before me was changing.

The moon disappeared behind a strip of clouds

The moon disappeared behind a strip of clouds

After a quick exposure adjustment, I managed to capture the red-glowing moon.

A second moon rise in the same night

A second moon rise in the same night

It rose a second time–or at least it looked that way.  It passed through a stretch of clouds, appearing to rise all over again, when it crossed over the top of the cloud bank.


As it rose above the last trace of clouds, I switched lenses.  I’m not that excited by close-ups of the full moon and I was shooting with a 100-400mm plus a 1.4x extender.  There’s not much you can do wide with that combination.  I switched to the 24-70mm lens instead.  It was a good decision.  The extra bright moon over the Market Street Bridge was far more interesting than a close up of the rock.  Plus I got some serious topics to study up on as a result.

A helicopter forms a bright streak in the foreground

A helicopter forms a bright streak in the foreground


Switching to wide angle brings the Market St Bride into view

Switching to wide angle brings the Market St Bride into view


Super Moon

Moon faintly glowing through Walnut St Bridge

Moon faintly glowing through Walnut St Bridge

I made it back from Monaco and Nice just in time for the super moon.  The super moon refers to when the moon is closer to the earth than usual, resulting in an extra large moon.  The point when the moon is full is the point when it appears the largest.  I’m not sure if this is because the moon is actually the closest to the earth at that point or just the effect of it being a full moon. In any case, I have now chalked up a couple of years of experience shooting full moons.  I remember the words of advice I got from a fellow photographer when I first started shooting full moons.  They were, “Don’t.”  He went on to explain that the full moon is too bright to make an interesting image.  It simply looks like a flat, smooth circle with some gray areas in it compared to the much more pock-marked, three-dimensional moon one can get when shooting a crescent moon.

Moon over the heads of unsuspecting lovers

Moon over the heads of unsuspecting lovers

I experimented with this advice.  I found that he was absolutely right that if you just shoot the moon, once it’s much more than half full, it becomes a very flat, uninteresting rock.  However, I also found that if you shoot the moon rising at the the horizon or going through architectural features or clouds as it rises, it’s much more interesting. Since this discovery, I have attempted to pay attention to when the moon is full (or close enough to full) and where and when it will rise in the hope of getting interesting moonrise images. I’ve gotten a few I like, although there’s always room for improvement.  The hardest part about shooting moonrise is how fast it goes.  While the moon is usually quite late appearing in the sky compared to when the official moonrise is supposed to start, once it appears, the period of time when it’s most interesting to shoot lasts only a few minutes.  The moon moves so quickly that you have to watch your shutter speeds–too slow and you start to get motion blur from the movement of the moon.

Moon over the bridge

Moon over the bridge

On this night, it was a pre-cursor to the actual full moon.  While the moon was fullest the next morning, it was still close enough to full to get a full moon effect both the night before and the night after the moment of total fullness. I decided to walk out to Market St Bridge in the hope of catching people walking in front of the moon on Walnut St bridge.  Unfortunately, low-lying clouds along the horizon prevented the moon from being visible until it was too high for people to be in front of it.  When it finally appeared, it was barely a glow through the haze with the sun still relatively high in the sky (although it was headed towards sunset). It was still beautiful, though.

Wide view of moon, bridge, water, and boats

Wide view of moon, bridge, water, and boats

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

-John Keats

Last night, Tisen started sticking his head under my mouse-hand, making it impossible to work.  I eventually took the hint and got his leash.

As we entered the park, I looked East and saw a bright glow coming from the ridge.  “Crap!” I said aloud, and then looked to see if anyone heard me.  Saved from embarrassment by solitude, I moved Tisen into a trot thinking we could make it around our 2/3 mile loop in time for the moonrise.

I told myself I was being foolish–the moonrise lasts only a few minutes.  As we made our way down the path, I looked over my shoulder to see if we were missing it.  The light glowed strongly through the trees in the park.  Once again, I said, “Crap!” but this time, there was a man walking behind us.  I might have blushed a little.

I tried to rush Tisen, but this resulted only in him pausing mid-sniff to give me a perplexed look.  When we made it around the next corner, I realized the glowing light I saw through the trees was a well-lit building.  There was hope!

When at last we got back to where I could see the ridge, the glow I had spotted on the way out remained unchanged.  I squinted and saw it was actually a billboard on the side of the hill.

I pulled out my phone and checked the time.  It was only 6:32.  The moon rose at 5:44PM officially the night before . . . the last time I shot the moon rising behind the ridge, it didn’t appear until 15-20 minutes after the official moonrise time . . . the moon usually rises about 40 minutes later each night than the night before . . . there was hope!

I had not missed the moonrise at all.  Perhaps Keats understood the moon better than Juliet–steadfast in its predictability.

Arriving on our rooftop, a glow started to appear behind the ridge.  I positioned the top of the ridge low in the frame to cut out a brightly lit window in a house below the ridge.  Not liking the composition, I reframed including the window and shot again.  As I check the image through my loupe, I realize it was not a window I was seeing at all–it was the moon!  I nearly swooned to death.

Circled Orb

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

-Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

The full moon rose at 5:44 in Chattanooga tonight.  I was still working.  I failed to realize tonight was the full moon until well after 7PM.  I took Tisen for a walk and looked up.  Not only was the moon putting on quite a display, but Jupiter was there as if it were orbiting the moon.

As I shot the full moon in a completely clear sky, I thought about words of wisdom shared with me by another photographer about a year ago, although it seems more like a decade now.  He told me not to bother to shoot the full moon.  It turns into a flat rock in photos when it’s full.

Fascinated by the full moon as a subject, I undertook shooting the moonrise as often as possible so I could shoot the full moon as it clears the horizon.  I’ve found this adds an interesting dynamic to the moon.  Plus, the moon pretty much gets overexposed in order to preserve the other objects of the photo, so you get a ball of fire instead of a flat rock.

Tonight, I am too late.  But it’s the last full moon of the 2012 and Jupiter is there beside it.  So, I shoot it anyway.  Unfortunately, Jupiter looks far more impressive in person than on “film.”  The moon-rock effect is in full force, although I tried some additional adjustments in Aperture to try to make it more interesting.

I’ve supplemented the gallery with past shots of the moon.  You can see how the crescent moon looks far more 3-dimensional.  But I am still drawn to the full moon.

In the meantime, one of my friends posted a comment, “Oh!  There’s a full moon!  That explains everything!”  I have often thought I had more energy and anxiety during the full moon.  But, a quick search through some of the research available online doesn’t offer any proof that the full moon has any effect on our behavior at all.

I try to remember the explanation I once heard about why the full moon affects people’s behavior.  I recall being told that the full moon had an effect on the gravitational pull, but my brief search tells me that the increased gravitational pull of the moon aligning with the sun happens at new moon, not full moon.

If only I could find an explanation for why I feel like howling.

Maybe Juliet was onto something.  Maybe it’s the frustration of the inconstant moon changing shape, rising late, and appearing in unexpected places that makes me want to howl.  Especially when I realize I’ve missed moonrise.

Oddly, Tisen doesn’t seem to feel compelled to howl at all.  Maybe he doesn’t notice the inconstant moon?

When the Moon Runs Late

Moon, you travesty.

You promised you’d meet me.

Yet here I stand, blasted by the wind.

The sun has said its farewells.

Perhaps you saw me staring after its orange light.

But I am just waiting for you.

Killing time in the last of today’s beams,

waiting for you to reflect the day back to me.

Can it be helped that you have no light of your own?

That’s no excuse to be so late.


The moon rose over 30 minutes later than it was supposed to on the night of the full moon.  This happens because the moonrise time is at sea level and the mountains that surround Chattanooga result in delays.

When at last the moon did arrive, it wasn’t where I expect it to be.  I was in position to shoot about 90 degrees from where the moon actually rose.  This resulted in me being in a bad position with a telephone pole between me and the moon.

Ironically, after waiting 30 minutes for the moon to rise, the time the moon appears to the time it’s above the horizon is only a matter of minutes.  I did manage to calm myself down long enough to carry my tripod further down the roof so I wouldn’t have the telephone pole so prominently in the shot.

Not my best moonrise shoot ever.  Maybe next month.