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.

Paying Myself First

When I was 9 years old, I started mowing lawns to earn money.  My mother used to tell me to “pay myself first.”  It was actually a rule back then, not just advice.  Half of my net earnings had to go into my bank account.

This philosophy works great for financial freedom.  It helped me pay for two degrees without any student loans.  This week, I decided to try applying the same philosophy to other areas of life to see if it works just as well.

Taking the attitude of “pay myself first,” I decided things that make me feel balanced, relaxed, and more at ease with the world work like a savings account–they give me energy and a calm state of mind to draw on when things get tough.  Since things get tough every day, I decided I needed to return to my old habit of getting “me time” in first thing every day–paying myself before I give any of my time or energy to anything else.

My first rule was not to check email until after I’d spent time doing what I wanted to do in the morning.  I got up dark and early most mornings at 5AM to have a few hours to myself before I needed to plug in and get online for work.

I rode my bike, went to the gym, or did yoga each morning.  I also made myself a healthy breakfast.  All of this made me feel cared for, relaxed, and far more ready to tackle work.

I also set some new limits for myself at work.  I decided I needed to limit the number of hours I would spend on work each week in order to make sure I wasn’t sacrificing on sleep.  To get 8 hours of sleep, have my time in the morning, and some time in the evening to write my other blog (snapgreatphotos.com), I had to limit my day job to no more than 10 hours a day.

This turned out to be the hardest rule to follow–especially coming back from a week off and knowing that I’m taking another vacation shortly.  I repeated the mantra, “I am enough,” over and over.  Anything I could delegate or let others handle I let go of.  I had to let go of the intense pressure I put on myself to be helpful at all costs.  I had to take a breath and ask myself if it was really important to jump in or if doing so would take time and energy away from more important things and/or deny someone else an opportunity to step up.

I can’t say I executed perfectly.  I was up later than I wanted to be on more than one night trying to get one more thing done.  But I keep telling myself that if I can pay myself first, I will be better at everything else I do and that will make the investment worth it to everyone.

Catching the Moon

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The moon.  What a subject it is.  I cannot help but shoot it.  Perhaps I take the phrase “shooting the moon” a bit too literally.  At least I’m not trying to shoot it with a gun.

I got up this morning and decided to see if the sunrise was interesting.  I headed down the hall, back to the common area and onto the balcony.

The wind was not any calmer than it had been two nights ago when I was waiting for the almost-full-moonrise that never showed.  The temperature, however, was probably 20 degrees colder.

I’d decided to do a little experiment.  Instead of shooting with a wide-angle lens as I usually would, I decided to use my 70-200mm lens to see if I could get something a little different from the tried and true views of the riverfront.

As the sun came up from behind the bluff, I waited to see if the light would get interesting in the sky.  I was pretty focused (no pun intended) on the sun rising.  Sometimes, I have to stop myself from staring because it gets hard to tell when the light has changed if you watch it too intensely.  I guess it’s like living with someone who loses weight really gradually compared to running into someone you haven’t seen in ages who’s dropped 20 pounds since the last time you saw them.

So, when I realized I was staring for too long, I decided it was time to look around and see what the rest of the view looked like.  When I turned, there it was.  The lost moon, found again, centered in a clearing in the clouds.  I swung my camera around on the tripod, zoomed in, and found focus just in time for the clouds to blow back over the *$%^ moon.  Argh!

But, with a few adjustments, I kind of liked the shot anyway.  It was the only chance I got–the cloud coverage just kept getting thicker until there was just one small, bright spot in the clouds barely bright enough to be noticeable if I didn’t already know where the moon was.

I turned back to the sunrise, but I kept looking over my shoulder just in case the moon decided to change its course and head back to the clearing.  The moon made no such decision.  Instead, it followed its predictable trajectory.  At least, that’s what I assume it did–it’s not as if I could actually watch its progress.  For all I know, it jumped out of the sky and will never be seen again.

Just for kicks, I google the moonrise time for tonight.  I don’t know if I have it in me to stand on the cold balcony waiting for the late rise of a waning gibbous moon–it’s just not as exciting as a full (or almost full) moon.  I’m relieved to discover the moon won’t rise until after my bedtime.  Maybe I should start shooting moonset?

No Moon

I really wanted the white house to be the moon, but no matter how many times I shot it, it was still a house

I really wanted the white house to be the moon, but no matter how many times I shot it, it was still a house

Once again, the moon has disappointed me.  I suppose it’s my own fault.  I lost track of when the full moon would occur this month.  I discovered this when we were walking home from dinner and I looked up and there it was, high in the sky shining brightly the way only a full moon can.

I thought, “No worries, it will still look full tomorrow night.”  I googled the moonrise time for the following evening.  I put it on my calendar.  I got out my camera, put on the 1.4x extender and my 100-400mm lens.  In plenty of time to get setup, I walked to the common room and setup my tripod and camera on the balcony.  Then, I waited.

Now, I was mentally prepared for the moon to be late.  I have enough experience with this now to know I can’t expect the moon to appear over the high ridge in front of me at the same time it crosses the horizon at sea level.  What I couldn’t remember was just how late it usually is.  I thought about the last time I was parked in the cold wind waiting on the moon.  Was it 20 minutes after official moonrise time?  Or was it 30?  Maybe it was even 45?

Had I been thinking, I might have looked up my last moonrise post to see how late it was.  According to that post, it was over 30 minutes late.  I can’t think of any reason why it would be more or less late at various times of the year if it’s rising behind the same ridge, shouldn’t it rise with the same lateness?

In any case, since I wasn’t thinking, I stood on that cold balcony in a blustery wind waiting.  And while I was waiting, I kept imagining I saw the moon.  In particular, the house in the image above reflected light in such a way that every time I scanned the ridge, I thought, “there it is!”  I ended up with about 10 pictures of this house during the hour I waited on the moon.

By the time it was an hour past moonrise, I figured it was time to call it quits.  I was tired of jogging in place to keep the blood flowing to my toes.  My nose was also running–like it was training for a marathon.  I took one last look at all the visible sky and saw no sign that the moon was anywhere to be found.  Not even a bright spot in the clouds.

I guess this is a case where even the best-laid plans go awry.  On the other hand, the best-laid plan might have been to check the weather forecast before the full moon and to decide to shoot a night earlier when the moon was truly full and the sky was clear.  But, I would have had to miss dinner with good friends to do that.

As my best friend reminded me, there will be plenty of moonrises in the future.

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.

 

Crap Shoot

When Pat called to tell me that Mars, Saturn, and Spica were all going to be in the vicinity of the moon the other night, I, of course, had to get out my camera.  It’s a funny thing about astronomical events.  I get all excited because I get a chance to get a picture of white dots in the sky.  I could probably put white dots in a shot of twilight a lot more easily and I wouldn’t have to wait for the actual event to occur.

But, as it turns out, I’m somewhat old fashioned when it comes to photography.  This is rather strange given that I’m a relative new comer to the art.  For whatever reason, I prefer to attempt to capture the real white dots in the sky as opposed to creating my own.

That said, what does one do when one walks away from shooting and, the next day, looks at the images and smacks oneself in the forehead and rolls one’s eyes while wondering what in the heck one was thinking during the previous evening’s shoot?

I had a vague notion that maybe I could take a bunch of exposures and then combine them using Photomatix to create star trails, I guess.  I think I would have needed to shoot for about 3 more hours to create decent star trails.

But there were other problems with my shooting.  First, I couldn’t see Saturn, Spica, or Mars when I looked through the view finder.  As a result, I didn’t shoot as tight as I should have and I ended up with the moon lower in my frame than I would have liked because I guessed wrong as to where they were.

I have to pause here for a moment.  Why is it you can look at the sky and see something plain as day and then look through your viewfinder and have it disappear?  It was even worse trying to use live view mode.  I had to give up on that entirely.  Perhaps if I would have waited longer after twilight the planets and star would have shown up better in the sky.  As it was, I was trying to catch the deep blue of twilight–was there ever a better color of blue?

Having come up with mostly crap, I decided to play with HDR processing a bit more than usual.  I tried combining photos that were not actually shot in a sequence for combining.  I turned off the features that align images and remove ghosts.  I created a scene where we have two moons in one image.  In another, I just ended up with what looked like sun spots reflected in the lens.  It was fun to play with it even though I didn’t really get anything I like out of it.

As an aside, Tisen’s girlfriend, Twiggy, is staying with us again this week.  I caught them napping on the couch together.  They swore they were just napping.  I believe them.

Here Comes the Moon Again

After a long morning of shooting at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park training hills, Tisen and I went shopping.  First, we went to Target to stock up on exciting supplies like Q-tips and shaving cream.

After waiting for me, Tisen got to do his own shopping–we took a stroll through PetsMart.  Tisen discovered a table loaded with cats hoping to be adopted.  One cat in particular really didn’t think Tisen should be there.  I guided Tisen quickly on by and back to the salon.

In the back, Tisen got a quick pedicure–they use a dremel, leaving his claws short and smooth.

Since Tisen doesn’t like treats, he got to pick out a new toy.  He chose a small beaver squeaky toy, so now Mr. Beaver has a Baby Beaver.  Tisen proudly carried Baby Beaver around the store with the large tags hanging out of his mouth.  People were highly amused.

After getting Baby Beaver out of Tisen’s mouth long enough to pay for him, we visited the good folks at the McKamey Animal Center, where Tisen’s life was saved.  At least a dozen staff members came out to visit him.  They all commented on how fat he is.  Considering he has gained about 25 pounds since he was originally rescued, I guess he does look fat by comparison.

He enjoyed being treated like a superstar.  The staff comments on his confidence and how happy he seems.  I smile proudly, slightly choked up as I always am when I think about how close this boy came to dying.

When we return home, Tisen cannot take a nap fast enough.  I spend some time working on photos while he rests, but soon, I join him on the couch.

After dinner, I prepared for a second chance to shoot the almost-full-moon.  Having learned a few things from my many attempts to shoot moonrise and set, I set up early, and found something well enough lit in the vicinity of where the moon will rise and focus on it ahead of time.  The biggest challenge of focusing at moonrise is that there is so little light when just a tiny bit of the moon starts to show that I can’t use live view and I have a hard time seeing in my view finder.

At least this time I was mentally prepared for the process and reminded myself to take a breath and relax.  I got way more shots of the moon rising than usual thanks to clouds that kept the moon looking interesting when it is well above the horizon.

As I review my images, I realize that for once, the success of my photos is limited by the capability of my equipment.  This might be a new achievement for me–I didn’t make any major mistakes but my camera couldn’t deliver the goods.  I’m disappointed by the noisy images.  I guess I’d better go see if the price of that new camera has started dropping yet . . .

Could’ve Been Great

There are times when everything just falls into place beautifully and you exceed your own expectations.  Then there are times like tonight.

At 8:15, I start gathering my gear.  Wireless remote shutter release attached to camera, check; 100-400mm lens with 1.4x extender on camera, check; lens foot secured in tripod, check; CF card in camera, check; reading glasses on head, check; warm layer of clothes added, check; beer in hand, check.  Time to head up to the roof.

By the time I get set up and in position, it’s 8:30.  Five minutes to moonrise.  I start looking for signs.  There is nothing.  The moon is always late here in the valley.

I start trying to focus on something in the vicinity of where the moon should rise since I have to focus manually and there is very little time to catch the moon as it rises.  Unfortunately, the maximum aperture at 560mm is f/8.0.  There’s not enough light to focus using the LCD and it’s impossible to tell if I’m in focus looking through the viewfinder.  I shoot, check my shot, try adjusting the lens in one direction or another and then shoot again.  I do not recommend this method of focusing.

When some light starts appearing above the ridge in what must be the only clouds in the sky, I get excited.  I go through the shoot and focus exercise several more times, hoping to get something sharp by accident.

The moon starts to appear and I go into a slight panic.  Now there is enough light to use the 10x magnification view in the LCD to focus, but I can’t seem to get the sharpness I want.  The moon looks sharp in 10x magnification before shooting, but when I review my shot, the focus is soft.  It’s not good.

Part of the problem is that I’m overexposing the moon.  I want to allow enough light to capture the great clouds around the moon with all the color–it looks like an amazing sunrise.

About the time I think I’ve got an exposure and focus that will look good, the camera suddenly stops working.  Now I am really panicked.  The moon moves so fast that when you are focusing on it at 10x magnification, you can watch it move in the LCD.  I am about to miss the rest of the moon rise.  Once the moon is above the horizon, the show is over–it just looks like a big hunk of moldy cheese.

Just when I decide I’m going to go order that new camera after all, I try removing the remote shutter release.  Sure enough, the camera start shooting again.  I get just a couple of quick shots of the last trees in front of the moon before it turns into floating cheese.  Then, I head back downstairs.

So close to that great shot I’ve been chasing!  Maybe next month.

Today’s Tisen shot is also not a sharp shot, but his stuck lip cracks me up too much not to share it anyway.

Mooning

Well, I was hoping I would be posting a really cool shot of the full moon rising behind a row of buildings on a ridge.  I had this really great image in my mind that I’ve been planning for the last few days, watching the moon’s path through the sky, looking at the moonrise and sunset times, and figuring out the best place I have access to shoot from.

The moon had an alternate plan.  It decided to hide behind so many layers of clouds that not even a bright spot appears in the sky.

The good news is that it’s supposed to be clearing up tomorrow, so I may be able to shoot a nearly full moon rising tomorrow night.  The bad news is that the moon won’t rise until after dark tomorrow, so I probably won’t get any of the twilight sky I was hoping for tonight.  Oh well.

Instead, I’ve pulled together some moon shots taken since the last new moon.  I find it fascinating to see how the craters flatten out and disappear as the moon waxes until it pretty much looks like an unevenly colored, smooth rock.  I am still looking for a great shot of the full moon.  I have one shot I like of the full moon rising through the red leaves on fall trees, but now I can’t find it.  I’m sure it’s in one of my photo archives somewhere.  It’s fun, but not sure it’s great.

I’ve been working my way through 10 weeks of an online photography class and, this evening, I had one of those moments when something I’d been taught turned into something I’d learned.  I was looking at some of my recent vertical landscape shots, specifically this one:

I was trying to figure out why it doesn’t quite work.  While I’m sure I will eventually figure out several additional reasons (like the cutoff aquarium building), what I suddenly realized is that I am focusing on the stuff in the background instead of focusing about 1/3 of the way in, throwing the clouds in the foreground out of focus.  This realization was like a giant light bulb going on.  I can’t wait to shoot another diagonal subject that crosses the frame front to back and see if I can get all of it in focus!

As I scroll through photos, I see this has been a consistent problem in virtually every image I’ve shot where there is something that should be in focus in the foreground.  There have been so many times when I’ve stared at a photo trying to figure out why it isn’t the amazingly dramatic image I envisioned in my head but not being able to say why not.

I can’t wait for the next ah ha moment!

Tisen is less excited about my obsession.  He’s getting tired of competing with the laptop for space in my lap.  I feel guilty every time he bangs his head against it.  Guess it’s time to call it a night . . .