Big Moon

Yes, it’s that time of the month again–the full moon!  But not just any full moon.  No, this is the super-moon!  Not only is the moon at perigee tonight, but it’s also Cinco de Mayo.

Seems like a recipe for disaster, but according to one article, there is no truth to the belief that crime and wild behavior increases with the full moon.  I’m not so sure.

Another special aspect about tonight’s moonrise is the time.  The moon will rise before the sun sets.  This means there will still be light on the trees along the ridge top.  I’m excited about the possibility of capturing the moon in this kind of lighting.

Pat and I had some logistical issues in our plan today.  I volunteered at the Audubon Society’s visitor’s center most of the day and Pat worked.  Tisen got to go to doggy daycare.

By the time Pat came home, it was 6:30PM.  We wanted to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Taco Mamcito’s next door, so Pat jumped in the shower while I took Tisen for a walk.  Then Tisen had to be fed and we had to wait for him to eat before we could leave (he won’t eat when I’m gone).  By the time we were headed out the door, it was past 7:30PM.

While this may seem plenty early to begin a Cinco de Mayo celebration, the problem was that the moonrise was going to happen at 8:21PM and I didn’t want to miss it.  By that, I mean I wanted to be set up on the roof of our building with my camera ready to start shooting by the time the super-moon appeared on the horizon.

We went next door quickly, but when we saw the crowd, we gave up all hope of getting food and just ordered margaritas.  Fortunately, the margaritas were small because a margarita was probably the last thing I needed having still not eaten.

We drank our margaritas quickly as we huddled in a corner of the patio, trying not to crowd the people sitting next to us.  At 8:15PM, we are racing out the back door to get me up to the roof on time.

I manage to grab my gear and Tisen and get set up on the roof before the first glimpse of the moon appears over the ridge.  I am helped by the fact that it takes an extra 10 minutes for the moon to get from sea level to the top of the ridge.

I shoot and check focus and exposure and shoot some more.  I don’t know what it is about this giant, orange moon rising over the ridge that I find so exciting, but I wish the moon would pause for a few minutes so I could get all the adjustments just right and perfectly capture it as it hangs as a glowing backdrop to the ridge.  I never get tired of the moon.


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.

Catch the Moon

I have been using the moon as a model a lot, but I find it is not as cooperative as I expected.  While, like a model, it’s a heavenly body, unlike a model, it presents itself on a predictable schedule.  As such, you would think it would be easy to schedule a shoot.  However, I have learned that a) there is such a thing as cloud cover, b) the moon doesn’t always rise before I go to bed, c) the moon often rises out of sight from where I am looking.

As a result, I have started to worry more about missing the shots of the moon rising behind the Walnut Street bridge in August.  I now wonder if perhaps that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I missed.

Now that I have a lunar calendar that tells me what time the moon rises, a good tripod, and the ideal composition in mind, I just need the moon to return to it’s former position in the sky.  In doing a little research, I found for planning outdoor shoots in advance and even tools to figure out where the moon will rise and the path it will travel.  (Maybe we can all be Ansel Adams after all?)

However, this doesn’t answer my question as to how long it will be before the moon rises in the same location.  I am having some troubles finding an answer to this.  I have found articles on the difference in appearance of the moon at apogee vs perigee, the repeating cycle of maxima and minima delineation that takes 18 1/2 years, and calculating the differences in brightness, but I still can’t find how long it takes for the moon to rise in the same location.  I’m guessing that it will repeat within my lifetime, but probably not soon.  In the meantime, I keep watching the moon when it chooses to show itself and looking for opportunities to shoot it rising.

The shot here is a full moon rising through clouds, shot with my iPhone (which was convinced it needed to flash) from a rest area while driving back to Chattanooga from Columbus.  While this looks more like something I might, say, paint during a continuing education class on impressionist painting, I am still impressed by the improvements in the iPhone camera from the 3GS to the 4S–just don’t expect to get good landscape photos at night.

I am particularly impressed with the LCD flash on the iPhone 4S.  I was a little surprised by how brightly it flashed when I took a picture, but when I discovered the flashlight app now has a setting that lets you turn on the LCD light continuously to use it as a flashlight, I was amazed.  I was able to find my workout clothes in the dark this morning and successfully determined the difference between black and dark purple.  If you haven’t upgraded, it’s time.