Photography: Chasing the Moon

January 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

     Everyone loves a beautiful sunrise or sunset shot, and why not? These scenes can be extraordinarily beautiful.  And beyond that, they are not that difficult to achieve. After all, the sun rises and sets every single day. There is no end of opportunity to practice.

      The moon is a different story. It takes a very special endeavor to capture those fabulous shots of the full moon rising or setting. The best opportunity occurs just twice in each lunar cycle, on the one morning and the one evening when the sun and moon rise or set at virtually the same time. At the special time, the sun provides just a bit of golden illumination, so that landscape elements can be discerned, while the moon glows with all its character. Any more sunlight, and the moon is washed out. Any less, and the moon is a bright circle in a black sky.

    The lighting is magical at those times when sun and moon rising and setting times coincide.  On other days, the rising and setting times of the moon and sun are so far apart - sometimes by hours - that this kind of opportunity simply isn't available.

     Happily, there are any number of apps that provide these times, as well as reminder apps that send out automatic notifications. So it's easy to learn when the ideal moment will occur and plan ahead.

     But even the best laid plans can go awry if other factors are not considered. I am sorry to say this has happened to me more than once.

     I am fortunate to live in a wonderfully scenic area. I live in Folsom, and an impressive array of scenic lakes and bridges are just minutes from my house. On one recent morning I decided to take advantage of that location and shoot early morning pictures of the moon setting in the west just as the sun was rising in the east. I went down to Folsom State Recreation Area's beautiful Negro Bar, where I have taken some lovely dawn shots in the morning. The river runs to the west at the point, and I had visions of a spectacular scene.

     But I had forgotten a crucial fact. The earth turns on an axis. The moon spins around it at changing angles. And so while it's true that the moon rises in the east and sets in the west, it does so at angles that vary throughout the year.

     While the angle of the sun's rising and setting also changes, the quandary is less difficult. Watch the sun throughout the day, and you have a good sense of where it will set. Watch the sky in the early morning, and the dawn glow reveals its location. And, as we all know, the sun is big and bold every single day. There are lots of opportunities to seek the perfect shot.

     The moon is a bit more subtle. And while I was up early enough to get get a sense of its trajectory before it set, I didn't realize that, from my planned location, the moon would not only _not_ set over the river, it would also be obscured by rising bluffs well in advance of its actual setting time. So as it turned out, my pre-dawn escapade on a Sunday morning turned out to be for naught.

     Or . . . . not. I used the opportunity to get a bit more education. I scouted some other vantage points that might work in the dawn hours. And I came home and Googled up a solution. Yes, there is an app, The Photographer's Ephemeris, which provides detailed tracking of the sky and other information on natural lighting conditions throughout the day. Among key features, it shows the precise trajectory of the sun and moon on maps of locations around the globe. At $8.99, it feels like a potential bargain.

     I have 29 days to get comfortable with it - and I will report back here. In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with continuing to work on those sunset shots as well.

 

Cosumnes Sunset


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