Moonlighting: How'd I plan this shot?
This is the Buck Moon, a super moon, shot on Florida's east coast, rising behind the Ponce Inlet lighthouse. This is a single shot with no photoshop moon enlargement or composing of two or more photos. Many photographers will enlarge the moon in photoshop for effect, and maybe even place it in a different photo with a nice foreground. There's nothing wrong with this if you're calling it art. But it's not real. What you see here is what I saw through my camera's lens. So how did I plan this shot and how does the moon look so large?
What I'm about to share is how "I" did it. It may not be the "best" way. It may not be "your" way. It may not be the "right" way. It's "my" way.
First of all, you have to know when the moon is rising and setting. You can google this or use an app. You also need to know sunrise and sunset time, if it's near those times. In this case the moon was rising at 8:54pm. The sun was setting at 8:25pm. This is perfect. The moon is rising within 30 minutes of the sun setting. This is called the blue hour. The sun has set, but it's still light enough to give you some blue in the sky. And since the sun just set, it will give the moon an orange color.
Now, you might be saying, when I photograph the moon with my mobile phone, it's nowhere near that large. Well, you're right, it's not. This is shot with a zoom lens at 840mm. I am zoomed in so far that the moon almost fills the frame. Many times photographers post zoomed-in photos of the moon where you can see all the textures and craters on the moon, but there's nothing else in the photo for size comparison. Once I heard there was a super moon coming and it will be at its closest point to the earth for the entire year, I started planning.
I want to find something that I can include in the shot of the moon for size reference. I want to find something that is tall, reaches above the horizon, and I can see from miles away. Why? Because when it's far away, I need to use my zoom lens to enlarge it in my frame. When I position that in my frame with the moon, since it's so far away, it appears small, in comparison to the moon. For example, if I shot this lighthouse from a closer distance, without a zoom, I would get a much different shot. I took this shot here last year. It is the same lighthouse and the same moon. It's just shot from the lighthouse parking lot with a wider angle lens...much different result, right? The moon is MUCH, MUCH smaller.
So we've determined I need an object that reaches above the horizon, that I can see from far away. I thought of this lighthouse. Now I need to find it on a map and figure out if I can find a spot where I can see it from far away and line it up with the moon when it comes up over the horizon. First, the lining up part. The moon will rise, just like the sun does, right up over the horizon and it will rise fast. So you need to be in position and be ready to shoot when it does. You want to catch it right on the horizon because that's where it will appear the largest and that's where you need it for your object size comparison. For positioning I use an app called TPE (The Photographer's Ephemeris) or online at photoephemeris.com. This will show you lines from your location pointing in the direction of the sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset for any day or time you choose. So, for the moon, you can place the pin at any location and the light blue line indicates the direction of the moonrise for that day. So using this, I found an accessible location in alignment with the moonrise. In the photo, you can see the red pin for my location and the blue line crosses directly over the lighthouse. I also determined that this location is 3 miles, as a crow flies, from the lighthouse. Should be just right for sizing my object next to the moon.
Next, I used google maps to look at the location to check the terrain and visibility. Also I mapped my drive so I know how long it will take to get there. It was an hour drive for me, so this is why planning is important. I can see a road to this point and I'm on the water's edge. There appears to be trees or shrubs of some kind. I need to make sure I have a direct view of the lighthouse.
Next, I used google earth to get to a street view from that location. This is my view. I can see the lighthouse. Tiny isn't it? But once I zoom in, I'll be able to see it much better. Now you can see how this makes the moon large. With a naked eye, the moon won't even be as large as that red circle I drew. But when I zoom into the lighthouse and my entire picture is the size of that circle, obviously the moon will be huge. So now my plan is set.
I arrive about 30 mins early while it's still light. Set up my tripod. Attach my camera with zoom lens. The tripod is important because with the low light and long lens, I need to make sure it's perfectly still during the shot. I also use a remote trigger so I don't have to touch the camera to take the picture. I take a test shot to get the lighthouse in focus while I have some light. Now I hope for no clouds or rain or other unforeseen issues. When I arrived, I did notice a lot of no trespassing signs. I figured I'd be in and out before anyone noticed. Then a guy was mowing the grass. He came down the one side of the road and had to go around my Jeep. Then he came back on the side where I was set up. I was nice and moved my stuff so he could go through. This caused my focus to go off. And I now have to reposition everything. It's 5 minutes before that moon comes over the horizon and a car pulls up and stops to talk to mower guy. So now he's sitting right on my spot. Finally he moves. Then the lady gets out of the car and comes over to me to tell me I'm trespassing. OMG! I talked her into letting me stay another 10 minutes. I rush to get back into position and attempt to get focused again in the dark. Then the show begins.
And, that my friends, is how I set up this shot. You could just be in the right place at the right time, but that rarely works out for me. It requires a bit of work. So when you buy a photo like this or of the milky way or anything like that, realize the work that the photographer may have put into that shot. By the way, this photo is available in my store...wink wink ;) NatureAndWildlifePictures.com/store