I have been following photographer Hudson Henry for a while. Hudson has been doing a live Zoom/YouTube session called Office Hours. The subject of the last episode was shooting a full moon. You can see the recorded session here. Hudson Henry Office Hours Hudson and a few of his friends discuss how they photograph the moon. On August 1st the moon rose about an hour before sunset. This provided an opportunity to photograph the moon while the foreground is still illuminated by the setting sun. The moon wasn’t quite full yet, but it is the best night to photograph the moon before sunset. Not only will the foreground still be lit, but the moon and the foreground will be similarly illuminated. So the moon and the foreground will have similar exposure values. Normally after sunset the moon is much brighter than the foreground. This makes it very difficult to balance the exposure for the moon and the foreground. So either the moon is overexposed or the foreground is underexposed. That’s why this full moon cycle is a good one to photograph. So a challenge was set for everyone watching Office Hours to photograph the moon on August 1st. Hudson will be showing and talking about everyone’s photos on the next Office Hours on August 4th. So I thought it would be fun to give it a try.
The best night for photographing the moon is Saturday August 1st. Enter hurricane Isaias, expected to hit Titusville Florida when? You guessed it, August 1st! I did some planning, using The Photographer’s Ephemeris to locate where the moonrise would be. I was able to determine that the moon would be rising just behind the Apollo Moon Mission Memorial. I thought the Apollo Memorial would be an appropriate moon subject. I wanted to do a practice run first. So I went out Friday night July 31st, to give it a try. With Isaias on the way, it could be my only chance. My results on Friday night were less than stellar. I did learn a few things though. Moonrise on Friday was two hours before sunset. This proved to be too early. The sky was still too bright; the moon looked small and dim. The monument was still in some pretty harsh light as well. The other thing was focal length, I needed a longer lens so the moon would appear larger. Being a starving artist, I only have two lenses. My main lens is a 24-70mm. It’s a great lens. I use it all of the time! For this photo of the moon though 70mm was not quite cutting it. My other lens is an old Sigma 50-500mm that I break out once in a while to photograph birds at the wildlife refuge. I didn’t bring the Sigma with me on Friday. I hung around until sunset hoping for a decent sunset photo. The sunset was not so great. There were some interesting clouds, but no color.
Hurricane Isaias was moving through the Caribbean on its way to Florida. Luckily Isaias weakened and slowed down. Isaias wasn’t predicted to make it to Titusville until Sunday August 2nd. With Isaias a few hundred miles to the south, Saturday night was a beautiful night to photograph the moon. Using my Sigma lens at 135mm I was able to get good composition with the moon a bit larger than before. If I were to do it again, I think I would try to get farther away and use maybe 200mm. The sky was a bit darker so the moon contrasted against the sky better. The monument was lit by nice warm golden hour light. I used ISO 100, f11, my shutter speed ranged from 1/30 to 1/6 of a second. I was much happier with my results from Saturday. In the end, Isaias moved offshore and never really made it to Titusville.
There was a unique thing that happened in January of 2018. The moon presented us with a “quadfecta” of events. First, this moon cycle was a super moon. (The moon was at its closest point to the earth) Second, there was a lunar eclipse. Third, the eclipse caused a blood moon. (It looked red during the eclipse) And fourth, this was the second full moon in January, making it a blue moon. (Not really blue, just means it doesn’t happen very often) Thus giving us a super blood blue lunar eclipse moon, phew!
OK, so the super lunar eclipse blood moon was early in the morning just before sunrise. I took a peek outside to see if I could see the eclipse. Besides being early, it was really low in the sky. It was low enough to be behind the other houses in the neighborhood. So I didn’t see the super lunar eclipse blood moon part. I did, however, get to see the full blue moon part later that evening.
I started early to take in the sunset. I met up with Chris Wiley from the Titusville Pro-Am photographers group. Our goal was to get the full moon rising through the Max Brewer Bridge. Unfortunately, there was a thick cloud bank along the horizon, so we could not see the moon through the bridge, disappointing. The moon eventually did appear once it made its way above the bridge. The thing about photographing the moon is that it’s so bright. You don’t really think about the moon being bright because it comes out at night. The moon, with the exception of the sun, is the brightest thing there is. The higher in the sky it gets the brighter it gets; this makes it very difficult to photograph. That’s why we wanted to photograph it below the bridge when it wasn’t quite as bright. Plus it would look pretty awesome through the bridge. Anyway, that didn’t work out. I was not happy with any of the photographs of the bridge and the moon. I did manage to get a few other decent images before the moon rise. I was pretty happy later though when a stray cloud covered the moon above the bridge for a short time. Wait for something to happen and it probably will.
I was looking at some examples of photographs that were taken at night, using the full moon as the light source. This looked like something that I needed to try. So after many moons of bad weather and bad timing, I finally got a chance to try this technique. You don’t need to have a totally full moon, it can be a few days before or after. You need to check a moon phase chart to see when moon rise will be. Hopefully it will be at a decent hour and not after midnight or later. This particular moon rise was at a good time, right about sunset. Using the moonlight is a lot like using the sunlight. If it is low in the sky, you will get some nice shadows. If it is high in the sky, you will get a more even light, but it’s not as harsh as photographing at noon.
Coincidentally, there was an 11pm rocket launch set for the March full moon. This is great! I can photograph the launch and also try out this moonlight photography thing.
The rocket launch was beautiful! Night launches always are beautiful. This was an Atlas V rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station. The full moon was a big help illuminating the foreground of this image. I like how you can see everyone on the dock with a lit up cellphone. You can see a few stars, but the light from the moon dims all but the brightest.
I had a bit of time to kill before the launch, so I took this photo of the bridge. After the launch, I crossed the bridge to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. This is where I took my midnight landscapes. By this time, the moon was getting pretty high in the sky. It was a very clear night just a few sparse clouds in the distant horizon. A few more clouds would make a very interesting sky, but you take what you get. After you find a nice place to photograph (you will need to scout the area ahead of time) take your time setting up. Your eyes need to adjust to the moonlight. Once they do, you will be amazed at how bright it really is. I was able to work with the camera and walk around without any additional light. Using a flashlight would ruin your night vision and actually make it harder to see. Just be careful that you don’t trip over any alligators.
I was experimenting quite a bit with ISO settings. I settled on ISO 1250 for these images. I will need to do a bit more experimenting to give a solid recommendation. I used f8 and a 6 second shutter speed. I was underexposing a bit. This being my first attempt I did not want to risk overexposing. I think I could have increased the exposure by one stop and still been OK. I had to work the shadows a bit in post. I was able to get more stars in the wider angle image. It looks more like a night photo, the tighter image looks more like it was taken at dusk. The glow on the horizon is not from sunset; it’s the glow of the Titusville city lights. Again the moonlight is overpowering a lot of the stars. If you want a lot of stars you need to photograph on the new moon. You will get the stars, but you will lose the color in the sky and detail in the foreground. You need to keep shutter speed under about 10 seconds to keep the stars from elongating. There is a huge chart to figure this out depending on camera and lens combo, look for the 500 rule.
These photos were taken at midnight, not midday. It’s amazing the colors you can see at night. It’s very eerie being in the marsh at night. The only sounds you hear are the sounds of nature. Wondering what that was that just made a splash in the water? This only adds to the experience.
I came upon this group of sleeping wood storks and spoonbills. I was very careful not to wake them. Every once in a while I could hear one of them ruffling its feathers, but they never moved.
Completing the loop through the salt marsh I couldn’t resist taking another photo of the bridge before heading home. I will need to try this technique a few more times and do some fine tuning. I had a great time photographing my midnight landscapes.