Full Moon Rising!

Full moon rises over Thacher Island
The full moon rises beside Thacher Island’s South Tower Lighthouse

There’s A Full Moon On The Rise

There’s something about a full moon rising that’s simply mesmerizing. With clear skies forecasted, I really wanted to capture this month’s full moon. It was scheduled to ascend into the evening sky shortly after sunset. I knew I couldn’t ask for better lighting conditions than that. The blue hour of dusk would be the perfect backdrop to a full moon on the rise.

While the full moon was the main attraction, I did not want it to be the sole subject of my shot. What I really wanted was to showcase the full moon within a captivating setting. One that could convey a sense of drama due to the moon’s spectacular low-in-the-sky size, and one that would contrast the moon’s engaging color.

My Mind’s Eye

In my mind’s eye I wanted a coastal shot with a nautical landmark. I had just the place in mind — Thacher Island — home to the nation’s last operating twin lighthouses. Thacher Island in Rockport, Massachusetts, features all of the elements I desired for my shot — a rocky coastline, the ocean, and a lighthouse. Better yet, two of them.

Equally important was having the right vantage point from which to shoot. I would need a wide-angle view of the entire island in order to frame my shot based on the actual position of the moon’s ascent. This meant the moon needed to rise directly behind Thacher Island, preferably in close proximity to one of the lighthouses. The weather, of course, also needed to cooperate. If all of these elements were in sync, then I knew just where I needed to be to capture the event — Loblolly Cove.

Preparation Matters

Knowing what I wanted to shoot was the first step. Making it happen involved some preparation and some good old-fashioned luck.

I prepared for the event ahead of time. Starting with the obvious, I knew I wanted to shoot the April full moon rising. That meant a specific day and time — April 6, 2012 at 7:31 p.m. The weather, however, is a wild card. Cloud cover had thwarted my attempts the last couple of months. I kept my fingers crossed that it would indulge me this time around. Most importantly, I needed to know if the full moon was going to rise where it was that I desired. After all, it is a celestial body that moves. Thanks to The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) program, it was easy enough to find out where the moon was going to rise. As you can see, it was in perfect alignment from my shooting location in Loblolly Cove. Lady Luck was smiling.

TPE Shows Moonrise Over Thacher Island As Viewed From Loblolly Cove

Pre-Shoot Checklist

Basically, these were (and always are) my primary considerations when shooting the full moon:

  • Weather Update - Weather on the coast changes frequently. Cloud cover can totally hide the moon. Keep checking the forecast.
  • Dress Appropriately - Dress comfortably to stay dry and warm. Wear shoes with a good grip. The rocks on the coast can be slippery.
  • Location of Moon – It moves. Know where it’s going to be on the specific date. (See TPE bullet.)
  • Shooting Location – You must be able to see the moon from your shooting location. Where you are positioned with your camera is just as important as the position of the moon. (See TPE bullet.)
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) – A photographer’s dream tool that’s free for your computer. Better yet, there is even an app for it. I refer to it often on my iPhone. Use TPE to check the location of the moon from where you will be viewing it.
  • Tide Chart – The moon’s reflection in the water can be beautiful — if the water is there. Check an area’s tide chart for its cycle. The times of high tide change daily.

Equipment Checklist

It’s important that your camera equipment be complete and ready for the shoot ahead of time:

  • Camera – Make sure the camera battery is charged. Make sure you have reset your settings since your last shoot.
  • Lens – Think about your shot, the focal length you need, and the low-light shooting situation. Choose your lens accordingly.
  • Clean Equipment – Make sure your lens is clean. No dust or fingerprints. Make sure your sensor is clean as well. No spots.
  • Tripod – A definite necessity, especially in low-light shooting.
  • Shutter Release Cable – Highly recommended to further reduce possible camera shake.
  • Flashlight - Walking in the dark on the rocks can be dangerous. A flashlight is a must.

Exposure 1 & Exposure 2

For this shot I needed to consider two separate exposure subjects:

  • Island with lighthouse
  • Moon

These two extremes each needed to be metered separately for correct exposure. As the moon began to rise, the sun had already set and light was fading fast. As the moon continued to rise, the sky became darker and darker. When I saw the first flicker of the moon, I quickly framed my shot.

To maintain proper exposure for all elements within the shot, I first exposed for the lighthouse and island. This was to keep the detail in the rocks along the coastline and in the stone used for the lighthouse. Then, while maintaining the same composition, I quickly exposed for the moon only and took a shot to capture its detail.

Post Production

I later opened the two properly exposed images in Photoshop, set them up as separate layers, and then combined them. Voila! That’s how I did it.

The “Pink Moon”

As an interesting side note, the April Full Moon is actually called the “Pink Moon.” Imagine my surprise then when the moon first appeared decidedly orange. Pink or not, it was quite a beautiful sight. As for the orange color, I discovered there is a reason for that — atmospheric pollution! As the moon continues to rise and gets further away from the earth’s pollution, it becomes whiter and whiter.

I always wondered why the moon changes color as it rises higher and higher. Mystery solved.

~ Liz Mackney

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One Response to “Full Moon Rising!”

  1. April’s “Pink Moon” Rising! « New England Photography Says:

    [...] here to learn more about how I created this final [...]

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