Depending on where you are in the world, tonight or tomorrow night, weather permitting, you’ll see the largest full moon of 2012. For me, I plan to head to the coast, a strenuous 5 minutes walk away, to try to capture the low and yellow moon rising out of Bramble Bay. I’ve tried to take this photo before, but was once scuppered by low clouds on the horizon, and another time by my own stupidity; in general, the coast here faces east, but the spur I’d chosen that night faced much further north than I realised. The really stupid thing, as I stood waiting and watching the hands on my watch move long past the expected moonrise time, is that I have the Google Sky app on my phone, and when all that was rising around me was my confusion, I didn’t think to check it.
It’s all practice though in the end, isn’t it.
Tomorrow night moonrise coincides with twilight, so that’s when I’ll take my trusty 70-300mm and my tripod down to the shore. I love night-time photography, but night photography doesn’t love me. Night photography is mercilessly unforgiving. If you’re not technically perfect with your camera, if you miss getting a setting just so, night sky photography will show that error right up. I first found that when trying to photography the super moon of March 2011.
I was in a chalet in Morzine, France. The sky was dark with few street lights to mar the view, and the air clear. I spent ages messing with the shutter speed to capture the full moon that had risen over the mountains, but every time the moon blew out too white and bright. Fortunately for me, I was with friends, and one of those friends is a far more experienced photographer than myself. He pointed out what several of you will already know; my exposure was right off. By using the camera’s evaluative mode for exposure, so reliable in the bright light of day, the camera was calculating all that black sky with the tiny bit of white in the middle and exposing accordingly, aiming, as it always does, for grey. My friend showed me the spot metering option, and suddenly my full moon picture had details I never imagined capturing.
It’s quite cropped, so I think I’d need a longer lens to really capture the detail best, but I’ve always loved the night sky, so I still sometimes stare at the detail in awe and think of those fortunate few who’ve walked there.
Late last year I was in one of the best accessible areas in the world for night sky photography; the National Parks of Utah, USA. Dry desert air, high elevations of 7000 feet or more, clear cloudless skies, it doesn’t get much better. In both The Arches and Bryce Canyon, I braved the freezing cold, and my totally completely and utterly rational fear of mountain lions, to take long exposures of the beautiful red rock under the star-studded night sky. In camera I thought I’d captured some beauties, but night sky photography is a strict judge, and in the light of day on a large monitor, noise, poor focus, the slightest movement, every tiny mistake, was laid bare. One of my regrets about these images is that I didn’t take the time while still in the area to really assess my photos at full size. I relied on my judgement made from viewing the images in camera. Still, here’s the best of the lot, but the most valuable thing I took away from these shots was that I need to understand and practice the technical side of photography a whole lot more. And that reviewing in camera is never enough.