Archive for the ‘full moon’ Tag

Single-image Sunday: Full Moon Ski   6 comments

This has been quite the skinny year for skiing in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon & Washington.  I took the opportunity yesterday to go with a couple photographer friends up to Potato Hill  up in the mountains (don’t ask me why it’s called that).  I was on my XC skis and they snowshoed.  The summit area has a wonderful view of several rugged high peaks of the Central Oregon Cascades.

Down at the highway, the snow had melted much too early for this time of year, and there were bare patches.  But once we climbed most of the 1500 feet to the viewpoint, the snow was in great condition – smooth and spring-like.  I really enjoyed being back on my skis.

Though we had a colorful sunset and a misty moonrise, I think I like this shot from later in the evening, just before we left.  The moon had just crested the hill and was shining beautifully on the pristine snow.  Skiing down fast in the moonlight was a lot of fun.  Hope your weekend has been just as fun!

Moonlight on snow, Cascade Mtns, Oregon

Moonlight on snow, Cascade Mtns, Oregon

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The Solstice & Super Moon   6 comments

The summer solstice happened very close to the time of the full moon at perigee, here at Lost Lake.

The summer solstice happened very close to the time of the full moon at perigee, here at Lost Lake.

Yes I realize it is several days after the solstice, but I don’t want to wait 6 months to publish this.  It seemed to me significant that we had both the solstice and a full moon at perigee (“supermoon”) in the same week.  I’m an astronomy nerd, so the motions of the sun, moon and planets mean something to me.  It’s not just about your sign!  I think the solstices are the most important days of the year, with the equinoxes a close second.  I still like Christmas a lot, but that’s just the winter solstice a few days after.

Last week, one of the year’s two solstices took place.  For us in the northern hemisphere it marked the first day of summer, the longest day of the year.  It happened in the evening on the west coast of North America.  Like all astronomical phenomena, solstices (and equinoxes) happen at a specific time not on a date.  In the case of the solstice, it is the moment when the earth points its axis directly toward or away from the Sun.  For the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is when our planet points its northern hemisphere at the sun, at the sharpest angle it can.  Therefore for most of the world’s population this signifies the longest day and shortest night of the year.

Stonehenge was supposedly built to mark the solstices.  This is a replica of the famous megalithic ruins.  It is in Washington state.

Stonehenge was supposedly built to mark the solstices. This is a replica of the famous megalithic ruins. It is in Washington state.

For the southern hemisphere, the situation is the same but opposite.  The summer solstice for the northern hemisphere, which happens either on the 20th or 21st of June every year, is the winter solstice for the southern hemisphere.  Folks in South Africa and Australia have their shortest day and longest night while people in America and Europe have their longest day and shortest night.  The year’s other solstice occurs in 6 months, on December 20th or 21st.   The northern hemisphere is pointed away from the Sun, and thus has its shortest day and longest night.  The southern hemisphere has its longest day and shortest night.  Short nights around Christmas?  I really don’t like the thought of that.

This post is a good excuse to post an abstract, relatively rare for me.

This post is a good excuse to post an abstract, relatively rare for me.

The planet we live on is tilted on its axis of rotation.  Therefore it must tilt toward or away from the Sun as it revolves around it.  If you are good at visualizing, you know that there is a time (two times actually) when during the year the Earth neither points toward or away from the Sun.  Those times are known as the Equinoxes.  Nights and days are equal.  Think of those times as when the Earth is tilted directly toward or away from its direction of its travel around the Sun.

Okay, so why is this stuff important, or at least very cool?  The nature of time, the seasons, the passage of our lives:  to me these have always been very profound & interconnected things.  When I was younger, the seasons meant warmth, colorful leaves, cold and snow, and flowers, and that’s all.  But as I learned about things astronomical, the other pieces fell into place.  Add all the fascinating myths and stories from around the world and I realized I was not the only one who thinks these matters are important.

Surprising tulips appear randomly along Washington's Klickitat River, well away from any habitation.

Surprising tulips appear randomly along Washington’s Klickitat River, well away from any habitation.

Connections between things that happen in the world have always interested me.  You will occasionally see TV shows and books dedicated to these ties between natural events and human stories and experience.  Unfortunately these are too often academic and dry.  This I can’t understand, since these events have inspired so much that is creative in humans: poetry, art, stories.  I like the way people respond and react, both emotionally and in a visceral sense, to these cycles.  I definitely react to them, and I like this very real connection to the natural world that I share with others.  I guess that’s why I think the solstice is worth celebrating.

Rhodedendrons bloom in June in Oregon's forested Cascade Mountains.

Rhododendrons bloom in June in Oregon’s forested Cascade Mountains.

I should admit right here that I did nothing special to signify the event.  It snuck up on me.  I have in the past celebrated by climbing a mountain and camping atop it, or by joining in some extended outdoor excursion or even party.  But this time it just passed, and like with birthdays I just felt older.

Enjoy these images.  I’m sorry but they’re copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on any you are interested in to go to purchase options for the high-res. version.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks!

The so-called supermoon, actually the full moon at perigee, rises over Lost Lake, Oregon as a beaver swims by.

The so-called supermoon, the full moon at perigee, rises over Lost Lake, Oregon as a beaver swims by.

Dusk comes very late in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge at summer solstice.

Dusk comes very late in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge at summer solstice.

Shooting the Moon at Monument Valley   6 comments

The moon was near its full phase while at Monument Valley recently. I did some photography which included wonderful Luna, so I thought it might be time for a little photography talk. Don’t get too used to it though; I get bored easily with photography how-to (I’d rather do it than talk about it).

The full moon rises between Monument Valley’s famous stone sentinels.

As many photographers know, “shooting the moon” when it’s full can yield killer shots, but it can also be a pain trying to deal with the high contrast.  To be successful, be persistent, and keep in mind the following:

  • The moon needs to be one day before the full phase if you want to shoot it rising at sunset and include the foreground landscape.  It is ideal when at sunset the moon is as close to 24 hours before full phase as possible.  Realize that the moon’s full phase occurs at a specific time; it doesn’t stay exactly full all day and night.  One day before full means the moon will rise just before the sun sets.  This puts it in a good low position, where it appears bigger and is close in brightness to the foreground landscape.  A full moon means it rises right at sunset, which is really a little too late.  You’ll have a darker foreground, with too bright a moon, all of which means major contrast.  If you shoot when it’s more than one day before full, the moon will be too high at sunset.
  • The fact is that on some months, the moon’s full phase does not occur near the time of your local sunset.  Instead, it occurs closer to mid-day, or midnight.  And so you won’t hit that magical 24-hours before full phase, where the moon has fully cleared the horizon at the same time the sunset is at its peak.  It’s worth checking the actual time of the full moon.
  • A reflective landscape helps enormously, since your foreground will always be darker than the moon. In fact, the more reflective the landscape, the easier it is to get good shots even when the moon is very near full. Monument Valley, and really any desert landscape, is just the ticket. Snowy landscapes are also good.
  • A good view toward the eastern horizon is ideal, so you’ll catch the moon at the moment it rises.  You will have more options in terms of exposure, and the moon will be naturally color-saturated when it is adjacent to the horizon. Of course, as with any landscape photo, you’ll want an interesting composition.  It might be better in some cases to let it rise a little ways.
  • If you don’t like what you came up with, just wait a day or so.  On the day after full moon, get up before sunrise and make sure you have an interesting view toward the western horizon.  This time you’ll be photographing a setting moon at sunrise, instead of a rising moon at sunset.
  • All of the above assumes you want a fairly evenly exposed landscape shot.  But there are two other general options.(A)You can simply allow the moon to blow out (making it look like a little sun) while exposing for the foreground. This works best with a smaller moon; that is, shorter focal lengths (35 mm or less). See my image of the Totem Poles, where the moon is not technically blown out, but lacks details and is too small to form a major picture element.(B) You can use a longer focal length (300 mm or more) for a very big moon, and expose for the moon’s details.  Then you can place an interesting subject(s) in front of the moon and let your subject go black in silhouette.  If you don’t want to do a silhouette, you could use artificial lighting for fill light on your subject.  For the big moon/silhouette effect, it doesn’t really matter what phase the moon is in, though the most popular style is to use a full moon.
  • Speaking of focal length, remember that the shorter your focal length, and the further from the horizon the moon is, the smaller it will appear.  Also, the further from the horizon the moon is, the whiter and brighter it will be.  Again, the image of the Totem Poles is an example.
  • There is no chance to balance the brightness of the moon with your foreground when it is well above the horizon.  See next point for an option.
  • If you want to include the moon’s details when it is much brighter than your foreground, you will need to shoot a separate frame for the moon, then add this well-exposed moon back into your first shot using Photoshop (or Elements).  This is called compositing, and you can find many tutorials on the web.  Zoom in to the moon and turn on your spot metering.  Place the center focusing point right in the center of the moon, then snap the picture.  During your photoshopping, it might be tempting to make the moon much bigger.  Although it is probably okay to enlarge the moon by just a fraction, making it a lot bigger is not a great idea in my opinion.  You will see these sorts of silly, amateurish pictures all over the web, and they all look fake.  A better plan is to use medium focal lengths (50-70 mm) so that your moon is naturally bigger.

    Sand dunes and the Totem Poles in Monument Valley as the sun sets and the moon rises.

What with all this knowledge about shooting the moon, you would think I got super excellent shots at Monument Valley.  Well, the first night I tried, in the sand dunes by the Totem Poles, the moon had risen too high by the time the sun had set enough for nice color in the landscape.  So I just let the moon go bright and didn’t worry too much about it being small.  This is an example of making the best of your situation, rather than being disappointed that the shot you had in mind is not there.

On the next night, the moon almost rose too late.  This was one of those months, described above, when the full phase was much less than 24 hours after sunset time.  I knew this might be a problem, so I got to a high point with a pretty good view toward the east.  The dramatic monoliths that make Monument Valley famous formed nice framing elements for the moon.  I knew I had to shoot within a few minutes of the moonrise, while the moon was not too bright, and also showed some nice color.  I used the longest focal length I had – 200 mm.

Sadly, my 100-400L has been stolen on this trip (no more wildlife photography for the foreseeable future – bah!).  I tried for a very simple composition, just a few sandstone towers plus the moon (see top image).  It would have been better if I was able to zoom closer.  I did not want to move closer since then my viewpoint would have been lower.  Looking up at the towers would have made them appear a little shorter, and I would not have had a full view of the moon until it had risen too high.

By the time the moon had risen above the rock towers, it was too bright in comparison to the rapidly darkening landscape.  Though the shots I got are dramatic, they are also fairly two-dimensional, without much of a foreground.  This is a common drawback to using longer focal lengths in landscape photography.  I’m sure I could find a better place from which to get this type of shot at Monument, but since you only get two chances per month, that would mean hanging out here for quite a long time before I got it right.

At Monument Valley, dusk and the sand create a peaceful scene.

The succeeding night was bright with the essentially full moon, and it was tempting to get moonlit landscape shots.  But I had done some of that the previous night, and I had done a lot of staying up late and getting up early over this week.  So I found a lonely spot along the Douglas Mesa Road and drifted off to a deep sleep.  Next morning after breakfast I was on the way out, heading south. I saw a woman on the side of the road with a hand-painted sign that read simply “Fry Bread”.  I realized I had not had any of this Navajo staple on my trip, so I stopped and had her make me a couple.  They were delicious, and cheap!  The same thing was available at the restaurant for $5; she was charging $1 apiece.  I talked with her for awhile, letting her daughter pet my dog.

Friendly and down-to-earth she was, so I enjoyed chatting.  I finally drove off in a great mood.  There was no better way to bid goodbye to Monument Valley than to talk with this Navajo woman while chomping down on a hot Fry Bread covered in honey and cinnamon.  I was on my way to the Hopi Mesas, which is the subject of my next post.

The moon clears the horizon at Monument Valley, Arizona.

Moonlight   4 comments

I have to say right here that I love hiking in the moonlight.  Also, cross-country skiing, canoeing or kayaking, mountain biking, and even riding horses under the moon.  Some of my most memorable hikes and ski trips have been lighted by the full moon.  I simply love being out in wild places at night, and when you can see it’s even better.  Last night I joined a group of hikers on a jaunt up to Angel’s Rest, a short steep climb that is the nearest hike in the Columbia River Gorge to Portland.

A near-full moon, here at the Vermilion Cliffs in Utah, does not mean you can’t see stars if the air is clear & skies are dark.

This was the first time I’ve done this in a long time, though last winter I did go skiing in the moonlight (image below).  It brought back great memories.  One of the best moonlight hikes I’ve ever done was on my first trip up to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  I had hitchhiked up from Portland, planning to backpack up the Hoh River and into the alpine zone.  But I was too late to start the same day, and so I joined a small group of guys I had caught a ride with.  They were headed up to Hurricane Ridge, to camp (and party).  This ridge, which stands up above Port Angeles and Juan de Fuca Strait, is treeless on top and marks the north border of Olympic National Park.  It lies at over 5000 feet and extends for miles of open alpine and subalpine flowery meadows.

If you want a picture of the moon itself, it’s usually best to get it while it is partially lit rather than full.

Arriving after dark, soon the full moon had cleared the ridge.  We decided to go for a hike.  I was a little nervous, having never been there and not really knowing these rowdies.  But I went with the flow and I’m so glad I did.  It was truly spectacular hiking across the flower-filled meadows under the moon.  The moonlight was brighter than I ever remember, so we never switched our flashlights on.

But what makes this a strong memory even now was the incredible view.  You could see all the way north across the Straits to the mountains of Canada’s Vancouver Island, east to several huge snow-covered Cascade volcanoes, west to the rugged Pacific Coast, and south to the glaciated Olympic Range.  The snow- and ice-covered mountains shone with a beautiful silvery light I had never seen before (and have only rarely seen since).  We hiked until almost 3 a.m., then rolled our sleeping bags out on the meadow, not bothering with tents.  I dropped right off despite the bright moon in my face.

Another fantastic moonlight hiking experience took place some years later, when one of my favorite things to do was go backpacking to Mt Rainier National Park.  I would go up in the afternoon, and start hiking in a couple hours before sunset.  Then after hiking by headlamp for a couple more hours, I would camp near the trail.  In the morning I would have a jump on everyone, hiking in to off-trail alpine areas I know about in the Park.  This worked well since I usually had 3-day weekends then.

On one of these occasions I hiked toward a fantastic subalpine plateau called Grand Park, where I planned to camp.  As I approached the meadows, I saw the near-full moon shining on the grassy expanse.  I had heard elk bugling earlier, but I did not see any as I walked in to the meadows.  But suddenly a large bull stepped out from a clump of trees and bugled so loudly I felt my bones vibrating.  Talk about LOUD!  I respect elk on the rut, so I retreated.

When I peeked in again about a half hour later, I saw what must have been a hundred or more elk stretched out over Grand Park.  I walked on, hearing bugling from the far side but no bulls.  But I hadn’t gone far when I was challenged again, this time by an enormous bull who straddled the trail.   I actually could see the moonlight catching his eyes, and they looked mean and nasty.  I decided then to camp in the trees.  This place belonged to the elk tonight, and I obviously wasn’t invited to the party.

The hike last night up Angel’s Rest was not epic like those trips, but it was a gorgeous evening as we crested the bare rock ridge that makes up the summit.  You look straight down onto the Columbia River, and the view extends west downriver to Portland.  A beautiful sunset and perfectly clear evening were our reward as we snacked and snapped pictures.

Oregon’s highest peak, Mount Hood, stands under a winter’s blanket of snow, and a brilliant night sky. View is from the frozen Trillium Lake.

The moon was one day before full, which means it rose about an hour before sunset.  As many photographers know, this is the best time to include the full moon in landscape shots.  This is because as the moon rises and the sun begins to set, the illumination on the moon’s face can approximately match the light in the eastern sky, and on the landscape.  But it helps when the light is right and the foreground is fairly light-colored and reflective (as well as being interesting of course).  It takes a sharp eye to notice the moon is not quite full in the photo.  If you wait until the moon is full, it rises very close to sunset, so the sky and foreground are much too dark to roughly match the brightness of the moon.

This was not happening on Angel’s Rest, where the dark green Oregon forest contrasted too strongly with a moon that was too bright because of the incredibly clear atmosphere.  Of course I could have combined separate exposures later in the computer, but I find that rarely makes for both a natural and dramatic look.  I am always looking for the right scene to capture with a single image.

What a shame it would be to only enjoy our natural world in sunlight.  Being under the light of the moon lends everything a mysteriously beautiful glow.  And the animals who wait until nighttime to roam give you something to think about.  It gives a little edge to the hike when our most-dominant sense, our vision, is challenged.  We are really out of our element at night, and you are forced to quiet your mind and remind yourself that (with a few exceptions) you are the biggest and baddest animal out there.  And this is just as true at night as it is in daytime.

It is certainly wise to use your flashlight or headlamp if there is danger of tripping and hurting yourself.  But I advise avoiding it unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Using a light will ruin your night vision (unless you use a red light, and then it’s too dim to walk by anyway).  It takes about 30 minutes to get it back, during which time you won’t see nuances in the terrain.  Remember you don’t need to see perfectly to walk.  You begin to better feel the ground beneath your feet.

The unusual sensation of moving through the nightscape while allowing your other senses to take over, the challenge of keeping calm when you hear noises, and above all the incredible beauty of moonlit landscapes, this is what makes heading out when the sun goes down so worthwhile.

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