The backup plan

Mt Pleasant

The moon was set to rise just to the right of the tree.

I had staked out a location for last night’s supermoon well in advance: a hilltop about 6 miles away from home, one of the highest locations in the county. I had studied the location in The Photographer’s Ephemeris; I had visited it the night before last to make sure all of my calculations were correct. Hubby and I arrived 40 minutes before moonrise. The weather was partly cloudy, but indications were that the moon would be visible.

What I didn’t count on was that everyone else in Ithaca would think this was a great location, too.

About 15 minutes before moonrise, a car pulled up with a couple of elderly people. They wandered over to the tree and mostly stayed on the other side of it… so I thought, oh well, I guess I can deal with that.

Then another car pulled up – with 1 adult, 3 children, and a dog. The kids ran all over the place but mostly stayed out of my line of site. Another car – this time, a bunch of adults (one guy with a long scraggly beard) wandered to a spot right between the camera and the impending moon. By the time we left, there were about 10 cars parked on the side of the road.

What to do?

I knew it was important to have something that a viewer could use as a point of reference for the size of the moon – for example, a tree – so going up to the edge of the hill wouldn’t help much. So I had asked hubby to come along, partly for company, partly for security (I’m not big on being outside by myself at night), and partly as a potential prop.

When we first arrived, we had spent a few minutes rehearsing for the backup plan, so I knew that we had to put hubby up towards the edge of the hill, with the camera way back and zoomed. We had estimated where to place his hands. We hadn’t dealt with the details such as how to communicate.

I didn’t even see the moon start to rise – the lowest part of the horizon was covered by clouds. When it emerged, hubby moved into position, and I started yelling across the field: top hand up 1 inch! bottom hand up 1/2 inch! Step backwards a half step! I took about a dozen shots and crossed my fingers that they would come out decently.

Some minor Photoshop adjustments later, I’m relatively happy with the outcome. Here are my notes for next time: go with a smaller aperture (higher f/stop); get farther back and zoom in more (this was cropped, and we could have made the moon look bigger); make sure the hand is completely flat. And finally, remember to have fun!

Holding the Moon



    • My dad sent me a link to a batch of pictures from last year’s supermoon… I wish I could say the idea was original, but I stole this idea from a beach picture. Not too many beaches around here!

  1. Looks like you succeeded in having fun! At least we could SEE it (my sister in Portland was not so lucky).

    On the techy nerdy side, I have it say I was MOST excited about having the moon rise shortly after the sun set so I could attempt to get some moon detail AND some landscape detail. I guess HDR is the real answer – any suggestions on how to get both?

    I am also convinced that my setup is suffering from too much lens vibration. As it got darker, the shutter speed slowed and it became increasingly difficult to get sharp details of the moon. When I used the “lock mirror up, view through preview window with zoom” function on my Canon, I could see the shake from the wind. Ugh!

    I was shooting with a 70-210 f/4 telephoto – not a HUGE piece of glass, but the camera was attached to the tripod, not the lens. Does this mean I really do need to buy a ring-mount adapter for this lens?

    Any advice is most appreciated!

    So my backup plan was to put on my wide lens and go look in the opposite direction, where Venus was putting on quite a nice show:

    • “Techy-nerdy” – great language, but so hard to speak sometimes!

      I wish I knew the answer to your question. The March moon and last September’s moon both hit the magic spot where it was light enough to see some detail; those and last night’s are the only ones where I’ve had any luck. HDR might work, I haven’t really thought about it. For last night’s shot, I used Lightroom to lighten up the shadows in the foreground, and Viveza 2 to lighten up Ken’s face a bit. And luckily I wasn’t dealing with any wind.

      I had a 70/300 f5.6 lens – and a plain ol’ tripod, but it managed to hold pretty steady. Possibly luck! Having a remote shutter release helped a lot.

      Your shots are beautiful! The Venus shot is my favorite!

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