I must be obsessed with the moon lately writing two posts in a row about the moon. Yesterday I joined others from the Tacoma Mountaineers photo group in shooting the full moon from Gig Harbor. Actually, yesterday was the day before the full moon, or what some call the Photographers Moon, since it looks full and rises before the sun sets. As viewed from Gig Harbor yesterday, the moon rose north of Mount Rainier, and by sunset was near the mountain. Unfortunately, the clouds did not cooperate, and the late afternoon sunshine was blocked by high clouds in the west. The beautiful sunset light on the harbor and mountain did not materialize. The golden hour turned pale.
The featured image above was taken shortly before sunset. Not a bad image overall, but a pale imitation of what it could have been. Imagine what it would have looked like if clouds in the west had not been blocking the sun. Imagine Rainier lit with a warm glow and the clouds burning with pink. Yesterday, it was not to be.
I’ve been thinking of this shot for several years, and last night just didn’t cut it for me. In looking ahead, the Photographers Moon next month (on June 11) and in July (also on the 11th) will rise closer to the mountain than yesterday. I think I will go back and try again. Anyone want to join me in my moon madness?
I have trouble photographing the moon. Okay, it’s not so hard before for the sun sets (which is why the best full moon pictures are typically taken the day before the full moon and, consequently, before the sun sets), but after dark, I have lots of problems. There is just too much contrast. The moon is bright, basically as bright as anything lit by sunlight on a cloudless sunny mid-day. Everything else is dark. The dynamic range of any scene with the moon is too much for a camera to handle.
Perfect time to try some HDR photography, right? Maybe, but I’ve never gotten it to work well. I’ve always get funny looking light artifacts around the moon; all my attempts at using HDR for scenes with the moon have looked awful. How about shooting one exposure for the moon, one for the rest of the scene, and combining them in Photoshop. Again, maybe you can do that, but every time I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work – there’s too much glare around the moon and I can’t get the sky to look right.
Last month when I wanted to photograph the full moon rising behind the Glass Museum in Tacoma, I was disappointed when there were clouds on the eastern horizon and the moon wasn’t visible. Less than an hour later, the moon rose above the clouds, and though it was no longer aligned with the Glass Museum, it lined up nicely with the cable bridge over the Thea Foss Waterway. Nice shot, I thought, except now it was way too dark to capture both the moon and the with a single exposure. I set up the tripod anyway and took a series of shots, hoping that perhaps the contrast would not be too extreme.
Later, when I downloaded the shots, I was disappointed to find out contrast was too great – moon troubles were visiting me again. I tried HDR (once again) and was disappointed with the results (once again). I was frustrated. At that point, I figured someone else must have an answer to this problem, so I spent some time researching moon photography on Google. Most advice centered around photographing during twilight before it was too dark. Not helpful in my case. After a bit of searching, I found a YouTube video (which I can’t find again to credit here), where the photographer used HDR for only the moon and the area of sky immediately around it, a single image for the rest of the shot, then combined the two images in Photoshop. He then re-imported the resultant image into Photomatix for additional tone mapping, which I thought wasn’t necessary. But the first part sounded interesting.
I had a series of seven images, shot one f-stop apart. I imported all into Photomatix and worked it for the moon only. I re-imported the HDR moon image into Lightroom. Then I took a single image from the original seven and worked it in Lightroom for the foreground only. I also worked the HDR moon image in Lightroom to approximately match the sky to the sky (away from the moon) in the foreground image. I exported both images to Photoshop into a single document, with the foreground image as the background layer and the HDR moon image laying on top. I used a layer mask on the HDR moon layer to mask out everything but the area around the moon, feathering the mask match the sky in the underlying layer. The two skies didnt quite match, so I used a curves layer with a clipping mask on the HDR moon layer to get the tone of the two skies to be more similar. Once I was satisfied with the result, I continued with my normal Photoshop workflow to finish the image.
Perfect? No. But in the end, after a lot of work, the result is the best moon image I’ve ever captured after dark. What do you think, is it any good? And please, if anyone has some better way to handle my moon troubles, be kind and let me know.
One chore I accomplish each winter is to edit my photo library for all the photos I neglected to edit earlier in the year. Editing is a thankless task that some notable photographers even suggest is unnecessary due to disk drives being inexpensive. However, it is hard enough for me to find the photos I want when things are edited, let alone when I don’t edit.
Editing, at least for me, has one big added benefit. By going over those thousands of image I took that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to earlier, I always find some hidden gems that I missed earlier (along with lots of dogs – but more on that in a later blog). As my Christmas present to you, I offer a look at some of the hidden gems I’ve found thus far during my editing. Merry Christmas everyone!
First, before the story, a mini-rant – I hate the weather. I, like most photographers who shoot outdoors, am obsessed with the weather. The weather is never perfect – it’s either too cloudy, or not enough clouds, or too sunny, or too gray, etc. etc. For my Friday trip, I wasn’t looking for perfect weather. Rather if I was taking a day off from work to go take photos, I didn’t want to waste my time if the weather wasn’t going to be good enough to offer at least a few decent shots. Rant’s over, now on to the story.
On Thursday night, I checked the weather forecast to see what was in store. The forecast for Seattle was cloudy with a 70% chance of rain both in morning and afternoon – yuck! I thought about going to eastern Washington (which often has better weather), and the forecast for Yakima was cloudy with a 30% chance of freezing rain – not much better. I decided to stay home, work on the computer, and if it looked like the clouds might break, to run up to Seattle.
When I got up Friday morning, it was cloudy, but not rainy. As the morning wore on, there were breaks in the clouds, and I could see a bit of blue sky. So at noon, Tanya, Carson and I headed to Seattle. We went to the Great Wheel, Elliot Bay Park, and West Seattle. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived in Seattle, but as the afternoon wore on it got sunny and warm. By late afternoon, there were scattered clouds both to the east and west of the city, the city itself was under blue skies. It was near perfect weather for photography!
One of the shots I wanted was the moonrise over the city. This was the day before the full moon, and using the Photographers Emphemeris I knew the moon would rise about an hour before sunset directly over the city as viewed from West Seattle. This situation only happens a couple of times each year and those are always in winter. We drove to West Seattle, getting there about 1.5 hours before sunset. However, the few clouds that were left east of Seattle looked like they would block the rising moon.
I was able to get some nice, colorful late afternoon shots of the city skyline. Time for the moonrise came and went, and we couldn’t see the moon. Then Tanya helped me shoot a short video for my Kickstarter project (concerning my Seattle ebook I’ve talked about previously). We took a couple takes, when Tanya said “wow, look at that moon!” (my back was toward the city view). I turned around, and wow was right. I quickly grabbed the camera, switch to still photo mode, put on the 70-200 lens and shot away. I think you’ll agree, the results (featured above) were good.
So what I had thought was going to be a bad weather day for photography, turned out being perfect. Goes to show, you can never trust those weather reports.
One of the main goals of the trip was to photograph the full moon rising over the city. Using the program, The Photographer’s Ephemeris, I planned where I should shoot the moon as it rose. I calculated that the moon would rise close to the Space Needle if photographed from Ursula Judkins Viewpoint in the Magnolia area, just west of the Magnolia bridge. Early in the day I drove by this park to scout out where I should shoot from. I picked a spot by the parking lot that looked like it had the perfect view of the Space Needle.
As I photographed throughout Seattle that day, I worried whether the clouds would obscure the view of the rising moon. The eastern horizon never did look very clear. When the sun got low over the Olympic Mountains west of Puget Sound, I left the downtown waterfront, where I had been working, and headed back toward Magnolia.
I had selected the Parkmont Place viewpoint for a sunset shot. This long, narrow park along the Magnolia bluff top offers a number of viewpoints looking west over Puget Sound toward the Olympic Mountains. As I crossed the Magnolia Bridge heading toward Parkmont Place, I drove by the Ursula Judkins Viewpoint I had scouted earlier. There was one photographer there; he had a tripod set up in the exact spot I had earlier picked out.
The sunset was okay, not great; but I did get some nice shots of the ferry MV Wenatchee as it steamed from Bainbridge to Seattle and the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis as it cruised northward on the Sound. The sun set around 7:45 p.m. A little before 8:00, I drove back to Ursula Judkins for the moonrise at 8:18 p.m. The drive took about 3 minutes and the eastern sky was mostly cloudy. I couldn’t tell if it was clear on the horizon.
When I arrived at the viewpoint, the one other photographer had morphed into about 30 photographers! I was lucky to get the last parking spot in the park. The spot I had earlier picked out was now crowded with about 15 tripods. I set up at the car and then walked over there with my tripod. I had my small tripod with me, and it was not tall enough to get a clear view without other tripods and photographers in the way. I moved, and ended up back near my car, where with my 70-200 zoom lens I could isolate the Space Needle well.
I snapped a few frames of the Space Needle as darkness descended, still unsure if the moon would show through the clouds. Then an orange glow appeared in back of the Cascade Mountains. Soon, the moon was an orange ball shining through thin clouds immediately over the mountains. Minutes later, it rose further and was hidden by clouds. It made one more partial appearance, but then was again obscured. Most of the other photographers were still there when I left, hoping the moon would again show before it got too high in the sky. But I left, with the drive back to Tacoma in mind. I’m happy with the moonrise shot I did capture; I hope you agree.