On planning for a shot with all the best intentions, but missing a few details… – Part 1

It all started when I shared this article with a photojournalist and a good friend of mine.
“Dude, this should be worth the trouble if we get off our asses!”, I texted him. “Cool, where should we set up and wait?” was his answer, ever the adventurous type. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out!” I replied, and he texted back “I trust you!”….
Ok, no pressure at all then… heh *gulp*
Not wanting to disappoint, I started researching. Last year I’d been trying to shoot the full moon every month (didn’t make it), but I managed to at least get a decent shot with the Parthenon below with a borrowed 300mm (as seen on a previous post), and I wanted something similar for this year. I thought that our town’s old fortress would be neat as a foreground object with the full moon rising right behind it, so that’s where the research was headed.

So, the GOAL was “Fortress tower with full moon behind it, shot at 200mm”. In order to achieve this, we also need to find a proper LOCATION, and the right TIMING and SETTINGS.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you ever want to shoot a rising full moon with something in the foreground, in order to get the exposure balanced between them, shoot a day earlier.
Let me explain why; you see, a Full Moon always rises at sunset, so when it’s, say, 15 degrees up in the sky (about an hour and a half later) the sky (and your foreground) will be quite dark, making it almost impossible to make the shot with a single exposure. You’ll be surprised by how bright a Full Moon is! Just take a look at the recommended settings for a nice detailed exposure of a Full Moon during nighttime: 1/125 Shutter speed @ f/16 and ISO200. That is going to make everything else dark in your frame!
To counter this, we are visiting the site a day earlier. The Moon will rise about an hour earlier, quite a bit before sunset, so when it gets on position, the sky will be way brighter and you’ll still be able to expose quite nicely for both the Moon and your foreground! You could be easily at f/8 and 1/60 shutter speed right about that time. I think that this is something like 4 stops down compared to the above recommended settings!
Bonus: You’ll probably also going to have this nice golden glow during the golden hour on your ground giving the shot a whole different feel than those “totally dark photos but OK Moon/correct exposure for ground but super-bright Moon” you usually see.

The only drawback to this is that you’re not shooting the Moon 100% full but something like 98.2%, which is totally OK by me since there’s not so much difference anyway.

So, you’ve got your settings all figured out. Let’s see the WHEN aspect of the shoot.

COMPLICATED WAY, skip to the EASY WAY if you cba) – There are many ways to find out when the moon will rise (this is a nice site), but I like to use a small free program called Stellarium (you can get it here) I have installed on my PC, that will also tell me where the moon will rise from.

As you can see from these screenshots, at the 9th of August the Moon rose from an azimuth of 110 degrees at 19:25PM. The sun would set at 20:33PM that day. When it would reach an altitude of 12 degrees, it should have moved another 10 degrees to the South (120 deg. az.), at 20:35PM. That’s all we need to know from Stellarium.
Off to another application, Google Earth this time. We find the subject of our photo (the Castle), we take the ruler and we draw a line from it, trying to match the heading to our azimuth number from Stellarium. So, if we’d extend that ruler’s line to the other side, we could find possible site locations that would line up our subject and the Moon quite nicely. I like to do it this way because Google Earth (kinda) gives you a pre-visual of how the frame will look like.
A super cool example of such planning is this shot of Mt. Shasta by Mr. Cory Poole, who planned the Milky Way rising behind the Mountain and another with the Milky Way bowing above it

EASY WAY – Enter The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Couldn’t be easier! You are placing a pin at the place you want to be, toggle on the geodetics placing another pin at the subject you want to shoot and voila, you’ve got coloured lines telling you the position and time of Sunrise, Sunset, Moonrise, distance from your subject, Azimuth heading and Elevation of Sun and Moon, and a beautiful time chart/slider below. Excellent!!
Here’s a screenshot with my location planning…

According to the map and site, then, I decided to use the top floor of a Hotel that is open to the public (it has a bar and a swimming pool to chill out afterwards :D) to set up for the shot, somehow believing that being as high from the ground as possible would be better….

Spoiler alert! MY BIG MISTAKE : I totally underestimated the size of the mountains RIGHT BEHIND the friggin’ castle. I thought that Google Earth was just exceedingly popping them up , because I’m used at looking at the castle from the street level where I can’t see them.
Turns out, Google Earth was spot-on, and at the terrace we ended up the castle’s background was totally covered by the mountainside (and furthermore, it wouldn’t matter anyway because I screwed up the elevation too!
As you can see on the screenshot of the Ephemeris linked above, the moon and the castle would be lined up at 21:37PM (Nautical Twilight End), with the moon at a 22 deg. elevation that it turned out to be waaaay above the castle and could not in any possible way fit in the frame of a 200mm focal length…)
I can see, on hindsight, how I didn’t manage to get the shot I wanted since it was based on such wrong calculations… Lesson learned!

To conclude, summing up all the (wrong!) useful information above, I figured that we need to be all set up on position at about 20:00 o’clock. We met at 19:30, and started going towards the hotel, hoping for the best…


At least we had a nice view of the sunset, right?



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