Moonrise

I know, I know.  I promised scenes from the Galapagos would be in my next post, but……

A week ago (March 12), there was a full moon, an event that happens every 29.5 days.  But for photographers in Washington, DC, it was a special night because the moon would rise in a location on the horizon that was pretty close to perfect for the so-called “Holy Grail” shot.  It happens, on average, every one or two years.

Full Moon March 2017

Moonrise over Washington, D.C., March 12, 2017

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.6 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken )

There is a spot in Arlington, Virginia where one has an excellent view of the city of Washington with a compositionally sweet alignment of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.  The location is the base of the Netherlands Carillon, just to the south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Before the advent of the smart phone/tablet, anticipating this event was not easy, requiring a compass and access to some publicly available software on the website of the U.S. Naval Observatory.  But now, with the availability of numerous apps, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) or Photo Pils, anyone can figure it out. For example, on this night, even with temperatures hovering around freezing, there were over 60 photographers there, each with at least one tripod and a big lens.

Other than the cold weather, conditions looked pretty good on this evening.  The sky was clear and the moon would rise at 86.0 degrees azimuth on the horizon and 13 minutes after sunset.  That was a bit further south than ideal, and a bit later than desired relative to the sunset. Nevertheless, it would be the best opportunity in 2017 with only one other chance (October 5) that will be in the ballpark.  However, in October, the blue twilight period (Civil Twilight) will end before the moon gets sufficiently elevated.

Moonrise D-17-03-12-9670

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 7:32 PM)

Although the official time of the moonrise was 7:27 PM, it would be a bit later before it would appear above the skyline.  It was first sighted by the group at about  7:29 and the image immediately above was taken about 90 seconds later.  By this time, the end of civil twilight is approaching and we would soon lose the classic blue color that is essential to this kind of image.

 

Moonrise D-17-03-12-9696

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 2.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 6:36 PM)

Furthermore, the combination of a very clear sky with the rapidly fading twilight would cause the moon to become extremely bright as it rose above the dimming effects of the ground haze.  The above image was taken at 6:36 PM, about 3 minutes before the end of civil twilight.    Already the moon is becoming increasingly bright and the excellent details on its surface have almost vanished.  Any images taken after this point would require increasingly heroic post-processing efforts.

So when you prepare for a moon shot, make sure you check more than the location.  The relationship in time between the sunset and moonrise and civil twilight can have a significant impact on your results.  If you are in a classic landscape situation where no artificial lighting typical of an urban scene is expected, you may want to evaluate the prospects on the night just before the actual full moon.  This is especially true where a mountain may be blocking the moon at the time of the “official” moonrise.

 

Next (and I promise): Scenes from the Galapagos Islands.

 

One Photo Focus–June (and More!)

This week markes the first anniversary of Stacy Fischer’s ABFriday Forum and I’d like to take the oppportunity to congratulate Stacy on the fantastic effort she has given over the past 52 weeks.  As usual on the first Friday of the month, the ABFriday gang will all be working on the same image.  And this month, the image is being provided by none other than Stacy herself.  It will be very interesting to see how each participant handles the challenge, and you can find links to all of them by clicking on VisualVenturing.com.

This post also has a totally unrelated second story below abou a couple of my favorite bridges.

But first, the starting image for One Photo Focus is shown below,and  will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the exclamation: “Shazbot!”  Yes, the house is the very structure that served as home base for the famed TV couple, “Mork and Mindy.”

2015 06 01A Before

Contrary to the approach I have followed in recent ABFriday events, I decided to play it straight this week, so the steps were quite straightforward and do not need to be shown in step-by-step fashion.  I used Adobe Camera RAW to correct much of the overexposure, then opened the image in Photoshop, removed the dirt piles wioth the Clone Tool, and added two Curves Adjustment Layers to fine tune the contrast and eliminate the remaining overexposure on the Queen Anne Tower.  The final touch was a modest gradient to furthen darken the sky (blend mode = soft light).  The final result is shown below. To check out the other submissions, go to Visual Venturing and you will see some really creative approaches.

2015 06 01A One Photo Focus Before 05A

The “After “Image

On a different subject, the normally boring subject of bridge repair made news this week, involving a bridge in Washington, D.C. and another in Paris, France.    But the news in both cases has significance to photographers because both structures are highly popular photographic subjects and therefore is worthy of some attention.

Memorial Bridge 01

 Memorial Bridge at Sunrise, View from Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC

Here in Washington, The Arlington Memorial Bridge was discovered to have some serious structural deficiencies and a partial closure was abruptly implemented on May 29th.  One lane in each direction will be closed for 6-9 months while emergency repairs are made.  In addition, vehicles such as buses and trucks weighing over 10 tons will no longer be able to cross the bridge.  Details were reported by the Washington Post.   This is not a typical highway project, because the Memorial Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful bridge in Washington.

Memorial Bridge 02

Memorial Bridge at Dawn, View from Mount Vernon Trail, Virginia

Memorial Bridge 03

Moonrise, Memorial Bridge

 Three days later In Paris, city officials began dismantling the wire mesh railings of the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge that has become famous for the so-called “love locks” attached by couples as a symbol of their love for each other.  Details on the event were reported worldwide, including the New York Times.

Pont des Arts 01

Pont des Arts in 2006 (No locks anywhere)

As the images above and below show, the Pont des Arts by itself is not particularly photogenic, but its proximity to the Institut de Paris (shown below) and the Louvre on the opposite side of the Seine makes it hard to resist.  The padlock craze began in 2008 and grew slowly at first.  When the 2010 image below was taken, it and one other pedestrian bridge had 2,000 locks in place which works out to just a lock or two per day.  But a few weeks after the 2010 image was taken, Paris officials announced the fad was getting out of hand.

Pont des Arts 02

Pont des Arts (on left) and the Institut de France in 2010

Pont des Arts 03

Pont des Arts, 2014

Four years later, the love-locks were everywhere.  More than 11 bridges in Paris were bulging with thousands of padlocks, with an estimated 700,000 on the Pont des Arts alone.  During our 2014 visit, one of the panels of the Pont des Arts collapsed from the weight of the locks (about 1,500 pounds). And it was just as bad at the Pont de l’Archevêché, near Notre Dame (see below)

Pont de l'Archvechet 01Pont de l'Archvechet 02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pont de l’Archevêché in 2014

Perhaps urban hiking could benefit from a variation of the motto seen in the National Parks: “Take Only Photos, Leave Nothing Behind.”   But whatever you do……

Keep Shooting……

It was a good plan, but….

One of my least favorite clichés is the advice that when given lemons, you should make lemonade.  I hear it a lot when I grumble to someone about unexpected complications that ruined a plan for a specific image.  That’s all well and good (at least you have something), but you still didn’t get what you really wanted.  I don’t dismiss this advice; you should always try to make the best of any given situation.  But many years ago a photographer gave me what I think is far better advice and that was “Keep Showing Up.”

Those who read my post of 9 March already know that this is the time of year to capture a perfect solar alignment with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  And so for the past five days I have been showing up n front of the Memorial about 30 minutes before sunrise.  What follows is a tale of following two guiding principles: making lemonade and being persistent.

The forecast for 20 March, the actual day of the vernal equinox, was for clear skies, exactly the conditions required for the image I was after.  But I awoke at 5:30 AM to find a dense fog so thick you couldn’t see half of the Washington Monument.

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and it was obvious that my chances were slim.  So I set about making lemonade.  I’ve learned you often can get the twilight blue color (see my post about Magic Hour) with cloudy weather just as you can with clear skies.  The lighting system of the Lincoln Memorial is very well balanced for this time of day.

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The artificial lamps enhance the architectural features of the building and there is just enough ambient light 20 minutes before sunrise to provide detail in the unlit surroundings.  For about 3-4 minutes, the Memorial looks like a shining jewel box set against a brilliant blue background.  The above image was shot at 6:48 AM about 24 minutes before sunrise.

The next day there was a heavy cloud cover and again things look unpromising.  But clouds can often bring drama to an

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otherwise ordinary image.  So I waited a little longer than I had the previous day in order to get greater detail on the clouds but still retain the special quality of the lighting system working its magic on the exterior and interior of the Memorial.  The above image was photographed at 6:55 AM, about 17 minutes before sunrise.

I should add that aside from weather problems, each day featured an interesting cast of characters that affected my opportunities for shooting.  It surprises most people to learn that the Lincoln Memorial is a very popular place in the early morning.  Most common is the exercise crowd.  The two most impressive in this group were the squad of soldiers in full camouflage and full equipment packs doing laps around the Reflection Pool and a trio of very fit young women who ran up and down the steps of the Memorial for about an hour with only occasional breaks for some stretching exercises.

But I digress.  On the third day the clouds were still with me and I had little choice but to make more lemonade.  At least it had been relatively warm all three days.  I decided to try my luck inside the building since I had very little of that kind of lemonade in my stock inventory.  I found a nice location on the north side of the statue that made it possible to include the key part of the statue, all of

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the dedication text above the statue, and the complete Gettysburg speech on the south wall in the background.  It may be hard to read in this version but when it is fully enlarged to about 30” X 36” the engraved writing is easy to read.  (Technical note: this image is actually 4 separate images merged together into a single image, taken at 7:18 AM, about 7 minutes after sunrise.)  I think this is the best batch of lemonade of the week.

Having already disproved the old adage that the “Third Time is the Charm” I ventured out again on Sunday morning, encouraged by the small break in the clouds to the east.  But it was more likely that the best angle this day would be to point the camera toward the Washington Monument.  A mix of clouds and open sky in the east can often bring spectacular sunrises and I thought I would try a different angle, suggested by a fellow photographer on the first day.

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If we insist on sticking with the lemonade analogy, the above image is probably Grade B, but the drawbacks (scaffolding on the Washington Monument, an near-empty Reflection Pool, and a construction crane over the new Museum of African American History) do provide some contextual interest.

So, this morning (March 24) was Day number 5 and if you have read this far, you are probably praying for a happy ending (or any kind of ending).  The forecast called for a sharp drop in temperature, some wind (ugh!) and clear skies.  And they were spot on.  The sequence of pictures below show what happened over a 5-minute period.  So it would appear that both pieces of advice were correct.  When conditions didn’t favor the plan, I was able to capture some images I would otherwise not have gotten.  And by the fact that I kept showing up, I also got the image I was after.

looking west at 7:10:38 AM Sun is partially visible just to north of Washington Monument

looking west at 7:10:38 AM Sun is partially visible just to north of Washington Monument which is behind the camera.

7:14:23 AM Sun is barely visible just to south of Washington Monument

7:14:23 AM Sun is barely visible just to south of Washington Monument

7:18:00 AM Sun is almost completely visible on south side of Washington Monument

7:18:00 AM Sun is almost completely visible on south side of Washington Monument

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7:19:17 AM

Perfect Solar Alignment

 

Solar Alignment

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Sunrise, Lincoln Memorial, March 20, 2013

               I sometimes think of the planet earth as a spaceship carrying its passengers through the universe or, more accurately, in an orbit around a star we call the sun.  In less than two weeks, our earth will reach a significant moment in its orbit, known to those of us in the northern hemisphere as the vernal equinox.  In non-technical terms, this is the time when the two bodies are perfectly aligned, essentially face-to face.  Neither northern nor southern hemispheres are tilted away from the sun and the day is the same length as the night.  This year, that moment will occur at 12:57 EDT on March 20.

                Over the millennia the spring equinox has been celebrated in many cultures as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.  As a photographer in Washington, DC it symbolizes the phenomenon of solar alignment.  This is the time of year when the relationship of the sun to the architectural plan of the city becomes really interesting.  On the day of the equinox, the sun will rise at due east on the compass.  The city’s layout, based on Pierre l’Enfant’s original plan, put the Mall on an east-west axis.  For example, a line drawn due west  from the center of the US Capitol Building will pass through the center of the Washington Monument and the center of the Lincoln Memorial.

                Why is that important to photographers?  Because that is the only time of year that an image like the one above is possible.  Most photographers know that the golden light of a perfect sunrise lasts for only a few minutes after the sun clears the horizon.  But on almost every day of the year, the sun rises at an angle that will cast a shadow across the statue of Lincoln inside the monument—a shadow caused by the columns in front of the statue.  But on a few days around the equinox, the sun during those golden moments is located at due east or close enough to it, that the light passes directly into the interior and perfectly illuminates the statue. Image

Sunrise, March 20, 2011

                 If conditions are perfect at the critical time, and it is rare that they are, you will have about 20 seconds to catch the statue with the shadows just brushing the left and right edges of chair on which Lincoln is seated. In the photographs above, you’ll see that the shadows are not quite perfectly aligned.  That is because one or more people were obstructing the view of the statue.  Nevertheless, I had better luck a few days before the fall equinox of 2001.  Ironic, because this was my first attempt of the solar alignment at the Lincoln Memorial.

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Sunrise, Lincoln Memorial, September 14, 2001

                There are other examples of solar alignment in the city, some intentional and others more likely an accident.  Some have disappeared as new buildings have been erected or other obstacles to the sun’s light have appeared.  One example is the Andrew W. Mellon fountain located at the tip of the Federal Triangle where Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue intersect.  The fountain’s basin is decorated with the signs of the zodiac positioned so the sign of Aires is touched by the sunrise on the day of the vernal equinox and faces the sun from then until April 20th. (Source: James M. Goode, Washington Sculpture, Johns Hopkins University Press, page 447)  Unfortunately, the effect is difficult to appreciate because the fountain has not been well maintained and the branches of the trees are increasingly obstructing the sunlight.

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Sunrise, March 21, 2010

           A few minutes later, I captured the image below which was taken just on the west side of the little park where the Mellon fountain is located.

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Sunrise, Federal Trade Commission Building March 21, 2010

My First Moon Shot

                When photographing a rising full moon one needs to know two things: when will it come up and where will it come up.  The first question is easy enough; you can find moonrise data in most newspapers, usually in the weather section.  But the “where” question is a little tricky, especially if you want it in a specific location in the composition.  The reason is that the lunar cycle is about 18.6 years, so a perfect alignment such as the image below won’t happen again for a very long time.  This is particularly important when you wish to capture the moon right next to, or just above, a specific architectural element in an urban environment.  You don’t have a lot of time to get to the exact spot because the moon’s location changes quickly as the earth rotates.  So you need to be set up and ready to go before the moon appears.  Fortunately, this is much easier to do today than just a few years ago thanks to things like smart phone, tablets, and “apps” such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

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                Even with all of these advantages, one still has to deal with the fact of the moon’s apparent unpredictability and do a little advance planning.  So I thought it would be useful to go back in time to about 2001, when I started chasing moon shots.  While the tools have changed, the process is still pretty much the same.  Back then, one needed an 800-year old technology known as a compass and a source for astronomical tables such as the US Naval Observatory.  I used both to capture the image above, showing the moon next to the Lincoln Memorial just as it broke the horizon.  The photograph was made on March 9, 2001, so a few days before that I consulted the US Naval Observatory’s website and determined that the moon would rise at 6:16 PM, about 7 minutes after sunset.  The timing between sunset and moonrise is important because if the sun hasn’t already set, the moon will be washed out.  (A future post will go into that aspect in more detail.)   

                Further, the USNO site showed that the full moon would rise at a compass azimuth reading of 80.9 degrees.  We all know that the direction due east is exactly 90 degrees on a compass so the moon would be coming up a little bit to the “left” of due east. But something a little more precise would be needed because in this case, one could in a position where the moon was coming up behind the Lincoln Memorial and it would not be visible until it was too late.  An accurate compass can provide that precision as shown in the graphic below.  So on the day of the moonrise, I drove down the George Washington Parkway and parked in the lot for Theodore Roosevelt Island about 45 minutes before sunset.  From there it was a short hike down the Mount Vernon Trail to a point several hundred yards north of the Memorial Bridge.  I used the compass to find a location where it was exactly 81 degrees from where I was standing to the spot where I wanted the moon to be—just to the left of the Lincoln Memorial.   I set up my tripod and camera, attached the cable release and began to wait.  I was the only photographer there.

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                It is at this point where you have done everything you can to be in the right place at the right time.  The rest is basically luck and is the element that makes these moments so special…or not.   Will the sky be overcast?   Will a small cloud obscure the moon at the critical moment?  But on this night everything worked out well:  the twilight blue of the evening sky, the dark orange glow of the moon as a result of perfect atmospheric conditions, and a small pink cloud from the setting sun nicely positioned directly above the Lincoln Memorial. 

          Since then, I have attempted many more moon shots around the city, sometimes with success.  Here are a few more from the early years:

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               Moonrise, from Memorial Bridge, January 28, 2002

          In this case, the moon came up on an azimuth of 62 degrees, much farther north than the March 9 2001. From the shooting location, it would have risen right behind the Lincoln Memorial so I had to wait for a while before it got to this point.

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Waxing moon and Capitol Dome, October 8, 2003

Again, this was taken well after the time the moon first broke the horizon, but I wanted to place it next to the dome.  This was taken two days before the full moon.  In all three of these shots, I was using a Nikon F-100 and shooting with Ektachrome 100 VS transparency film.