We’ve all had times when our enthusiasm has far outweighed our skill set. Such was my initial experience with photographing the moon earlier this week.
If you’ll recall, I just upgraded to DSLR this last summer. I took the leap into manual exposure at the same time. I can tell you with complete and utter confidence that there is still lots and lots for me to learn. That keeps me engaged and, at times, frustrated. Sometimes I envision a picture in my mind, but just can’t get there in reality. Such is the technical world of photography
I got off work last Tuesday and, as I drove down the freeway, I saw that the moon was huge. Huge and beautiful in a clear sky. I quickly abandoned plans to go to the gym and headed home to grab my camera and the new tripod. And to bundle up as it was cold out. I was going to shoot the moon.
As I drove I wracked my brain to figure out where to go. You see, there are a lot of trees in the great state of Washington. Both a blessing and a curse. I’m still searching for a good local place that offers an unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier. Still searching.
For the moon, I settled on a local waterfront park located about ten minutes from our house.
By the time I got myself and my gear together it was around 5:30. And dark. I briefly considered waiting for the husband to come home so he could escort me, but I was excited. I was on a mission. I was going to take a beautiful photograph of the moon! (Visions of moon shots danced through my head…)
I arrived at the park to find the gate closed and locked. Which I had expected. I gathered my gear, locked the car and headed down the very dark hill to the water. Very dark. And, the wind was blowing. And it was dark. Did I mention that part? And then there was the part about being alone.
I was immediately creeped out. We have a pretty sizeable homeless population in our area. Though I’ve never seen any at this particular park that doesn’t mean anything. In addition to the homeless we have our fair share of generally shady humans.
I got down to the water and, by the moonlight, saw that the tide was very high. The wind…breezy and cold. Branches? Waving in the wind. Paranoia? High.
I set up the tripod and reality set in: I had no idea how to approach the settings. I thought low light would always demand a low shutter speed (that’s why I got the tripod, right?). Turns out that’s incorrect. I set my ISO at mid-range (1000). Shutter speed 1/13. Aperture 5.6.
I was quickly discouraged. The pictures weren’t turning out. My fingers, in the icy wind, were frozen. I was also acutely aware that, standing on the wooden bridge in the moonlight, I was easily visible to anyone standing along the shoreline.
I threw in the towel after only a few shots and hurried back to my car (the hounds of hell nipping at my heels. How’s that for drama?)
Once home and thawed I started to do what I should have done in the first place: researching how to photograph the moon.
I found a great tutorial on the Clickin’ Moms website. However, I found myself skeptical about the recommended settings: ISO 200, SS 160-250, f 8-11. The author suggested slightly underexposing the photo. Okay. She explained that the moon was plenty bright, thus the low ISO. The shutter speed needs to have enough oomph to freeze the moon because it’s moving. Makes sense. Not quite sure I understand aperture somewhere between 8 and 11.
The next night was the full moon. The full, full moon. I was ready to give it another try. I left work a bit early to run pre-Thanksgiving errands and, on my way home, scoped out possible locations.
When the husband got home I asked him if he wanted to go with me. He agreed and we headed out. We found a pull-off right next to a big field within a couple of miles from the house. I was just pulling my gear out when the owner of the large field (in which there are cattle) pulls up in his large truck. He asked if everything was okay and I explained what we were up to. In reality, he wanted to know what we were doing parked next to his large fenced field. Understandable. With our explanation he graciously said that we could drive down his driveway if we thought the view would be better from there and went on his way.
I headed for the recommended settings, but didn’t quite make it. The lowest I got was ISO 800, SS 400. I did get up to f9. But, I was watching the meter (and for some reason didn’t take a peek at the photos taken at the above settings) and it was pretty much bottomed out to the left. A little underexposed? A little?
So, I second-guessed myself. Shutter speed stayed relatively low, but ISO skyrocketed. The results? Less-than-satisfying.
Except for those two. The very first two where I almost listened to the advice of the tutorial. Those two, though not perfect, dazzled me when I viewed them in LightRoom.
The next night was Thanksgiving and, on the way back to my parent’s house from my grandparent’s house the husband and I took a detour. We ended up just outside the gates of the local cemetery. The husband wasn’t too sure about that, but I told him that we were fine because I have family in that cemetery.
I set up the tripod and, with guarded confidence, adjusted my settings. The meter plunged. I ignored it. I took a photo. Looked at it. Breathed a sigh of satisfaction. Took another. And another. And another. Adjusting settings just a snidge, moving the tripod to catch the moon through the trees (the husband’s artistic recommendation)
There is nothing like the sweet taste of photographic success. I am dazzled. I am amazed. I see many, many moons…at all different phases…in my future.