Moonrise over Albuquerque

abq_4908_1210-EditThere’s something magical about a moonrise. I’ve always enjoyed watching the moon peak over the horizon, but capturing that moment is sometimes harder than it might seem. Even when you’ve got the details well in hand, Mother Nature can still throw you a curve.

Photographing the moon, as a scene element, can be frustrating. Even if you’ve worked out exactly where, on the compass, the moon might rise on a given evening the exposure can be challenging. As the saying goes, timing is everything. The real trick is making the image a day or two prior to the actual full moon. On the day of the full moon, it’s altitude over the horizon is almost exactly 180º from the sun; i.e. the moon rises at the same time the sun sets. This presents a significant exposure problem. With the sun down, the moon is significantly brighter than the rest of the scene; making it almost impossible to get detail in the scene without horribly overexposing the moon. Shooting a day or two prior to the actual full moon has it rising prior to sunset. The result is a much more evenly lit scene.

To make this image, I did just that. I went out two days before the December solstice full moon. From the West Mesa area, above Albuquerque, I worked out several compositions and waited for the moon. Even though I knew exactly where the moon would rise, and at what time, it was obscured by clouds until finally popping through the clouds at sunset. Since I’d already lost my chance at a balanced exposure, I had to improvise and balance the light myself. To darken the area of the sky around the moon, I used a 2 stop graduated neutral density filter. That extra bit of darkness to the sky was enough to hold detail in the moon but still show the city and it’s lights. The actual exposure was 2 seconds @ f/16 and ISO 100 so I kept the filter moving in small concentric circles to soften the appearance of the filter.

This image, as well as several others, is available in the form of a 12 x 18″ wall calendar.


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