Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Strawberry Moon: A Learning Experience

Full moons are a popular subject for photographers.  But from personal experience, I've learned that full moon photography presents some special challenges.  I started to plan for shooting the June full moon, known as the Strawberry Moon, after I'd read Dick Hanson's article in the Enterprise about Braman Hill.  He said it was the "perfect place to watch a spectacular moonrise!"

I learned from the daily newspaper that the full moon would rise on June 13.  But I knew that the best time to photograph the full moon is the day before because moonrise will nearly coincide with the sunset.  There will be more light then so the whole photography process is easier.  So on Thursday, June 12, I headed to Braman Hill to test Dick's theory.  Taking a test shot of the view from the hill, I could tell it was going to be a lovely night for both sunset and moonrise.  But I was immediately concerned whether I was in the right place to catch this particular moonrise.  I use an app called The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) on my iPad.  This app uses GPS technology to pinpoint the exact  positions of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset.  I could see TPE was placing moonrise just south of the marina, so I quickly packed my gear and headed there.

Even though it was a short distance to the marina from Braman Hill, I'd missed moonrise.  But it was still a beautiful evening for enjoying the darkening spring sky.

Traveling to the south edge of the Marina, I could see the colors of sunset shading the sky and clouds with a delicate shade of pink.   That's a second reason to shoot on the night before the full moon.  With the sun setting at 9:30 pm and the moon rising at 8:57 pm there is bound to be some coloring of the sky from the sinking sun.

Traveling along the beach, I continued to enjoy the reflected pinks and deepening blues of the darkening sky.  Knowing that I'd not yet caught a completely successful moonrise, I was trying to pinpoint exactly where the moon would come up so I could start there the following night.  And yes, it sometimes takes several tries to get the photos I want.

I was guessing that the best place for moonrise was going to be somewhere along South Shore Drive.  And I knew it would be considerably darker the next night as moonrise would take place at 9:56 pm...about my bedtime.

So I arrived at my chosen spot on South Shore the next evening around 9:15 pm.  Already I could see it was considerably darker than the evening before.  I'd also brought my "big gun" lens, a 100-400 mm lens.  The longer the lens the bigger the moon will appear.  But the longer lens also requires stabilization on a tripod.  A tripod is also needed for darker skies because it's difficult to handhold a camera and lens that is going to require a slow shutter speed.

And I ALWAYS carry a tripod in the back of my car, just as I always carry a camera with me.  ALWAYS!  But on this night, I had no tripod.  I'd taken the dogs to vet and grooming appointments and had taken the tripod out of my back seat to make room for the pups.  UGH!  So my only option was to try steadying my camera and lens (remember, it's a biggy) on the ledge of my rolled down car window.  Here's the first try.  You get the idea that the extra long lens makes for a BIG moon.  But, obviously, a big moon photograph that's fuzzy is as good as no photograph at all, at least for me.

I try again, this time spitting out my gum and holding my breath.  I pull the lens in a bit too.  It's better, but not yet tack sharp as photos should be.  I know this error of forgetting my tripod will dig into my sleep another night even more, as the moonrise isn't until 10:48!

So the next evening, I leave my home at 10 pm.  I am chewing gum again, mostly to keep myself awake, but I have my tripod this time and extra batteries, too.  As I leave my neighborhood and gaze skyward, I see nary a star...only clouds.  Trying to decide whether to turn back, I continue forward on autopilot.  As I drive through the village, I'm shocked awake by all the cars lining the streets.  Is there a wedding at the Willowbrook?  No, it's LeLu's that's hopping with live music.  So I continue on to South Shore and sit in my car with my moon roof open.  I see a brightness on the horizon, but no moon is visible yet.  I do see the sky beginning to open up with stars and I get my five minute window.  I was really having trouble getting a suitable exposure and this is all I was able to come up with.  Still blurry.  Sometimes you can put in lots of time and planning and it's still difficult to get the shots you imagine.  I know I have more learning and practice to do.  After all, that's what this blog is all about...practice and learning and learning and practice.  It looks like I'll be out there again for the next full moon...The Full Buck Moon.  Am I serious??  Yes, July is the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. 


  1. You may have wanted "better" shots, Karen, but I'm impressed by what you got and think your planning paid off splendidly. That "moonpath" looks like a golden highway!

    1. Thanks, Pamela. I thought the "moonpath" for the second, third, and fourth image from the bottom was almost unnatural-looking so your term "golden highway" fits it well. The very last image has a more natural looking moonpath, I think.

  2. Karen, I loved reading The Saga of the Strawberry Moon. And I agree with Pamela that your planning paid off with impressive images. I think the second shot down is especially beautiful because of the pastel tones and layered clouds.

    1. Thanks, Jan. I like the shots with the pastel tones too, the pinks especially. They really illustrate the advantage of shooting the full moon when it's nearest in time to the sunset. You don't get the high drama of the ones later in the evening, but I like the tones you get from the setting sun.