Here’s To Howling At The Moon

Photograph of the full moom rising in Monument Valley
Moon-rise in Monument Valley. A full moon was rising before the sun fully set, giving a dramatic view of the red Mitten and painted sky.

As a landscape photographer, I typically look at the different phases the moon will be in when I plan a photography trip.

It’s always tempting to photograph a full moon rising above a landscape, but in my experience it’s not always going to work out.

My most recent experience was an attempt to get a photo of the Strawberry Full Super-moon rising in the evening sky while visiting Colorado National Monument. I had it all figured out too. I knew exactly when and where the moon was going to rise in the evening sky. I visited several locations in Colorado National Monument and determined the best possible location for getting the photo I was looking for. I was there an hour before sunset, and waited patiently for the event. Once underway, I photographed the full moon coming up over the Grand Mesa for about 30 minutes. A totally peaceful and relaxing evening. The problem is, the photos sucked. Atmospheric distortion from heat vapor ruined the sharpness of the photos and the time of night was a little too dark for capturing any of the surrounding landscape. As it turned out, it was a waste of time.

Super-moon rising above Grand Mesa, Colorado

By my standards, the above image is not very good. The distortion in the atmosphere made for a blurry moon and the landscape portion silhouetted against the moon was not very compelling. I made the photo, but this blog entry will probably be the only time I’ll display it. Yawn.

I don’t know what it is about the moon that attracts photographers. It’s a fairly common subject. It almost always looks the same. If I’m sitting there and the moon is visible and I have a camera, I’ll take the photo. Afterwords, I’ll file the photo in my moon shot catalog and probably never use it again.

I can say that I have made a few interesting moon photos over time, such as this partial near full moon above Lake Hiawatha in Red Feather Lakes. But to get a really compelling photo of the moon, certain conditions must exist.

Partial moon rising above Lake Hiawatha in Red Feather Lakes, CO

The best moon photos in my opinion are made at sunset or twilight, when the foreground is still lit to the point that some type of context can be depicted. Simple moon photos of a moon in the dark sky are commonplace and boring to me.

Another great type of moon photo is the eclipse. Much more interesting to my eye, I try to photograph every lunar eclipse that is visible.

Here’s one of a full lunar eclipse I made in January of 2019. A worthy effort and satisfying result. I used my iOptron SkyGuider Pro, a device that will track with the movement of the moon, allowing for a long exposure which allows the camera to capture stars without star trails.

Full lunar eclipse with the moon in totality, January 2019. Made with a SkyGuider Pro equatorial drive.

My favorite types of moon photos don’t have the moon in them at all. I am always looking for an opportunity to use the light of a full moon to illuminate a landscape scene. Here’s a photo of Blue Mesa Reservoir taken with a full moon directly behind me, illuminating the scene.

I almost didn’t get this photo. The full moon was in perfect position behind me, but the sky was full of clouds that evening. I waited and waited for a break in the clouds to light up the cliffs above the reservoir. It finally happened, for about 30 seconds. The blur in the clouds was due to a long exposure of 13 seconds, allowing the clouds to move while the exposure was occurring.

And just for grins, here’s a normal, run of the mill photo of the full moon in a dark sky. I think I have about 60 shots I’ve taken of this type of moon over the years. I don’t know why I keep making these photographs. It’s a compulsion I’ve yet to rid myself of.

As I like to call it. A “mull foon.”

Here’s to howling at the moon.