A Little Last Minute Planning

This is a little story on how being prepared and ready to do some planning, even at the last minute, allows you to grab opportunities in photography that might escape those that are not prepared.

A few days ago, while I was vacationing on the island of Kos, Greece, with family and friends, I checked the calendar and noticed that the full moon would be rising that evening at around sunset time. I used the Focalware app on my iPhone to get the exact time and bearing of the rising of the moon and it told me 7.38PM and 90°. Now, a full moon rising can be pleasant to watch, but unless there is some element of interest on the ground to include in the frame, a photograph of the moon is hardly interesting. A full moon is always the same, month after month, and I knew I had to have something more to make a compelling shot.

Luckily, the beach at Agios Stephanos, where we had spent the day, has this small island right in front of it that has a small church on it. You can see the island in the photo below, taken from a hilltop overlooking the bay and looking east. Having got an overview of the area from this vantage point, I now knew that if I could find the right spot on the beach, I could have the island with the church at exactly 90° and frame the moon rising behind it.

Agios Stephanos Bay, Kos, Greece

So I went down to the beach and moved along it until I found the right spot, with the help of the Compass app on the iPhone. Having found the spot, now I needed to convince the family to wait there for moonrise with me. Easier said than done, as I am prepared to make sacrifices in order to get the shot, them not so much. Luckily, in that exact spot I had selected there was a typical Greek taverna with a nice outside terrace for dining. Perfect location!

Taverna Zefyros

The restaurant even had free WiFi service, so I fired up The Photographer’s Ephemeris app on the iPhone to check the direction of the moonrise with the local map. This confirmed the bearing I had got with the compass. Now I knew I had the perfect spot and all that remained to be done was put the tripod down on the footpath beside the restaurant, within sight of the table on the terrace, and have dinner with the family while waiting for moonrise.

The Photographer's Ephemeris screenshot

Added bonus nr. 1: The food was really nice.

Added bonus nr. 2: A few minutes before moonrise, they lit up some lights on the island that add a lot to the photo.

Moonrise at Agios Stephanos

To end this story, I will add a small tip: The best day to shoot a moonrise is generally on the day before a full moon. The problem with a full moon is that, by the time it’s risen a few degrees above the horizon, the sun has already set and the ground is very dark. This means you have to use longer shutter speeds and that leads to the moon being overexposed and blurry from its motion. As a consequence, no details on its surface will be visible (unless you cheat and paste into the shot a moon taken at different settings, which I didn’t do here).

Our eyes, however, are much more capable of taking in and compensating for  the huge difference in brightness between the moon and the ground. When looking at the scene above with your own eyes, you can clearly see all the details on the ground and on the moon’s surface. This means that the show we had that night was much more beautiful when seen with the naked eye than what the camera could capture: I got an almost perfect photo, but we all got an awesome view and a tasty dinner!

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