I had an overwhelming response to my photo of the perigee moon last week and I thought I would share a few thoughts about taking this photo.
One of the biggest impacts you can have on your photography is not done in Photoshop but before the photo is taken by planning ahead for the photograph you want. You can try to fix as much as you want in Photoshop but if you don't have a good photo to start you'll never be happy with the end result. Expensive equipment and Photoshop are not going to create a great photos but only enhance what you are capturing.
Some of the biggest factors in a good photograph is composition, lighting and subject. Taking the time to figure out the best time of day or where the sun will fall on your subject can create a fantastic mood for your photograph. Creating good composition will also help create visual interest and lead the viewer around the photo to explore the different elements and photographing a subject that is interesting visually can also add to the photograph. They all add up and take your photography from blah to wow.
For taking this photo I had the subject figured out (the moon) and I was bound to the timing of the light by the rising time of the moon. All that was left was the composition. Figuring that out would take a little bit of work but I knew if I could frame the moon against something interesting it would make for a better photograph. A picture of just the moon is not so interesting but when you give it a place or set it in an environment your adding to the mood and telling a more captivating story with your picture.
Since I was going to be in Denver the night of the perigee moon I decided to use the city as a backdrop. Figuring out where the moon would be exactly as it rose so I could use the city as the backdrop was not an easy task. I choose to use a tool I came across a couple of years ago called The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE). Its loaded with more information you can ever want and its tied to Google Maps so you can view just about anything that's visible in Google maps including topo maps for planning in rural areas or the mountains.
Checking the date and time of the moonrise in TPE I was able to find out precisely where the moon would rise and where it would be just after rising from the horizon. Once I figured out the moon would be at 102° at 8:06pm, just 28 minutes after rising and about 4.5° above the horizon I had some hard numbers to work with and a direction to look at. One of the cool things with the TPE is you can adjust the point of view anywhere on the map and see a line of sight to the moon or sun. This allowed me to drag it around on the map to see where I would need to be to get the moon against the downtown area of Denver.
The next phase was scouting for the exact spot I would be shooting from because you may figure out where you need to be but until you actually go there you don't know if your going to have access toa good spot and not end up somewhere that's private property . I had a few areas I was looking for and would know better once I was on the ground looking in the direction the moon would be. I stopped at about six places. Pulling out my compass I set it to 100° and found where the moon would be at the time I needed it then took some snapshots to get an idea of what the setting would look like.
After looking at my snapshots when I got home I went through them all to see which might make a good photograph. Looking at the Denver skyline there was a natural V shape in one of my snapshots between the Qwest building and the Four Seasons Hotel. This looked like a good setting for my composition and according to the TPE the moon should sit inside the V shape creating an interesting looking photo. Below is a white circle representing where the moon should be.
Checking again in TPE I could pinpoint the two buildings that were creating my V shape (circled in red) and fine tune my position for the moonrise (white circle above). In the TPE image below you can see the thick blue line which is the moonrise position and the thinner blue line is the position of the moon at 8:06pm falling right between the two buildings framing my shot. Following the lines on the map I could find the best spot to get the moon between the two buildings. Fortunately there was a culdesac where I needed to be to get this shot. My snapshot from earlier was not far from here so the city should look pretty close to the test shot above. Now I just had to wait.
I arrived early to my spot to make sure I could find parking, get my equipment there, take some test shots and be ready to photograph the moon. Once there I could see there was a fair amount of clouds in the sky and needed some luck to make sure I would be able to see the moonrise. Weather is always a factor but not one you can control. While waiting I exchanged a couple of messages via Twitter with some fellow photographers out there shooting the moon too. Hansrico sent me a message that he was concerned about the clouds but I knew if the clouds didn't cover the moon they would only add to the mood.
Once the moon came up I started snapping bracketed photos of the moon knowing I couldn't expose the moon and the buildings at the same time. The moon looked fantastic when it first came up then started to move in to the clouds. It started to get obscured by the clouds but I got my one shot I needed with a little wisp of cloud in front of the moon making for a great shot.
In the end all my planning was almost ruined by the clouds but because I was ready and had a little bit of luck I was fortunate enough to get a photograph I can be proud of.