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Winter Moon, Mt. Whitney

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 14 September 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Believe it or not, today's Mt. Whitney sunrise image is a companion piece to my two previous Death Valley images. What can an image of the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere have in common with an image of the highest point in the 48 contiguous United States? Why, the Moon, of course....

In my two Death Valley posts I talked about moving around to reorganize the subjects in your frame, and moving forward and backward to change the Moon's position relative to the horizon. For this image I elevated that approach to a new extreme by completely relocating so I could photograph a sunrise moonset on consecutive days.

As you may know, the Moon rises and sets nearly an hour later each day. So your opportunity to get the Moon in the ideal altitude during the golden sunrise and sunset window only happens once each month. Determining the best day means finding out what time the Moon rises or sets. Published rise and set times always assume a flat horizon, like you'd find at the beach--but since that's not usually the case, it's important to factor in the fact that the Moon (or Sun) will rise later and set earlier the higher the terrain between you and the horizon.

A few years ago it occurred to me that I could cheat these limits by changing my location on consecutive days. In Death Valley that means positioning myself in a spot with a relatively low horizon angle (low terrain) on the ideal day, then (since the Moon will be higher the next day) shifting to a location with a higher horizon angle (higher terrain for the Moon to drop behind) the next day--doing that enables me to position the Moon just above the foreground terrain as the sun rises on consecutive days.

So that's what I did here: I scheduled my 2010 Death Valley workshop to coincide with the second January full Moon (a blue moon!), shot a setting full Moon from Zabriskie Point on our final morning in Death Valley, then moved the group to Lone Pine to finish the trip with the (nearly) full Moon setting behind Mt. Whitneythe following morning . (My 2011 Death Valley workshop will reprise this effort.)

This works in reverse at sunset: Since the Moon gets closer to the horizon at sunset as the full Moon approaches, by photographing at a location with a an extreme horizon angle (like Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge), I can "make" the Moon rise later (after its "official" rise above the flat horizon). Then the next night, when the Moon rises later (closer to sunset). Yosemite's a particularly good spot for this, and I've sometimes been about photograph three different sunset moonrises on one trip (or workshop).

I'm afraid I may have thoroughly confused many of you--sorry about that. This concept is really easier to explain in person than in writing. If you want to join a workshop I'll be glad to get you squared away; if not, I think if you actually get out and try it yourself it will all become pretty clear.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Make my heart pounding so strong!!!...However , may I suggest something? Don't you think the image could function more powerfully if one crop half of the sky?

14 Sep 2010 7:16am

@KriKridesign: Thanks, Christine. All of my images retain my camera's 2/3 aspect ratio--if I'd have composed this with less sky, I'd have eliminated part of Mt. Whitney and/or the moon.

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow... So crisp and clear... The details are incredible. Another magical capture Gary ! Have a nice day :)

14 Sep 2010 7:41am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Sure, in this case...ABSOLUTLY impossible to cut a mountain or , worth, the moon...! !! (not even possible with lightroom?)
Have a great day, Gary!

14 Sep 2010 9:06am

@KriKridesign: Thanks again, Christine. Many things are possible with Lightroom and Photoshop, but I prefer my creativity in the camera and not the computer.

VisualStoryteller from Cape Cod, United States

Thanks for the detailed description about moon location. I will try to apply it to my efforts here on Cape Cod. With a sea level horizon looking out to Nantucket Sound, I hope to use the beach and jetties in the foreground as anchor points. No mountains here! Just a few not so mountainous waves and of course, gulls dropping quahogs on the rocks, lobsta in the shallows and fish chowda for lunch!

Any suggested websites with moon elevation details would be appreciated. In the meantime, I'll use your point about the moon rising and setting an hour later each day as a starting point.

14 Sep 2010 12:36pm

Julie from Easton, United States

Love how the moon is just starting to peak over the mountain side! Beautiful sight and colors for sure! Great job!

14 Sep 2010 3:19pm

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

I have painfully come up against the issue of proper placement (i.e. put yourself in the right place for the moon on that particular morning or night) having somehow forgotten that the moon would rise at a different point and follow a completely different azimuth (sic). I was set up for one rising spot and up Mr Moon came way over to the left...Thankfully my arthritic knees were strong enough to jog to a proper location. I have read your reminders enough to know better! I should have been more alert. But your teachings are always here for us all. I love the placement of the moon here - a perfect case in point. Thank you again.

14 Sep 2010 6:51pm

Dutçh from Chicagoland, United States

So essentially you're playing the horizon.. neat. You should consider being a meteorologist or astronomist too.. have I said that before? :D

14 Sep 2010 8:26pm

@Dutçh: I like that, Kirsten--"Playing the horizon." It's funny that you say that about astronomy and meteorology because as a kid astronomy was a hobby, so much so that I majored in it for a while when went to college (until the math overwhelmed me). And I consider myself an amateur meteorologist and sometimes wish I'd have chosen meteorology as my major. But it's fun to combine both these science interests with my passion for photography.

Visualaccent from Oswego, United States

Excellent pictures and ... interesting approach to it. I enjoyed your lecture as much as your pictures. Any way- I agree with your statement regarding uniqueness of the pictures in the very popular spots. I started to fall into this trap as well. I will remember that.

14 Sep 2010 9:11pm

Judy aka L@dybug from Brooksville, Florida, United States

We're coming up on another 'early moonrise' date again, and I watch the predictions for another hurricane in the Atlantic. Will it produce too many clouds to obscure the moonrise? I hope not! With all you've shared in images and teaching, I'm 'ready for bear'! ;D

14 Sep 2010 11:31pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

wonderfully sharp and details photo! you got really excellent light here and composed the shot very well - i love the mountains rising up before my eyes all the way towards the sky and the mood is a great extra touch!

15 Sep 2010 4:32am

Dutçh from Chicagoland, United States

I still have my telescope from when I was a teen so I know what you mean! I was also big into geology.. a rock hound so that stuff fascinates me as well. It's great that you can enjoy multiple hobbies at once and do it for a living to boot! Keep playing the horizon.. that little tidbit of info just thrilled me-- so clever!

15 Sep 2010 12:44pm

@Dutçh: :D I also majored in geology (before ending up with my degree in economics). That (and baseball) probably explains why it took me 10 years to graduate.

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Great light on mountains and moon is extra bonus... Of course I enjoyed the description about "playing with horizon", too :)

15 Sep 2010 12:55pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Fantastic landscape with great light here!

16 Sep 2010 5:31am

Don Smith from California, United States

Can't believe we will be there in a couple of weeks - where has summer gone? Hope you guys are having a great trip, can't wait to see your images. Stay safe.

16 Sep 2010 1:17pm

@Don Smith: No kidding, my crazy season is about to begin. Hawaii has been great--lots of discoveries. I'm actually afraid my workshop people will tire of all the waterfalls I'll show them. :) Hope you're feeling better.

Dutçh from Chicagoland, United States

No kidding but you have to be fascinating [to me, maybe boorish to others lol] to go on a walk with when you look at things. A veritable font of facts!

16 Sep 2010 8:16pm

@Dutçh: Fascinating would be one way to look at it. Of course to others I'm merely a vast repository of worthless information. :)

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

All right! That's it.....I MUST start saving to attend a workshop! I have been trying to figure this stuff out on my own for so long...but there's just so much I am missing!!! This does make perfect sense, I just have never taken the time to actually think about it- Thank you as always for teaching us something that we (well, me anyways!) didn't even know we needed to know! PS- Went to Lundy Canyon, Mono Lake and Tahoe....Awesome!

18 Sep 2010 4:16pm

Dutçh from Chicagoland, United States

My entire family is like that, worthless depositories. We have banter that generally flies over the heads of others because it's so obscure. It's good to be up there Gary, you always get the joke :)

19 Sep 2010 7:54pm

Barbara from Oakland, United States

Hi Gary, I was there with you! Thanks for taking us there so that we could capture this glorious moonset! Gorgeous light and color on the mountains and the Alabama Hills!

20 Sep 2010 10:05pm

Iknow from Chengdu, China

really great!!bravo

23 Sep 2010 12:21am