Monday, October 3, 2011

Another Month, Another Moon

The moon in September is known by various names, the harvest moon, the corn moon – but nothing with the cool name appeal of the moon of August. A month after failing to catch the Sturgeon Moon setting over the Sanibel lighthouse, I was at it again. In my mind's eye, I see the lighthouse silhouetted against the orange face of the man in the moon. From the north end of Fort Myers Beach it only sets in the sweet spot a few times a year, near the equinoxes (equini?). When it happens on a weekend morning, there I am. 

Sunday morning, a little before six, I walk down the boardwalk to the beach.  In the dark distance I see bright lights down the beach.  It's an excavator working on the beach re-nourishment project.  It's predawn Sunday morning. They must be working twenty-four seven. They're way behind schedule.  I hope they aren't where I need to be, about half a mile south.   Lots of small clouds are moving fast in the sky, covering and uncovering the moon. I hope they don't cover the moon when I need for them not to. Walking fast, soon I come to the orange mesh fence around the work area. They've left a narrow pathway at the back of the beach. The clouds seem mostly to have moved away by the time I reach the far end of the orange fence, and this is the spot I need to be. I extend the legs of the tripod as I walk to the water's edge. I plunk the tripod down.

“Oh, no!” The bubble level is not in the hot shoe. It had just arrived on Monday, a replacement for the last one I had lost. I cursed. 

The moon was over the lighthouse. A long streak of moonlight reached from the lighthouse, three miles across the Gulf of Mexico, to the lazy little waves licking at my feet. Most of the light clouds in the sky had cleared but I could see a line of clouds on the western horizon, their tops awash in moonlight. I wouldn't be getting my shot this morning. It was now an hour before sunrise and the moon would set in less than 15 minutes. It would sink into the clouds well before that, and we would never know whether it actually set or not. I exposed one frame at 40mm and removed the camera from the tripod to mount the long lens. It was still dark as night. The bright full moon in such a dark sky would be a difficult exposure to reveal any detail on the far shore. I knew from experience that with the 300mm lens, an exposure of longer than five seconds would be spoiled by the movement of the moon. With an aperture of f8, I boosted the ISO to bring the time down to five seconds. I made a couple of exposures and then opened all the way up to f2.8 to reduce the exposure time even more. I later discovered that that was a mistake. The wide open aperture was unkind to the light of the lighthouse, turning it into a glowy little blob instead of a nice many-pointed star. Less than five minutes after my first exposure, the moon touched the clouds and then was gone. I began making plans for Monday morning; the moon would set later; it wouldn't be so dark. I could still be in the office by eight. 

I want to find my hot-shoe bubble level, but it's too dark to see. So I idly fidget, waiting for the sun to come up. As the dawn begins to make its presence known I kill some time playing with long exposures of a great blue heron, working the light surf, with the Fort Myers Beach Pier half a mile away as a backdrop.

Finally it was light enough to see and I began retracing my steps and scanning the sand for my little green cube and vowing to keep the next one in my vest and only to put it in the hot-shoe when I needed it. I missed a glorious red sky and sunburst behind the motels, beach houses, and condos. Rats and other four letter epithets! I found a pool of red rose petals that I hadn't seen before in the dark. Somebody got married last night. But my new bubble level is gone forever.

Monday morning. I'm on the pier. The moon set is just after sunrise. I’ll be making the picture almost an hour later than yesterday – completely different conditions. The sky was full of fast-moving clouds, but clearing. As the sky lightened, I put on the 300. Then added the 1.4x teleconverter as the moon fell closer to the lighthouse and grew paler in the haze. And then replaced the 1.4x with the 2x teleconverter for 600mm as the moon nestled into the clouds above the lighthouse. 

 Oh well, there's always next month, or next year.

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