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Sep 04, 2023
Super Blue Moon Rising over Tucumcari Moutain!
August 30st was a lunar event that won't be repeated for the next 10 years! A super blue moon rose over Tucumcari Mountain. A super moon happens when the moon is closer to the earth in its orbit than normal. A blue moon is when a full moon happens twice in one calendar month. Thus the saying "once in a blue moon." There will be many super moons over the next years but not one when two full moons happen in a calendar month.
Recently, I moved to Tucumcari, New Mexico. It is a small, lovely town of 5000 in the middle of nowhere. Route 66 has made it a prime tourist spot and the local landscapes make it a paradise for me and my camera. Just outside of the town is a 900-foot mountain with an iconic shape. The name given to the Mountain was Tucumcari by the natives. It is debated what the name means but from the Comanche came the towns name.
Research puts the T at being made in 1933 by the high school students. Today the high school no longer whitewashes the rocks but now the Rotary Club maintains it and has added solar lights to light up the T at night. Several people told me that it is said the T is about 200 ft tall.
What better place to shoot the super blue moon rising than such an iconic view. I was given a great honor by my new hometown of being made into an Artist in Residence and as part, I get to teach classes. So off, me and new friends went looking for the perfect place to shoot the moon.
I kind of trick out and go old school for lunar photographer. I use a full frame Tamron 150-600 lens. I am really happy with the lens and have used it for lunar and deep space photography for several years. It is not the best lens out there for said job, but starving artist makes starving artist choices. To trick it out and nurse a bit out of the lens, I go old school and use and old friend, my first DSLR, a Canon 60d. Lunar Photographer done right requires a stacking multiple images. The atmosphere even on the clearest night creates distortions in any astrophotography. The air currents and air pollution mean shot to shot can vary the clarity of the shot. By taking a few hundred images of the moon or whatever object in space, you can stack them together and then average the images, blending out the distortions and getting a much cleaning image. Because of this technique my trusty old 60d works just fine as I am going push the resolution through stacking the images. I know it sounds complicated and it took me a lot to get decent, but it is so worth it in the end.
Now having wrote all that, none of these images are stacked. Part of the magic of the moon as it is rising is THE distortion created by the atmosphere. On the horizon you are shooting through more atmosphere than when it has risen higher in the sky. Things like the recent fires in Canada color the moon and give it a mystical feel. Humidity creates a wonderful glow as the light is diffused. So, when shooting a landscape lunar image, I usually want to those distortions that make the moon seem magical.
This is a photo taken by the director of Tucumcari's Mainstreet of all of us shooting. I love going out in a group for such events. Often sharing ideas will generate more ideas than I can ever come up with myself. And as the moon rose, on August 30, I knew then I would have to try again. Only this time I wanted to line up in such a way that the moon would rise behind those towers and be over the Giant T. So out again we all went on Sept 1st.
A simple google search of the moon and your location will give you the compass heading that the moon is going to appear on the horizon. If you know how to shoot a heading on a compass, it is as simple as lining up the heading with your object. BUTTTTTTTTTTT I was shooting the moon after it has been above the horizon for perhaps 40 minutes to clear the crest of the 900-foot summit of Tucumcari Mountain. The moon doesn't rise straight into the air. It travels in a southernly arch. The only way I could tell the moon was getting close to the summit was the glow.
Here is the glow right before the moon breaks the horizon. This isn't my first rodeo. I have done many similar images, and I knew I was going to changing my settings rather fast to compensate. I wish I could just tell you the proper setting to shoot the moon. So many factors effect this shot. To start with, I was shooting several days past the full moon. You might not think that small degree of shadow on the moon would make a difference, but it can make as much as a stop difference, then add in any clouds of smoke and moisture. This shot needs to be very exact. I am trying not just for the detail on the moon but also all that small detail of the tower. Over or underexpose it by even a stop and that detail is lost.
Here is the moon glow behind the mountain with the lights of the T and the tower exposed properly.
SAME EXPOSURE as the moon breaks the crest. That is how radically different the shot is AND as the moon actually rises fully over the crest the exposure values will change even more.
In reality the image that I wanted is impossible to get in one single exposure. There are three radically different exposure values to shoot. One is the moon. Most photographers make the mistake of not realizing how bright the moon is and overexpose it. If you over exposure, you will lose all those craters and detail.
Here is the moon properly exposed:
Notice, no landscape at all and no T? That is how bright the moon is. Expose the moon right and you lose the landscape.
Expose the lights of the T and the landscape right and the moon is so bright as to look like the sun. The only way to get a single image of the moon and the tower and the T would be to blend 3 different correct exposures.
The technology is increasing fast. AI is making editing easier and easier. But there are still some shots that it takes old fashioned experience and know how to get and artistic judgment. I don't know what the future will bring but for right now, experience still wins out.
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