Luna II

The Moon over Manzanita Lake.

August, Lassen Volcanic National Park, the shores of Manzanita Lake, hours after the red embers of our campfire and Sol had passed into darkness. This spot was a short walk past the campsite loops and around the park road to a boat launch along Manzanita Lake. The moon was bright enough to read by, yet every unexpected lap of water on the muddy shore conjured phantasms and fearful specters from the shadows underneath the pines. Rationality squashed these demons but then twisted the splashes and breezes into the footsteps of bears. My wife and I, intrepid explorers venturing into the wilds, 100 yards from the road, stayed to take a few photographs and marvel in the silence and beauty before deciding the lures of a warm tent and safety from bumps in the night were too powerful to resist. This is the second post to focus on the moon as a compositional element, it being a favorite subject of mine; the first contained a few simple thoughts on the use of the moon to provide scale.

Instead of scale, here Luna is the primary light source in the frame, bathing the scene in reflected sunlight. Moonlight produces incredibly deep shadows, it yielding little by way of refracted air-light to fill the shadows thrown by its direct light. The simple consequence being high contrast and, if your camera's white-balance is properly set (daylight, 5000K), warm light. Long exposure under moonlight renders a scene not immediately recognizable to our primary visual experience. We visualize the moon with full texture regardless of ambient lighting conditions, but drag the shutter long enough to expose for pine needles and the surfaces of cool, alpine lakes, and you are left with the light of a waning star thrown over the land.

Manzanita Lake by moonlight

I think the power of moonlit scenes is their natural, but alien-seeming, light. This is a way of seeing the natural world which recapitulates some of our primary visual experience - eyesight being capable of resolving motion and detail under impossibly dim conditions - and which is also divorced from our typical conception of what the moon "looks" like. The light of the Evening Star over Manzanita Lake was strikingly beautiful on that summer's evening and I couldn't help but focus some time and energy to capture it properly, reflected as it was upon the glass water of a very still night. The sky that night was full of spectacle. In addition to Venus, Mars and Saturn were clearly visible as well, can you spot the Warbringer in the image below? This simple frame represents my favorite from the trip to Lassen. There is something moving in its simplicity and in the way it encapsulates the open, alpine spaces of this magnificent park. What depth and variety of atmosphere there was in this huge, open land! What space! But all of it collapsed into layers of black and purple and blue when night came in - collapsed into the small spaces sensible by sound and by touch in the deep, pitch evening. And then, as though one needs a reminder of his insignificance in such a place, the cosmic ballet, reflected in the lake, drove that point home all the harder.

Venus over Manzanita Lake

This December the 21st will produce a full lunar eclipse, and you can bet that I am anxiously awaiting the weather forecasts that will tell me if I will or will not be able to produce some eclipse photography. If the skies are to be clear, I will likely head into the dry, brown hills east of San Jose to play witness. I headed up to these hills during the Leonid meteor showers to capture one or two images worth sharing. Here is the first in a series you'll later see of a very old and very gnarly California Live Oak that was riding the bristled backs of the arid hills. The east hills were perhaps more pendulous with imagined terrors than Manzanita Lake. I was alone there with the cool of a brooding autumn in its pre-winter deaththroes, conjuring mountain lines to pounce upon my neck while I waiting out long exposures.

Luna and live oak in the east hills

For those interested, the first two images were produced without any HDR or tonemapping treatment, the first being a single exposure at f/2.8, 25 seconds at 14mm on a Nikon D700 with a 14-24mm f/2.8 at ISO 500. The second image was taken at ~50mm with a 24-70mm f/2.8 at f/4 for 15 seconds at ISO 400. A few adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and out onto your screen - purists rejoice!

The third image was taken as 7 frames bracketed by 1 EV each and then tonemapped to an "HDR" using Photomatix Pro and edited further in Photoshop CS5 using my photoshop action HDR Glow and then color-"corrected" and finished using onOne software's PhotoTune 3. I've just started poking around with their really powerful and fun photo processing products. They were kind enough to give me a coupon code to share with my readers: GOLDENSIEVE will save you 15% on any of their products.