I’ve been shooting long exposures of the moon ‘rising and setting’ ever since I went back to using a film camera, a few years ago now. I was taken with an image by, once again, Michael Kenna, of the moon rising over the Chausey Islands off the French coast. I realised that over the years I had photographed the moon many times, but never as a really, really long exposure. The magic that happens during an excessively long exposure is quite wonderful and Kenna had started a whole ‘minimalism movement’ in monochrome photography with his ‘frozen water’ and also his many images by moonlight. Others had done long exposures before but Kenna did lots of it and made some outstanding pictures…as he still does.
So my first attempt was an exposure over a couple of hours or so a Corfe Castle. I stood around for a few hours, whilst the full moon rose up behind the castle…and my images were rubbish! First lesson, the moon only lights what it can shine on so find something in the frame that will get illuminated….a silhouette of a dark castle isn’t very interesting!
On then to attempt number two. This was perfect…the moon rising behind the wooden ‘Low’ lighthouse that stands on the beach at Burnham. I had to find a night of the full moon when the tide would stay off the part of the beach long enough to capture a very long image. Moon tables and tide tables…planning always comes into this sort of photography.
I feared my tripod would move during the 3 hours and 15 minutes that this exposure took as the beach was soft as you can see….but I got away with it.
The magic that happens is partly to do with the reflections from the moon ‘spreading’ across the image to give a much bigger illuminated area than is observed by the human eye. Plus of course you don’t actually know where the moon will ‘travel to’ during the exposure…although you soon learn to judge it pretty well. There is no ‘live view’ screen on my Hasseblad film camera alas.
Here’s a slightly different one, of the moon ‘setting’ over misty water and mountains.
That’s a 2 and a half hour exposure. I set up two cameras, the Hasselblad SWC/M with it’s 38mm wide lens and another 501CM camera with a 50mm widish lens. If I’m lucky with my location I can wander back to my campervan and make myself a coffee…as I did here. The mist arose as I was away and I hadn’t put anything on the camera to keep the condensation off but the images were OK.
I’m aware that I’ve mainly been shooting the moon ‘rising’ so I now have to find locations for more of the ‘setting’ moon images. It’s less easy to find interesting ‘west looking locations’, particularly in my home area on the Dorset coast. The lens I choose obviously determines the size of the moon in the image. Those like the Blea Tarn one above have a pretty small moon, whilst in this Southampton River Test image, shot with the 250mm lens the moon is really big.
Some passing clouds also do ‘nice things’, as they add texture to the moon, even better then than a totally clear sky. Over such long exposure times, most moving clouds won’t even register, just the ones that get brightly lit my being close to the moon.
Here’s my latest image from the full moon earlier this month. I haven’t yet had the full ‘rising moon’ monochrome image (that I took over 2 and a half hours) processed as it’s still sitting on a roll of Acros in one of my camera film backs. However here’s my first colour ‘moonbeam’, although the moon obviously is still bright white. This was taken over 15 minutes at the Durdle Door arch, here in Dorset. Shot on Portra film. I’m still deciding if I like the image in colour, even if it is pretty ‘monochrome’, ie one colour!