Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catch A Near-Supermoon Moonset at Dawn Monday

The so-called "supermoon" event came when the full moon rose yesterday, while the moon was the closest it has been to the earth in 18 years. Remember though, the moon takes over 27 days to complete its orbit of the earth, so it's still very close for the next few days. Fortuantely for photographers, the days after a full moon are great for catching the full moon in the sky as sunrise arrives.

For example, at Mono Lake tomorrow (Monday morning March 21), the moon, still 97.6% full, is scheduled to set at 7:47am after a 6:59am sunrise. The apparent moonset however, when it dips behind Mt. Dana, will be around 7:16am (at an azimuth angle of 247 degrees, a direction slightly north of southwest). So the moon will be prominent in the western sky during the best sunrise light (roughly 6:30 to 7) and as the alpenglow from the emerging sun creeps down the face of Mt. Dana and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada towards Mono Lake.

While the term "supermoon" has been invented specifically to apply to a full moon coinciding with the perigee of the moon's orbit (the point of its 27.322 day orbit closest to earth) on Monday less than 2 days after the full moon, the moon will still be close and large.

For Mono Lake specifically, there one one potentially unfortunate aspect of the particular lineup of this full moon set. At 6:30am when a few dedicated photographers may be in place at the South Tufa site and shooting back towards Mt. Dana from the farthest cove, the moon will be directly in line with the beaches leading back to where the trailhead from the parking lot arrives at the lake. Any additional photographers arriving late for twilight/sunrise shooting will walk directly into the shots of the folks who were there on time. If they're shooting timelapse sequences, usable results could be difficult and time consuming (if not impossible) to salvage.

So if you do go to Mono Lake, please try not to storm in with flashlights blaring, and resist the temptation to walk thoughtlessly right out onto the scene and shoot your way down the shore. Instead stay far to your right, away from the lakeshore, and move quickly to join the other photographers at the far side of the second cove. The route is pretty easy to see on Google Earth or The Photographer's Ephemeris (even if you've never been to Mono Lake before, you can see a path curving to the right behind a large tufa tower at the end of the first cove). A little courtesy will go a long way towards making all of our shots more useful. Of course the more people who arrive, the more clueless or self-absorbed, narcissistic ones who will wander recklessly into and out of everyone's shots. Once a dozen or more people are onsite, things pretty much degenerate into chaos (and I've seen 60+ people show up for Fall sunrises here). Your best defense when shooting west will be to minimize dry land in your foreground, and shoot mainly over the water where it'll be more difficult for people to interfere with you. The former island on the left in this shot however is now a peninsula, so in some cases it may be next to impossible to completely negate the impact of the crowds.