Category Archives: Natrual

The “Full Moon” is never full

Every time I take pictures of the full moon up close I notice it’s never quite full.  It always looks full with the naked eye but you can never be sure, it looks like it’s slightly off.  Turns out it is.  You’re not imagining things, a full moon is almost never full.

I took some astrophotography pictures through my telescope this weekend hoping to get a nice picture of this year’s “Blue Moon”.  Which isn’t blue BTW, it just means the second full moon of the calendar month; in other words, just another full moon.  But it is a cool event and a reason to take a picture.

Working the picture in Post Production I noticed the same slight edge of the moon not being full I always seem to get.  I took it on the day of the “full moon” but because of my helpful SunSurveyor app I knew ahead of time it wasn’t at 100%.  According to the app it was 99.8% full when I shot it, and would be 99.86% at moonset; the next morning when it rose it would be 99.26% and waning.

2015 full blue moon
The July 31st 2015 Blue Moon

I noticed this happens all the time so I started to wonder if it ever was 100% at some place on the earth after it set for me.  Turns out it’s not, due to orbital mechanics the moon is rarely at 100% full from the earth.  The orbit of the moon is tilted 5 degrees from the earth’s orbit to the sun, so the times that the sun, earth, and moon form a perfect line are kind of rare… And causes lunar eclipses.

So a true 100% full moon is a lunar eclipse (hey, I did get a picture of a few of those!), if you want a nice bright perfect circle full moon take your shot right before or after a lunar eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse
The cloudy night create bookends for the eclipse event.

Or just accept that you’ll always have a rough edge on your full moon shots.


Always check over the next hill. Even if you don’t make it to the next “photo-op”

Whether you’re taking pictures or just out on vacation always explore, don’t get in too much of a rush that you just try to hit a series of planned waypoints before moving on.  So may people go out to see such amazing places but they think that the parking lot viewpoints already have all the best views mapped so they just hit them all as rapidly as possible without discovering the hidden or overlooked details that really make a place beautiful.

When I was planning my trip to Cathedral Valley I marked a bunch of “points of interest” that I wanted to see.  Usually they were these main overlooks and features in the area.  When I drove down the Hartnet Road I planned on heading down to the Lower South Desert Overlook, mostly as a set turn around point because all the pictures I saw of it were pretty standard.  Another view of Jailhouse Rock from a closer angle where people pulled up, snapped a shot of the monolith, then hopped in their cars and left.

Jailhouse rock
Viewpoint view of Jailhouse Rock via Panaramio.

But there is so much more in this area just below the viewpoint if you continue all the way down the trail.  What I thought was going to be a casual shot of Jailhouse Rock ended up being one of the most interesting places to Photograph in Capitol Reef.

Hoodoos by the Lower South Desert Overlook
Lower South Desert Overlook trail continues down to the valley floor.

My shot above is about 500ft curving around to the left of the shot on the top.  The same white “goblins” are in the center of both pictures; it’s just that the first is looking west, the second is a bit lower looking north.  All of the crinkly detail of the cliff is hidden from the overlook.

The same thing occurred last week in Yellowstone.  People get obsessed with seeing erupting geysers, active hot pools, or wildlife wandering the country and overlook the fact that it’s some of the more pristine and beautiful mountain terrain in North America.  I frequently had photographers following me at pullouts in Yellowstone under the impression I was seeing something they weren’t; which was true, but even when I pointed it out to them they still didn’t see it.

At Swan Lake some Chinese tourists poured out of a van and started scanning the horizon in the direction I was shooting.
“You see animals?”, one asked in broken English.  “No, that mountain just looks amazing from this angle.”  They all looked defeated and immediately filled back into their van without taking a picture.

The day before at Vixen Geyser I was crouched for a while taking closeup pictures of the geyserite pearls around the gurgling vent.  A passing tourist (with a nice D810), asked happily if I knew it was going to go off soon.  “Nah, I’m just taking pictures of the smooth rocks here.”  He grunted a “Hrmp” and walked on.  The problem is about 2 minutes later it did start erupting and he rushed back to photograph it, glaring at me as he came back thinking I had deliberately lied to him to cheat him out of a shot.

By stopping to take in the little things I was favored with a surprise geyser in addition to the interesting formations; by rushing to get to the next “viewpoint” he was a day late and a dollar short having to play catch-up to something already in progress.  As it was going off I read in my trusty handbook and it turns out that the geyser goes off every 5-10 minutes so I stuck around and watched it again (he didn’t); but preparation and education is an article for another day.

Many famous photographers have said you can’t chase down photography, you have to be patient with your eyes open waiting for the perfect moment.  Don’t get so caught up rushing to the next photo-op that you miss what is already around you.

No Tripod, Long Exposure

Crossposted from Google+ for #LongExposureThursday, #TravelThursday, #ThirstyThursday

No tripod. To get the full waterfall from behind the bush on the right I had to lean out over the edge and brace the camera against a tree that was growing out over the gully. It was one of those times when you really make sure your wrist strap is tight incase anything slips.

A steady camera is vital with a long exposure but sometimes when you’re dangling over the abyss there is no place for a tripod. Just brace against what you can to limit movement, set the shot to continuous and fire off 3-4 shots hoping the middle ones doesn’t have a slight tremor from clicking the shutter button.

Exposure 1.0 sec
Aperture 14.0
Focal Length 20mm

Getting up close

Most of the photography I do is outdoor landscapes and nature pictures but my eye gravitates towards sweeping vistas rather than the tiny details around me. So when a friend wanted to go hiking in the canyons I grabbed the camera and the magic 40mm prime lens and took the opportunity to get some more practice getting up close and personal.

Usually my close-ups and macros shots are more just opportune moments I can grab here and there; but when you just stop in your tracks and look at your immediate surroundings you’ll find a lot of interesting shots that help you immerse yourself in your surroundings. When you stop to enjoy the details you’re no longer on a hike through the mountains to a destination, you before a part of the surroundings and a denizen of the mountains.

Exposure 1/1250 sec
Aperture 2.0
Focal Length 20mm

Green in the desert

This is a small side stream that empties into the Little Cottonwood River. I don’t know why but I always love the little mossy edges alongside streams. Maybe it’s growing up in a desert that makes anything moisture related seem rare and magical.

Aperture : f/4.3
Shutter Speed : 1/15sec
Focal Length : 72.0 mm

Lake Blanche Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

This was taken early summer up by Lake Blanche in Big Cottonwood canyon (a bit of Lake Lillian is in the background), I liked the way this single wildflower had pushed up through the rock against all odds.

One of the drawbacks of doing outdoor photography is that for longer 5 mile+ trails like this you inevitably end up during the peak of the suns path overhead and the light is very harsh. Any shift in hiking time means you either have to leave long before dawn or plan on coming down in the dark. All you can do is pray that a bit of cloud cover will come through and help diffuse the light for you.