I have a friend named Charlene who will occasionally comment on a photo that I post on Facebook. “You take such great photos,” she’ll write. “I need lessons.”
It’s a wonderful compliment, but it’s only part of the equation. One can take classes, or read books, or ask questions on Internet forums, and this will help you take great photos. But you also have to be there – you can’t take a photo of something that you don’t see.
Many of my better photos are of sunrises and sunsets. I also favor shooting the full moon. Often these are, from a pure technical standpoint, only fair images. But a fair exposure of spectacular light is usually going to be an impressive photo. I don’t take great photos of sunrises or moon rises because I’m a great photographer. I’m not especially talented. I get some great photos because I prepare for the opportunity and make a point to be there to capture it.
And so it was that I was climbing Montpelier, Vermont’s Hubbard Tower a couple of weeks back an hour before sunrise. The temperatures were hovering just above zero degrees, and I hiked up the steep hill via flashlight.
I made the climb because the full moon would be setting in the west just before the sun rose in the east. I love photos of the moon looking huge over the horizon, and I wanted to get some of my own. And the hour of this event (just before 7 am) was too convenient not to take advantage.
The truth of the matter is that this was the second time in about 14 hours that I had made this climb. The moonrise coincided with the sunset at about 5:30 the previous evening. Unfortunately there were no clouds to juice up the sunset, and the moon rose behind some trees that obscured that view.
Sometimes being there isn’t enough. You can’t will the magic to happen. (I should note that the obverse is also true. Magic light often happens when you’re not looking for it. It helps to have a camera nearby to take advantage.)
But the conditions were ripe for the moonset that Wednesday morning. Clear skies surrounded the bright, perfectly round moon as it gently lowered behind the Green Mountains west of the city. The moon obligingly dropped between Mount Ethan Allen and Camel’s Hump, perhaps the most recognizable peak in Vermont.
I was pleased with the photos I took, though the exposures could be more crisp. There’s more for me to learn, and more practice to be had. But it’s fun to keep trying, to challenge myself, and to live the stories behind the photos.