Photographing the full moon from our Newfield house is a trivial exercise due to our open view to the east and a reasonably attractive view over the valley. I just haul a camera and tripod out onto the deck and watch the show unfold.
While shooting some pictures of the most recent full moon, I started thinking about a conversation I had with my brother David recently. We were talking about hiking in the Sierra Nevadas and that reminded me of a full moon landscape shot I was particularly proud of.
In 1997 I decided to hike up Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. I scheduled vacation time for September after Labor Day to avoid the worst of the crowding. I noticed that there would be a full moon on September 16th and so I settled on that week for my trip to Lone Pine in the Sierra Nevadas. Although my objective for the trip was to hike Mt. Whitney, I invested in a bit of planning to work out getting a shot of Mount Whitney with the full moon if the weather was cooperative.
Here’s how I planned my shot. I had a topographic map of the Lone Pine area and Mount Whitney. I then went to the US Naval Observatory Web site to get the moon’s location information for September 16th, 1997. There’s a Web page, Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table, which provided the location information I needed. Noting that sunrise on September 16th at Lone Pine was at 6:35 am, I was particularly interested in the moon’s location around that time. The table showed that the azimuth was around 260-265° for the time I was interested in. The table also says that at 5:30 am the moon would be approximately 10° above the horizon. I needed to figure what distance I would need to be from Mount Whitney to have it also appear 10° in altitude. Whitney is about 10,600 feet higher in elevation than the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine. So tan(10°) = 10,600/x; solve for x giving us about 60,000 feet or 11 miles to the east. As it turns out, the moon’s azimuth (260°), altitude (10°), and my calculated vantage point 11 miles away, put me in the Alabama Hills close to the road leading from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portal. Now I knew when and where I needed to be to get my shot. I packed a 300mm lens for the trip just for this opportunity.
September 16th was the day after my hike up Whitney so I got up early and headed to the Alabama Hills to get my shot. The weather was perfect and I had plenty of time working between 5:30 and 6:30am getting multiple shots from different vantage points. I had to drive several miles as the moon set to keep the right perspective. My favorite of the bunch is the full moon behind Keeler Needle next to Mount Whitney. Nerd power and planning rewarded me with some nice images that I was pleased with.