Colorado Rockies Moonset - January 31st, 2010

So I've ventured out a couple of times in the early morning to take pictures of the moon setting over the Colorado Rockies. The full moon (obviously) happens only once a month, but you need the sun to come up before it sets to have some light on the mountains. On January 31st, 2010, sunrise was at 7:10AM and moonset at 7:51AM ... although the moon dips below the mountains sooner and disappeared at 7:32AM. So after a restless night (drank too much tequila the night before! ;-), I headed out the door for a quick 10 minute drive to a nice vantage point. There was only a few wispy clouds to the West (excellent) but unfortunately, a bunch of clouds to the East which provided an incredible sunrise, but would end up blocking the rising sun, so no Alpenglow on the Colorado Rockies like I saw a year earlier - darn, darn, darn!

I setup the Canon 7D on a tripod with a 55-250mm telephoto lens with manual exposure and had the auto-timer firing every 3 seconds as the moon set over the mountains.
The 18 mega-pixels of the 7D provides super-duper high-def, so I've resized it down 25% to 1,296x864 - here's the actual as-shot movie and what you see below is a 50% crop.

Beautiful sunrise (click here for full-res) ... but these clouds are blocking the sun on the mountains - darn!

colorado rockies moonset 1

It's very nice to just drive to the vantage point on Arapahoe

colorado rockies moonset 1

Despite drinking too much Tequila the night before, I felt pretty chipper

colorado rockies moonset 1

Canon 7D on tripod (electronic level is nice) auto-firing every 3 seconds using timed release

colorado rockies moonset 1

colorado rockies moonset 1

colorado rockies moonset 1

Here's what the AlpenGlow (reflected sunlight just before sunrise) looks like on Mount Meeker and Longs Peak
These pictures were taken a year ago from the same location - mouseover image to see daytime shot


If the Movie doesn't play at top, here's a link to the Quicktime file

mooonset image
As I was rushing out of the house in the pre-dawn light, I heard (and finally) saw a couple of owls on the roof of the neighbor's house. It was darn dark and I had to shoot at ISO 3200, F/5.6, and 1/8s ... handholding at 250mm! Even when looking through the telephoto lens, I wasn't sure these were the owls until I saw them move. But I'll be listening for 'em and try another day! ;-)

Image brightened - mouseover image to see as-shot


Those are some well fed owls - I would not want to be a mice right now!

owls closeup
Photography Notes: As noted, a Canon 7D with 55-250mm telephoto lens was used for the moon sequence. Manual exposure of 1/125s, F/6.3, and ISO 200. I didn't worry about white balance since RAW files are processed with ACR and then cropped & resized with Photoshop Actions. Irfanview was used to overlay the timestamp and then Quicktime Pro generated the video.

As implied, I'll have to try this again and hopefully not have the rising sun blocked by clouds. The moon moves surprisingly fast (especially when shot through a telephoto lens), so I think a shutter speed of 1/250 would provide better detail. I also think closing down slightly to F/8 would yield some increased depth of field and not as sensitive to manual focusing. Finally, I was a bit overexposed (corrected the RAW's -1), so my next settings will be 1/250s, F/8, and ISO400. The tripod worked very well with the auto-timer release, and shooting every two seconds (versus three) will yield a smoother result, plus at 30fps, will be a minute per second. And would be nice to use a bigger lens if I can borrow one.

For an upcoming African Safari, I picked up a Canon 70-200/2.8IS2 lens ... plus not one, but two 2x tele-extenders which when attached, result in a 800/F11 lens - manual focus only. But if you have a fixed target such as a Great Horned Owl Nest, you can dial it in, although holy-moley, you are looking through a soda straw and the depth of field is skinny!

So the first full moonset was on April 30th, 2010 with sunrise time of 6:02AM and moonset of 7:11AM. That more of a gap than I'd like, since it will be too bright by time the moon goes down. Plus the weather was cruddy, so while I set my gear out, I didn't set an alarm. So what 'ya know, I happen to wake up at 5:30 and to the West the sky is a very dark blue with the moon setting pretty far to the South over the Flatirons. So I figure what the heck, lets rally!

Initial View from the Arapahoe lookout - looks good ... except for that low layer of clouds - darn!

colorado rockies moonset april/2010 a

Looking East to the sunrise - solid cloud bank after the initial light - double darn!

colorado rockies moonset april/2010 c

The Canon 7D with 70-200/F2.8IS2 with two 2x TC's tripod mounted

colorado rockies moonset april/2010 d

The 7D image is much, much tighter than this ... but those darn clouds! :-(

colorado rockies moonset april/2010 e
So basically I got turfed - the moon was 99% obscured by the clouds as it set over the mountains - maybe next month. However, when I was first setting up, I was setting the manual focus on the moon with the 70-200/F2.8IS2 and two 2x TC's using the 3" LCD Live view. Once I had it set, I fire off a test shot to check exposure. Note also that at 800mm (plus the Canon 7D's 1.6x focal length multiplier), you can see the moon "move/race" across the screen, so even 1/200s introduces some motion blur. But I'd probably never get a bird to line up this close every again - too bad I didn't wait under tenth of a second!
colorado rockies moonset april/2010 bird