Algoma Night Lights
This is an image of the Algoma, WI lighthouse before a full moon. I captured it last weekend. It is not at all what I was going for and there was a lot of scrambling and experimenting to get anything worth viewing.
I knew there would be a full moon this night, so I planned on trying to line up a nice shot of the rising moon near the lighthouse. I arrived at my chosen vantage point early and waited. The moon would rise about a half-hour after the sunset. I knew that would make the shoot a bit difficult, because the last remnants of daylight might not be enough to keep the light of the moon from overpowering the scene. That would be an issue, but there were plenty of others. Fasten your seat belts, the fun is just about to begin.
The moment the slightest indication of the moon was visible on the horizon, it was obvious I was in the wrong spot – too far south. The moon was too far to the right of the lighthouse to fit both in the frame.
I quickly packed up my camera and tripod and tried to locate a better vantage point. I decided to try the bridge over the Ahnapee – the river that leads to the harbor, thinking it would be sweet to catch the moon’s reflection spanning from the harbor, down the river. I parked my van on the closest street, Navarino, and grabbed my equipment, running to the bridge. Onlookers from a restaurant/bar on that corner watched with curiosity as I dashed by. I’m running because time is of the essence. Conditions are growing darker and the moon is on it’s way up – moving faster than you’d think. The closer I can catch it to the horizon, the better my image.
When I reached the bridge and spot the moon, I realized I had gone too far north. The moon was now too far to the left of the lighthouse. I scrambled back to the van and ended up at the marina – the only location where the moon would line up near the lighthouse.
I didn’t want to be at the marina because it was too close to get the perspective I wanted. The farther away I could be from the subject (the lighthouse), the larger the moon would appear in the shot. So, I tried to get the shot from the farthest corner of the marina parking lot. From that spot, I was too low to capture any reflection off the water in the foreground of the lighthouse. To get higher, I threw my tripod up on the roof of my minivan and climbed up there to set up and focus in. (It’s an old van. I’m not going to hurt it.)
The first shot from on top of my van was dreadful. The light from the parking lot’s mercury vapor lights was creating a bright orange haze on the image – even though no parking lot lights could be seen in the frame. I packed up the equipment, jumped down, moved the van closer, clambered back up and tried again. The parking lot lights still clouded the image.
I packed up and jumped down, ran to the edge of the parking lot closest to the lighthouse and set up my tripod. That would put the parking lot lights behind and directly above me. That eliminated the orange effect from my view. However, it had become dark enough that I couldn’t see the lighthouse in the photo – just the red light and moon. I could adjust the camera settings to brighten up the lighthouse, but that would have made the moon so bright it would overwhelm the scene. I tried another camera setting that allows for a bit more dynamic range, but it wasn’t enough.
How was I going to overcome this problem? An idea occurred to me. I ran back to where my van was parked and moved it to near where I was shooting from, facing toward the harbor. I turned the headlights on, creating enough light to give the lighthouse and pier some definition. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place as the moon ascended into the cloud bank, taking it’s brightness down a bit, which helped to bring more balance to the three visible lights.
After all that, honestly, I’m not all that excited with the final result. That’s the way it works sometimes. The image is interesting, the moon in the clouds is kind of cool, but the entire scene has an unnatural look to it. On top of that, there’s enough digital noise in this frame to choke a horse; even after I processed the heck out of it.
I debated for a week, whether to post this one. I decided, if I shared the story behind the image, it would make it a worthwhile post. Often, there’s a whole lot more to getting a great image than just pointing the camera and pushing a button. For every great photo you see, there were plenty that – despite good equipment, photographic skill and extraordinary effort – just never panned out.
To view a larger version of this image (warts and all) click on the photo.