Photo Shoot – Full Moon Over Minneapolis (or lack of)

Downtown Minneapolis on a Moonless Night
Downtown Minneapolis on a Moonless Night

Last week I had a specific image in mind that I just couldn’t get out of my head. In order to capture it though, I needed to be in a specific place at a specific time, and have a clear sky.

The shot I envisioned was a full moon rising over Downtown Minneapolis just after sunset. These types of shots are fairly common, but my goal was to bring something different to the image and include more than just a skyline of buildings, I wanted to also capture some of the life going on after sunset.

To get the shot I wanted, I had to determine the date of the next full moon, as well as when it would be rising after sunset time. I also wanted to get a shot with “afterglow”, so I needed to do this photograph about 30 minutes after sunset. “Afterglow” for those who don’t know is a deep blue colored sky that occurs about 20-30 minutes after sunset. It can be seen by the eye, but for photography it occurs a few minutes later, about 30-45 minutes after sunset.

Fortunately I came across a great piece of software called “Heavenly-Opportunity” which provided me with the exact dates of the full moon, and allowed me to pinpoint dates when the moon would be rising 30 minutes after sunset for that afterglow effect.

UPDATE: The software cited here (“Heavenly-Opportunity”) is no longer available from the original developer (Fossil Creek Software), but copies are available online. Be careful when downloading any software from an unknown source.

This software also provided the azimuth of the Moon at the time of the moonrise, (azimuth is the angle at which a celestial body – like the moon – is located based on a true north compass reading). I then used Google Earth to determine where I needed to be in order to get a photograph of the moon rising just to the right of downtown Minneapolis. I decided that the best location for this shot was Loring Park, a small city park located on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. There is a walking bridge in that area that also gives me some height to photograph that angle from.

I was all set. December 10th (2011) it was. It was chilly night (about 32 degrees F.), and there was a steady 10-15 mph breeze, which probably dropped the wind chill down into the teens. Fingertip numbing temps. I set up my camera at about 15 minutes after sunset, took my exposure readings, and waited for the right moment.

I waited, and then waited more, and then some more. I couldn’t believe it! Even though one hour had passed, I still couldn’t see the moon rising. I starting walking side to side to see if the moon was hiding behind taller buildings, but still no moon. At this point I decided to pack it up and move further away from downtown to see if I could get a better angle. I moved two blocks to the north and two blocks to the west, and that’s when I finally found the moon. It was rising between two tall buildings, and had been hidden from view for about 45 minutes. By this time the moon had risen too high and it just wasn’t the shot that I had envisioned which was lower on the horizon.

So what was the issue? Well, basically I was camped out too far north of where I should have been, about 2-3 blocks. I think the azimuth reading and or Google Earth was off by a enough of a margin to get me off track by a couple of blocks. Lesson learned, be mobile!

I did end up with a “full moon over downtown” shot, but it’s not the one I was hoping for and so I think I’ll hold off on showing it for now. Instead, here are a few other shots that I took that night that turned out much better.

Walking Bridge - Loring Park
Walking Bridge – Loring Park
Late Night on Hennepin Avenue
Late Night on Hennepin Avenue
Hennepin Avenue Walking Bridge
Hennepin Avenue Walking Bridge
Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg - Walker Art Center
Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg – Walker Art Center

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