I needed a Seattle skyline photo for my website and wanted to give my new camera lens a try yesterday since the weather was beautiful, so I headed to Kerry Park, that most iconic of Seattle viewpoints. After about 15 minutes, another photographer parked his tripod next to mine and asked if I was going to hang out until the moonrise at 8:26 PM. I hadn’t realized that this weekend was the “super moon” where the moon passes closest to Earth and is larger and brighter than normal. Over the next three hours, the hillside filled in with a horde of Seattle photographers looking to capture the perfect moon shot of the Seattle skyline.
The technical term for this weekend’s event is the perigree moon, where the moon’s elliptical orbit is closest to earth, resulting in a full moon that is 14% bigger and 30% brighter than typical. The Seattle photographer’s dream shot is capturing the Space Needle with the super moon as a backdrop.
The challenge is to find the perfect spot to take a photo that lines up the path of the moon across the sky with the Space Needle in the background. Many of last night’s photographers came equipped with a couple of smartphone apps to help them pinpoint the path of the moon.
The two apps I was introduced to are The Photographer’s Ephemeris and Sun Surveyor. Both apps allow you to predict the position of the sun and moon throughout the day and accurately locate where they will rise and set. Most interesting for photographers is that you can also align a subject with the location or the moon or sun. Standing at Kerry Park, The Photographer’s Ephemeris quickly told me that the moon was set to rise just to the left of the Space Needle.
Sun Surveyor also came in handy with an augmented reality view of the moon’s path, so you can eyeball your foreground subjects in relation to the moon (or sun).
While the weather was glorious yesterday, as was the sunset, a low batch of clouds to the east got in the way of a truly spectacular Seattle moon shot. A little more advanced planning with these apps might have also lead me further west to Magnolia to try to get better alignment with the moon and the Space Needle.
These apps take the guesswork out of planning lighting for a variety of photographic events. Even if the sun or moon isn’t your planned subject matter, they can be very useful for planning the time of day for optimal light. As far as apps go, they aren’t particularly cheap, at $6-$9, but given the hundreds of thousands of dollars of zoom lenses, camera bodies and tripods I saw last night, it is a drop in the bucket for photography geeks.