Storytime 15

As you undoubtedly recall, today is the 58th anniversary of mankind’s venturing into space, being the day that Yuri Gagarin orbited in Vostok 1 back in 1961. Since it also fell on a Friday this year, I had planned to have an appropriate image shot especially for the Storytime posts, but it didn’t work as intended. I was out Wednesday night trying to capture a visible pass of one of the boosters remaining in orbit, but the humidity conditions weren’t allowing anything but the brightest of stars to shine through; the next evening was even worse. So we’re resorting to a much older, not-exactly-thematic but still space-related image for Storytime this week.

full moon multiple exposure
This image was a product of careful planning and staging, in response to an idle challenge, and yet still didn’t come out as I’d intended. But it wasn’t my fault (this time.)

The backstory: For a few years in the early 2000s, a bunch of us on a particular newsgroup participated in a regularly-scheduled challenge, one that had rotating themes, and the theme for this period’s challenge was, “Entrances and Exits.” This fit in with an idea that I’d had some time in the past, and more importantly, fit in with the precise time of the month when I could accomplish it. I was shooting film then, which was even more challenging for this kind of thing, because it required a series of multiple exposures – actually, spread out over two days and many hours. In essence, due to the rotation of the Earth, the moon (and the sun) move their own width across the sky in 150 seconds, two and a half minutes, and so, if you fire an exposure every 150 seconds, you can produce a series of moons touching themselves like a line of beads. More or less; as seen here, the moon actually varies in its distance from Earth and thus its apparent size, so when it’s further it moves its own width in a little less time.

Of course, it rises and sets in roughly opposite directions, but more importantly, the full moon in summer rises and sets in twilight, its appearance at the horizons taking place right at the very edges of night, so the sky is a little too bright to pull this off – even though only a couple of exposures will be during twilight, they’re enough to expose the frame and make it “not night.” Worse, that sky light will wash out the moons that were recorded either subsequently (for moonrise) or previously (for moonset.) Do you get the picture? Each frame will show the full sky, but only if the sky is dark will the moon be more-or-less properly exposed, because there will be no light bleeding through from another exposure. Yet the moon is staggered with the sun, which is what produces the phases in the first place, and so the day before full moon it sets in near-total darkness, being about an hour before sunrise, and the day after full it rises about an hour after sunset. The difference in phase is trivial at those points, especially for a wider-angle shot.

I also knew that the moon would come in and out at somewhat opposing angles, and since I was doing this on just one frame of film, I had to plan accordingly to ensure that I did not overlap the images (though this might have had its own cool effect.) So at moonset, the morning before the moon was to be full, I was facing out westerly over the lake, with nice clear skies and an excellent series of frames. Those are the line on the left, and you can see where a few thin clouds near the horizon made an appearance. You can also see an accidental double-exposure on one of the them, the one that washes out too bright.

A quick note here. The Canon Elan IIe body had a multiple-exposure function built in which doesn’t advance the film after the shutter closes, which is great, because on earlier film bodies you had to release the film sprocket gear manually to recock the shutter curtains, and it always let the film shift a bit under its own tension – I know because I tried similar shots years before with Olympus cameras, with pretty crappy results. Also, the exposure to capture nice detail in a full moon is brief, which helps keep the sky dark. Now, the Elan IIe only allows up to nine exposures on a frame – unless you reset it sometime in the middle, allowing you to extend the number indefinitely (at least as long as the batteries held out.)

Which leads to part two. I wasn’t going to be back and do the moonrise exposures for two days, which meant at the very least ending the exposure and advancing the film a frame – in this case, it likely meant that I’d be wanting to do other shots in that time period (and my only backup camera was one of those aforementioned older Olympus models.) But Canon’s film advance system was pretty slick and accurate; you could take note of the frame that you were on, rewind the film (as long as your Custom Functions were set to leave the film leader out, which they were,) and reload it later, advancing it to the same frame, and be perfectly aligned. In fact, I did this routinely, because different films had different strengths, so I would unload and reload as needed to match the film to the situation. The only thing you had to ensure was that, you couldn’t just advance the film, you had to actually fire the shutter, so for the preceding frames, as not to double-expose them, you had to set manually for a very brief exposure and fire the shutter with the lens cap on, essentially doing a double-exposure but one of them was pure black.

The rot set in for moonrise, two days later. Now facing east out across the Indian River Lagoon, I had my timing and framing down (this included estimating where I’d placed the horizon in the previous frame,) and was all set for the appearance of the moon. Except, the clouds didn’t cooperate, and the moon remained hidden. Counting on the possibility that things still might change, I dutifully fired off each exposure at the appropriate time, hoping that a little later on as the moon became more visible I’d still have that nice beaded line, but as you can see (this time it’s the line to the right of the frame,) it just didn’t pan out. Not one frame had an unobscured moon in it. So much for Florida’s clear skies.

By the way, all or nearly all of the horizon lights came from this second set of exposures; there were no lights visible at the far side of the lake for the first set, except for maybe radio towers. And if you were sharp eyed you might have noticed that the angles of moonrise and moonset seem different, which doesn’t make sense – it’s the same axial tilt for both, so they should match. Unless I was aiming out over a lake with no discernible horizon in the view finder for one of them – I probably had the camera tilted a little without realizing it, not having brought a level with me to ensure the body position of the camera. Okay, I meticulously planned most of it…

I’ve always intended to tackle this again sometime later, but the switch to digital pretty much put the kibosh on that, since most digital bodies don’t do multiple-exposures, figuring that you’ll simply ‘Photoshop’ the same effect. Which plenty of people do, but what’s the charm or effort in that? One frame, 30 to 40 exposures, spread over two separate nights; that’s a challenge. Pasting in a moon repeatedly? Pssshhhffft.