Shooting the Harvest Moon over Boston

So on Sunday evening as I was driving from rehearsal to the grocery store, I happened to be heading over the BU Bridge just as an enormous full moon was making its way over the Boston skyline right at the blue hour when all the light is soft and even and it isn't quite night just yet. Of course, I was in a car, and I didn't have my DSLR, and there were groceries to buy, so I made some agonized groaning sounds and vowed to return the following night with all the gear I needed to capture this beautiful cityscape. 

Apparently, so did about a dozen other people, because by the time I got to the bridge on my bicycle there was already a large group of photographers, tripods deployed, lenses at the ready. It wasn't a problem- there was plenty of room- but I was amused to join the line and wait for the moon to come up. 

I had arrived around 7:45 PM, and the sun was not quite done setting. Though the 99.5% full moon had not shown up yet, the city still proved interesting, with a graffiti-covered train bridge creating foreground interest against the far away bright skyscrapers. I brought my 24mm f/1.4L II, my 50mm 1.4 Art (Sigma) and my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, as well as some cheapo graduated neutral density filters, 5D III, and tripod. After shooting a bit, I realize I could have been OK with just the 24-70 since I generally couldn't shoot at f/1.4, but whatever- I still got plenty of great shots! This one was taken with the 24mm, ISO 50, 30s, f/14. The GND really helped with this one, since the city lights and sky were ever-so-slightly brighter than the foreground, and that train bridge is such an interesting piece of scenery: 

BU Bridge  (2 of 2).jpg

There were also some crazy ducks and geese making horrible, horrible sounds over to the left, but their white bodies made a great contrast to their environment, so I grabbed a shot with my telephoto thinking I'd convert it to black and white later, and I'm pretty pleased: 

Finally, after fiddling with lenses and filters and tripods FOREVER, the moon finally showed its big, orange, harvest-y face around 8:45PM. 

I've attempted to photograph the moon before, and failed miserably- because the moon is pretty much impossible to photograph in situ without using Photoshop to make a composite image. The moon is really, really bright, and if one exposes for the stuff on the ground, the moon will appear as a brilliant white blob. If one exposes for the moon, the rest of the scene will be totally dark. Also, the way our eye sees things is different from how a camera sees them, and it is challenging to get the majesty of a big fat moon hanging over a city the way our eye perceives it. The short focal length needed to take in the whole cityscape renders the moon as very small and far away. So, you have to do a little trickery. First, I took this photo of the whole skyline: 

This was at 24mm, still with the grad. neutral density filter on to help with the lights from the city. (Even if I had a more powerful GND filter that evened out the exposure between the moon and the foreground it wouldn't have mattered since the shading would also pull the city lights way too far down.) 

I then stuck the 70-200mm f/2.8 on, zoomed to 200mm and took this photo: 

Which is properly exposed to capture detail in the moon, as well as a (relatively) short shutter speed so that the moon isn't blurry (it moves surprisingly fast when it first appears, and a 30 second exposure is way too long!) 

I then went home, matched the white balance and process versions of the two images in Lightroom, and then opened them as layers in Photoshop. I selected the moon from the second image, made a new layer with just the moon, and put it over the base layer of the cityscape. I used free transform to resize the moon so it wasn't ENORMOUS, but still larger than it appeared in the original image. I then applied some color adjustments to the merged big moon/city layer so that everything would appear uniform, and I was left with this: 

Which I think is pretty neat! The moon looks big, but it doesn't seem unreal or oddly proportioned- this is closer to how it looked to my eye when I was standing on the bridge. And even if it is a little oversized, I still think it makes for a far more interesting photo than the original cityscape image!