The first time I shot at Palouse Falls in 2014, I noticed that as the moon sets over the hill, it forms a shadow so sharp you can make out the shape of the trees over 100 yards away, as they crawl up the side of the canyon. I decided that would make a great time lapse, but it took me about four years to shoot and edit it. [Scroll down if you just want to see the three time lapses.]
First, I got interested in the science of the shadows. Moon shadows are undeniably sharper than Sun shadows. My crackpot theory (which I’m not totally abandoning, but have yet to find any scientific backing for it) has to do with the bending characteristic of light. Because the moon only sends up back a maximum of 11% of the sun’s light, I postulated that it’s not enough light to bend around the objects and fill in their shadow, the way the sun’s light does.
Sky and Telescope has a different explanation. It also depends on the moon reflecting back far less light than the sun, but that’s about all it has in common with my theory. Turns out that the lower light isn’t enough to stimulate the cone cells in our eyes – the ones responsible for seeing color. There is, however enough light to activate the rod cells, which are far more light-sensitive, but don’t see color. Actually, they do see just a bit of color – more on the blue end of the spectrum. We’re basically sacrificing color for sharpness. If you want to read the article, here’s the link: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/struck-moonlight12312014/.
Back to my adventures in astrophotography. Keeping up on client work for my Seattle video production company is a full time job and a half, so getting away when the conditions are right can be challenging.
In the summer of 2015, I went back to Palouse Falls to capture the shadow I’d seen the year before, and was foiled by a dirty sensor. That was a lesson learned. Now, I check my sensors before every shoot.
In May of 2016, I made it back to the falls with a clean sensor, set up my camera, and let it run for what I hoped to be an epic time lapse . . . and I got that, but some light painters showed up at the worst time. While I think the result is beautiful and interesting, it isn’t what I intended.
I returned to Palouse Falls again in July of 2016. The night started out ok, but I got clouded out. Before the clouds set in, I did manage to get about 100 frames that make up the start of the Moonset over Palouse Falls video.
I also went in September of 2016. The skies were perfect, and I was determined that I’d get it this time, so I set up a camera at the north side of the falls and another at the south. The exposures were perfect, the light painters stayed away and everything was perfect . . . except that it was later in the season, and the Moon was orbiting the Earth further to the south, so its light never fully hit the falls; very frustrating footage to watch.
When 2017 rolled around, I was determined to get the shot. The weather was on my side, the sensors and lenses were all clean, and it was a Monday night, so a bit less likely to encounter light painters. Tripods were in place, and fingers were crossed. The parking lot was clearing, and all looked good, when a new car arrived at dusk. A couple of photographers got out and started assembling their gear.
In my friendliest voice I asked, “Are you guys here to shoot sunset, or night?” “Both” they said. Then with a possibly forced smile on my face I asked “Do you plan on doing any light painting?”
Thankfully they were experienced night photographers who got it: It’s not nice to light paint when other night photographers are working. They said “Nope.” They were awesome, and even shared their Fireball (cinnamon whiskey.) Turns out they are both amazing photographers. You can check out some of their work here: Jen Grand and Parker Burkett.
Both of my cameras shot all night and the results looked great. But, why did it take a full year to process the time lapses? I think, after trying and failing to get those shots so many times, they became a little too precious to me. If I had processed them and output a video right after shooting, I’d have included every wide and tight shot and every single angle, because they’re all beautiful. It would have been a feature length time lapse! I needed to get a little space from the footage in order to let some of it land on the cutting room floor.
Here’s the final version. I may revisit it, and release other angles and zooms at some point, but it’s coming on Milky Way season 2018 and I have other things to shoot!
You can see more and purchase my photography at MilkyWayMatt.com.
Here’s a little more bonus material: This is the meteor shower that happened before dawn.
I get way too much blog spam, so I’ve had to turn off commenting. If you’d like to contact me about my photography or professional work, email me. My name (Matt) at the name of my business (GoodSideStudio) dot com.
Matt Krzycki is the Creative Director for Seattle Video Production Company, GoodSide Studio. We produce corporate, marketing and training videos. Check out our work here.