Photo from the World: Moonrise over Port Ellen

You cannot, as a landscape photographer, ever title a piece “Moonrise …” without wondering if it lives up to Ansel Adams’ snapshot entitled “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.” Adams? A snapshot?! That’s right. He’s blasting down the highway, sees the scene, jumps out, throws the camera (an 8×10″ behemoth, wherein the negatives are 8×10″ or 20×25 cm) on the tripod, and discovers he doesn’t have the light meter handy. He does some quick math, ’cause he’s a freakin’ genius, and works out that with the 250 candle power light of the moon, his exposure should be 1/20 sec at f/8. He sets his f-stop to f/32 and exposes for “about a second.” He turned the film holder around to make a second exposure, and the light shifted, wrecking the picture he’d seen. One frame, from a guy who’d once shot 32 of the 8×10″ negatives to capture exactly the right look on a dune ridge. The resulting picture is one of the most magical ever made.

The situation for this one is a little different. My wife and I watched sunset at the Lighthouse of Port Ellen, across Kilnaughton Bay from Port Ellen itself, and as we drove back, were entranced by the beauty of the rising moon. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so when she suggested pulling over to take a picture, I at first decided not to shoot while she took a picture, ’cause I knew I’d never get the picture I wanted. What did I want? A perfectly exposed photo at my camera’s slowest speed, probably a minute long, something impossible to do without a tripod. And speeding up the ISO, and using a larger aperture, would make a noisy, grainy, ugly picture that I would hate.

But as I looked across the scene, I figured I’d go ahead and take a snapshot. It was pretty enough, and maybe I could put it on my Facebook page. And naturally, as often happens when I listen to my wife, the picture was stunning almost straight out of the camera. I have gone back and forth with myself over the quality of the color in it, but I’ve decided that the slightly melancholy, slightly off, low-contrast look of the odd blue and yellow mix is right. I’ve done a lot to bring down the highlights (so the moon is only a little too bright) and to bring up the shadows (so the houses are only a little too dark), and otherwise haven’t messed with the contrast of the scene too much. I don’t like making a scene with much less contrast than this, because it looks muddy to me and dims the colors too much, and if I went with more contrast, the houses would go almost black. And so this simple snapshot becomes one of my favorite photos.

Port Ellen by Moonlight


You can find the image on my page here:×24-fine-art-color-photograph-traditional-originals-and-limited-editions¬†

This entry was posted in History, Photo from the World, Places We Live, Scenic, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *