This is it. The photo that kicked off my love for chasing and photographing the moon. The photo that made me realize just how powerful and beautiful the moon can be when placed against the right subject in a photograph.
The Minarets are a stunning range of volcanic peaks just west of Mammoth Lakes. I knew that with their jagged skyline and sharp pinnacles they’d make a perfect natural frame for the setting full moon. After studying the angles and alignments for months, I determined that the September full moon would give me the best chance of creating the photograph I saw in my mind.
I knew that I’d have to be high on a neighboring ridgeline in order to see the moon sink behind the Minarets at dawn. I worked out the calculations and determined the exact spot I’d need to stand. On the morning of the 6th, I woke early and drove up the 4×4 track that led near my shooting location. Then I hiked cross-country to the exact spot I’d determined.
This is when I learned two fundamental truths about the moon that I hadn’t fully appreciated before. First, the moon moves surprisingly fast. If you aren’t paying attention you can easily miss the critical moment of alignment. And second, the moon doesn’t set in a straight up-and-down line. Rather, from the latitude where I shot this photo, it traverses nearly a 45° incline. Combine these two things and it means that no matter how good your plan is, you may have to scramble at the last minute to get the moon exactly where you want it, and you don’t get any second chances.
In my case that morning, the moon began to approach this wonderful chalice-shaped notch in the Minaret ridgeline. Though to my horror, I could see it wouldn’t be positioned perfectly in the “cup,” instead it would be too far to the left. With my adrenaline pumping, I scooped up my tripod and camera and sprinted northward a quarter mile through the pumice to get the proper angle. As the moon sank toward the notch I continued to fine tune my location: 100 feet to the north (too far!), then 50 feet back to the south. Perfect. The moon dropped into the chalice and I was able to take this single photo before it slunk out of sight behind the mountains.