The moon is one of the most powerful subjects in nature photography, and one of the most challenging to photograph. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time studying the moon’s phases and movement in order to better capture and convey its beauty.
In late 2020, I began to seek out a photograph of the full moon rising at sunset next to a bristlecone pine, the longest-lived individual organism on the planet. Every time I stand among these stately trees I am awed and humbled by their resilience and 5,000 year life span. A mature bristlecone may have seen the full moon rise and set as many as 50,000 times, and I knew this endless dance between the moon and the trees would make a powerful subject for a photograph.
But although there are thousands of bristlecones in the White Mountains, not just any tree will do. In order to work for the shot I had envisioned, the right tree would have to meet four important criteria. First, it would have to be aesthetic, with a beautiful combination of living and dead branches. Second, it would have to be growing on a narrow north-south ridge so that the rising moon would be visible behind it at the same time the setting sun was illuminating it from the front. Third, it would need to be standing by itself in order to allow for a strong composition. And fourth, there would have to be another small ridge to the west that would put me the same elevation as the tree where I could shoot from.
On the day of the moonrise, I spent countless hours in the White Mountains searching for just the right tree. The end of the day drew near and I began to despair, as I still hadn’t found the perfect one. I had nearly given up hope until I rounded a bend and found this stunning bristlecone pine perched on the side of a ridge. I had just enough time to double check the timing and angles before rushing to my shooting position some 650 feet away.
Just as I got my camera set up with a long lens at 400 mm, the moon broke the horizon and dreamily rose into place next to the tree. I was elated: the full moon rising through the pink and blue Belt of Venus as the last rays of the setting sun flooded the bristlecone with rich warm light was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced, and this frame far exceeded my hopes for the image.