Attempting to shoot the moon

August 6, 2012

By Luke MacGregor

With very little understanding of astronomy but with the aid of a phone app, I began a three evening attempt to capture the moon with the Olympic Rings. The rings have been hanging iconically on Tower Bridge for the London 2012 Olympic Games and it was suggested to me that a full moon should – at the right angle – cross through them.

Day One – Having planned to be in the “perfect” spot on London Bridge with a good view of the Olympic Rings further up river and using the app information, I waited for the moon to rise. However the horizon itself was a little cloudy. When the moon eventually showed itself about 10 minutes after the app’s moonrise time it was off to the right hand side of the bridge. I hadn’t taken into account that the moon wouldn’t rise in a vertical line but would travel across the sky. So, by a combination of it appearing late through cloud and miscalculation, I was totally in the wrong place. I rushed carrying the tripod with a heavy 400mm lens attached and the rest of my camera gear hanging off my shoulders – running off the bridge, down several flights of steps, and to the path alongside the River Thames to try re-align the moon with the rings. However, the moon moves surprising quickly. I couldn’t manage to run far or fast enough in time to get the image before the moon rose high, over and above the bridge.

Day Two – Armed with my 400mm, only a monopod and less gear, ready to run after the moon should I be in the wrong location again, I returned to London Bridge. A recalculation had been made. The moon was rising later and at a slightly different angle to the night before. From my previous mistakes I knew that when the moon was on the horizon it needed to be to my left in order for it to move across through the rings. However, to my dismay, the rings were not there. As Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge (i.e. the carriageway lifts to allow boats through) it had raised in preparation to allow a vessel through. I waited just in case they might be lowered, taking in the misfortune of looking at what would have been the perfect shot – that didn’t happen.

Day Three – I returned to the bridge, worried that the rings would be raised once more. But no, great news, they were down. I readied myself at the predicted angle to the rings. The moon would be rising at 8:50pm and would hit the rings by about 9pm. As the moon had been rising later each evening it had become darker than the previous evenings. I wished I had my tripod. Nonetheless, using the Canon 5D MkIII meant I could push the ISO a little further than I would normally have chosen for a late evening shot. Exactly on time the moon began to show itself over the horizon, a lovely peachy color. I had to keep an eye on a changing exposure, balancing the brightness of the moon with a rapidly darkening sky. As it rose I had to keep moving along, mercilessly pushing tourists out of the way who had stopped to look, in order to keep the moon in line with the rings. Finally, after three days, I had the picture I had been trying to achieve.

11 comments

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I would have taken a shot of the moon exactly in the centre of one of the rings itself.

Posted by nikonman | Report as abusive

Luke, you are amazing. I want (may need) these pictures in my home. You brilliant, brilliant someone I previously did not know, and now do, fully named Luke MacGregor. Starstruck by the effort. :) Such an effort for such a worthy cause! Aim high, and settle for nothing less than your best, all Olympians!

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

If that photo is real it is done to perfection!!!
A 6th Olympic ring !!

Posted by mountaindale | Report as abusive

Now that is what you call the money shot.

Posted by doddles7 | Report as abusive

Greatest Moment in Olympics 2012 outside its fields and venues of competitions. Luke MacGregor has etched for himself, his name and legacy in this historic and inspiring photo capture.

Posted by to2ed | Report as abusive

That pictures are priceless. The Moon is the Lord of the Rings. The Olympics was missing a ring for so long.

Posted by wonderlucy2011 | Report as abusive

I believe Day3 had been somewhat different from what is related here.

Actually, it should be something like this: “Exactly on time the moon began to show itself over the horizon”, but it missed a right slice. So I took the picture as I had planned to, I went back to my residence, and I replaced the Day3 moon with that of Day2, and I did the brushing, etc.

Sorry, but moon doesn’t rise in full round shape for 3 days/nights in a row, anywhere in the world.

Better luck next time!

Posted by EKMarvi | Report as abusive

EKMarvi is being appropriately skeptical, but he is incorrect to be saying the 3rd day photo faked. If you download this excellent and mathematically rigorous astronomy shareware:

Stellarium

via a google search on the name above, and become familiar running it, you can see for yourself that the Moon does not change appearance too much for several days around the full phase. And as it does begin to shadow after full Moon, the reduction is on the western limb. The 3rd day photo described here seems to show appropriate reduction near Mare Crisium — in other words, the illuminated limb of the Moon is getting close to Mare Crisium. This is what one would expect a day or two after the full phase. I have not blown-up the photographer’s image to study it in obsessive detail — but my point is simply, it is NOT an obvious fake! And I see no reason to think it’s not real.

–John W. Briggs,
HUT Observatory,
Eagle, Colorado.

Posted by JW_Briggs | Report as abusive

Luke MacGregor, thanks for your effort. It’s a great shot that’s inspiring lots of us.

Posted by Eddyf | Report as abusive

It’s a beautiful shot, which is what you’d expect from Reuters photographers. And I think there’s a “Reuters style”, because quite often I can look at a photo in a newspaper or online, and peg it as a Reuters one, even before I see the credit.

As for faking – Reuters don’t do that. Talent, hard work and planning speak for themselves. Dylan’s one of the best.

Posted by HelenStevens | Report as abusive