Photographers' Blog

Attempting to shoot the moon

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.

Shooting by accident or standing out from the crowd?

Actress Jessica Biel arrives for the premiere of “Easy Virtue” in Leicester Square, London October 28, 2008.   REUTERS/Luke MacGregor   (BRITAIN)

London-based Reuters photographer Luke MacGregor shot the picture above by using a slow shutter speed, around 1/50th of a second, and continually shooting frames with no flash in the hope that he would catch the moment a flash from another photographer illuminated Jessica Biel posing on the red carpet.

This reminded me of an earlier red-carpet picture of Jessica Biel where Luke had used the same “catch flash” technique. The picture of her arrival at the BAFTAs, below, caused a mini stir of discontent amongst the desk editors in Singapore. Some editors championed the picture, others wanted to reject it, or ‘spike’ it in journalistic terminology. One editor even said the technique was like “shooting by accident”.