Moonrise silhouette: E.T.-like photo of a biker in front of the Moon.
Calling E.T.: Phenomenal Photos of a Silhouetted Cyclist and the Moonrise
Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 1 2013 8:00 AM

Man in (Front of) the Moon

Sometimes, an amazing photograph is a matter of luck. Good timing, happenstance, what have you. But most are the results of careful planning, thinking ahead, and knowing exactly what it is you’re trying to do.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

That’s what photographer Philipp Schmidli did. He took great pains to map out exactly how he wanted a particular series of photos to go, and I’m really glad he did. The results he got are nothing short of spectacular (click them to embiggen):

Philipp Schmidli photo of the Moon
I'll... be... right... here.

Photo by Philipp Schmidli, used by permission

Philipp Schmidli photo of the Moon

Photo by Philipp Schmidli, used by permission

Philipp Schmidli photo of the Moon

Photo by Philipp Schmidli, used by permission


Those are insanely cool shots! For those who want details, he used a Canon EOS 1DX camera equipped with a 600 mm lens using a 2X converter for an effective focal length of 1200 mm. A telephoto with that much magnification can show a lot of detail on the Moon. Obviously! He had to use a very small aperture, which means the exposure times were a relatively long 1/40th of a second, making this even trickier.

Schmidli planned well in advance for this; in fact he took a series of similar shots in January, so he already had the area mapped out. Knowing exactly where and when the full Moon would rise used to be somewhat difficult, but now there’s a fleet of different apps you can use. You can give this a day before or after the Moon is actually full to get the same effect, but any time outside that window and the phase becomes obvious. That in turn means hoping the weather cooperates, and in fact Schmidli  missed a chance one night due to clouds.

The last step was having walkie-talkies to communicate with his friend. Even then, the timing and location had to be precise! Moonrise only takes about two minutes or so, so that’s a tight schedule.

All in all, these pictures took a huge effort, but in the end it was clearly worth it. And who knows? Maybe he’ll get a call from Amblin Entertainment.

Tip o’ the lens cap to io9.

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