Camera Work: Two Moons That Weren’t There
Well, they were, but not in those positions.
There are considerable concerns today, in photojournalism, that the images represent an event is as it actually happened, that is the image was not manipulated, re-arranging the elements in the frame, for instance, to make a more pleasing composition.
Or to Lie.
There is the rub. And a question: Do photographs lie? More to the point: Do photographs ever tell the truth?
From my perspective and others as well, truth cannot be told, only pointed to. So yes, no, photographs tell the truth. Photographs lie. (Getting a bit self-referential here).
Events happen in the real world. All around us, time running on. The photographer puts a frame around an event, plucking it from the undivided whole. So immediately, it isn’t telling the truth. It is pointing to a truth. A truth in which any additional information would not add to the truth as the photographer perceived it. It is, however, that the final image presented as pointing to a truth be not manipulated. But that’s impossible. An important detail is too bright or to dark and can’t be read “properly”. The print is manipulated to adjust for this. The manipulation has begun.
I’m not going to go into this element any further, because I am not representing any particular image as journalistic truth. I am presenting images that represent a truth I saw at the moment of conception, and brought to the viewer with, hopefully, with a particular essence that recreates for me a truth important. That can be anything. A kaleidoscope of feelings, color, tone or any number of concepts, like music to take one example.
The First image above, Moonrise Hood River. We spent the fine autumn day cruising the upper hillside above Hood River, stopping to photograph as we went along. As we dropped down a long hillside road, we came across this scene viewed between power lines, trees, other buildings blocking part of the view, all the while attempting to find a spot clear of all obstructions. We finally did, but where is the moon? Off to a side an too high. Groan! Gorgeous light, rich color, romantic to the core, but no moon. Hmm, that can be fixed. I made the necessary exposures of the farm scene with no concern for the moon. Noting the exposure and the focal length of the zoom setting, I found a clearing for a moon shot and made those exposures. Now since it is no longer “journalistic” who needs to be concerned about how big the moon actually would have appeared as a complete image, so I made enlarged versions at different telephoto settings.
Getting back on the computer I made a composite setup allowing me to pick a moon frame, manipulate it’s position for a moon to scale and another moon giant in proportion. I’m sure many of you have seen such presentations. Big an juicy, full of detail. I made two versions, and for days I wrestled with the decision, which one? My partner felt the big version departed from an already departed reality too far. I disagreed. Nevertheless, as time went on, and I queried myself “which one” I settled on the scaled correctly version, which is presented here.
Over the next few years, I made big departures from reality with the brightness and color values as well, even up to today, where with some new tools in Photoshop cc2015, the most recent upgrade offered by Adobe. You are seeing it here first.
Christmas eve, mid 1980’s. I have an assignment: Moonrise over Mt Hood. They really wanted it over Mt. Rainier, but couldn’t find a suitable image. Actually, they wanted “Moonrise Over Hernandez New Mexico” but the Ansel Adams Trust would have nothing to do with that. I said (with considerable bravado I might add) I’ll do one over Mt Hood.
It took considerable planning. For openers, it wasn’t full moon, but the day before, because I needed late afternoon light on the peak while a fullish moon was present. Next, where is the moon’s position with respect to Mt Hood to be found. Consulting a moon chart giving compass positions, I set up a map with co-ordinates which showed the moon to be to the left of the peak from an exact place at an overlook north of Sandy Oregon, Known as Johnsrud Point. What unbelievable luck! Nice, cold atmosphere allowing details all the way to the snow fields. I set up my camera on a tripod and waited, shooting a series of images as time went on and the light changed as an image with no moon had some value as well. Looking at my watch, the moon should be up. I’m squinting in the viewfinder. No moon. Impossible. I looked up and there it was!
Way off to the left.
Uh oh! I gave it a moment’s thought, made a couple of more shots of the mountain then carefully swung the camera’s position to the left and shot the moon as it rose through the sky. I would have to make a montage.
In the darkroom, my troubles multiplied. I had to make a sandwich using two glass plates giving me a total of eight surfaces, all of them dust collectors, keeping them all microscopically clean. Didn’t happen. A retouch session was going to be needed.
I was able to use moon frames clear of any foreground and could re-position the moon to some degree to get what I wanted.
The finished product delighted the client. (Boeing)
After digital became the mainstay, I revisited the montage using scanned negatives. The process was entirely different in digital than analog, way different. I new learning curve. The image shown here is the version from the scanned negs.
I don’t think I’ll be doing this kind of project again!