Friday, 23 May 2014

Astrophotography (In Defence of Clouds)

(In Defence of Clouds)

In his recent article How do you photograph the moon? Guardian columnist Martin Robbins wrote that 

"Clouds are to astrophotography what tall people are to cinemas."

Being 5'11, and possessing a lot of curly hair, I'm bad news in a cinema. In defence of clouds, though, I think they can add something really special to astrophotography. I've been photographing the moon for six months now, and there's no denying that a clear sky makes a beautiful photograph.


But a cloudy sky can bring something else to the picture. At the beginning of May, in Grindelwald, deep in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, this crescent moon unexpectedly appeared though the clouds after a day of rainfall.

Later this month the full moon shone through strange mountain ranges of clouds above Geneva. You can see more in Full Moon Figures if you like.

I got in touch with Sylvia at the astronomy department of the University of Geneva ( for the best place to watch the moonrise in the Geneva area. She recommended La Barillette up in the Jura mountains. A friend drove us up there and we watched as the moon rose directly ESE across from us, over Lac Leman, and just above Mont Blanc, first appearing as a gentle pink glow on the cloudy skyline. 

Here the clouds shrouding the mountains caught and reflected just how much light was being emitted from the moon. 

Just as special as a 300 mm moon photo, in all it's craterous glory.

And it's not just the moon photographer who benefits from these precipitous beings. If the clouds had not been present in this shot of the night sky on the Snaefellsnes Penninsula in Iceland last autumn, I might not have known the aurora borealis was stirring nearby, caught in long exposure.

For next month's full moon I will be back home in Cornwall, UK, where I hope to catch a shot of phosphorescence visible at this time of year. Phosphorescence is very difficult to see in moonlight, so next time I've got my fingers crossed for a cloudy moon. 

Happy moongazing!

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