Full Moon at Portland Head Light

Whenever I travel, I try to plan my trip around a full moon.  There’s almost always an opportunity for a cool photo with the moon, and the rising or setting full moon can be pretty easy to photograph.  Of course, weather plays a huge role — I’d say that only twenty percent or or so of my planned moon shots work out.  So as I planned a summer trip to Maine, I booked it around the time of the full moon.

That meant I had to find a composition that would work with the moon.  Often times, I’ll photograph the setting moon over lake Michigan, with a lighthouse as the subject.  Maine would be different, because to do something similar, I’d likely have to photograph the rising moon.  Not a huge difference, but one is morning, the other evening.  I’ve noticed that skies tend to be clearer in the morning, or at least there’s less haze or smog from the day’s activities.  Any subject can work, but ideally it’s something tall or on a hill that can be seen from miles away.

I worked on a couple of compositions, and one of them involved Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth.  The Portland Head Light is perhaps the most famous and most photographed lighthouse in the United States.  Construction on the lighthouse started in 1787 at the direction of George Washington, and it was finished in 1791.  It’s the oldest lighthouse in Maine, and a wonderful sight to see.

Paths around the lighthouse would give me lots of options for setting up for a photo, but none of these locations are particularly far away from the lighthouse.  That meant that a shorter zoom lens was needed, which would reduce the size of the moon in the photos.  I often want to be a mile away if possible, so that the moon appears to be absolutely huge.  With the available angles, there wasn’t a way to do this during this particular full moon.

I arrived with plenty of time to spare, and soon enough the moon rose above the horizon.  There was a scattering of clouds about, but nothing that would block the view.  The full moon usually rises very close to sunset, and there was a very pleasant pink light in the sky.  As the moon rose, the ambient light decreased, and the moon appeared brighter.  I think this was one of the best photos that shows the entire lighthouse:

Full Moon at Portland Head Light

Full Moon at Portland Head Light


I also walked around and shot closeups of the lighthouse tower with the moon behind it.  Perhaps that will be a future post.

As the moon rose and grew brighter, the park police arrived and told all the photographers to leave.  The park closes at sunset, and there are no exceptions made.  This is frustrating, as the best light often occurs 20-30 minutes after the sun sets.  There was a lot of grumbling, but everyone complied.

If you visit this lighthouse to take photos, be aware of this rule.  The park opens at sunrise, but the gates are often open much earlier.  If you want to catch the lighthouse with really good light, I suggest going in the morning.  I was able to get in 45 minutes before sunrise, but would never have been able to stay 45 minutes after sunset.



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