Sunrise, Sunset and Moonrise

Yesterday was a rare day. We’ve been having a lot of cloudy days in Ontario lately and yesterday the sun shone from morning to evening. Not only that, but the moon was full and was due to rise shortly after sunset. My goal for the day was to capture the three events, sunrise, sunset and moonrise, from some interesting vantage points.

We’ve been staying at our cottage over the holiday season on the shore of a lovely lake in northern Ontario. The weather has been cold, getting down to -20 C in the night and, as a result, the lake has been freezing over. I woke up at dawn, pulled my winter gear (ski pants and ski jacket) over my pyjamas and wandered down to the lake to see if the sunrise would create some interesting light. Our neighbours have pulled up their floating dock on the beach, so there was an interesting foreground formed by two dock pieces that point out into the lake. The sky was nicely lit up by the sun just before it emerged over the trees on the far shore. I had my faithful Canon 5d with me and took a picture hand-held at f16 to get the benefit of a star-shaped sun as it started to peak over the trees. Here is the result:

Sunrise on a cold winter’s morning

It is pretty amazing how the anti-shake device in the lens can help turn out crisp images at fairly low shutter speeds. The image needed very little post processing. The white balance had to be adjusted slightly because the original image was too blue. The foreground needed a little brightening using Lightroom’s gradient function and the background needed a little extra saturation to bring out the colour of the sky.

The sunset was scheduled for 4:40 pm and I set out on Highway 118 northbound out of Haliburton looking for a wetland with an interesting silhouette that could function as a setting for a sunset. Here’s what I found:

Sunset, northwest of Haliburton

Again, I set the aperture to f16 to capture the star-shaped rays of the sun. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of lens flare. That will be fixed later in Photoshop. Lightroom still doesn’t have the touch-up capabilities to deal with this adequately. I liked the way the setting sun’s colour was reflected by the snow in this image.

The full moon was going to rise at 5:20 in the east, so I didn’t have much time to find a suitable vista with an unobstructed view of the horizon. After thinking about the best vantage spot, it occurred to me that the top of the Sir Sam’s ski hill would provide a good view of the rising moon. After a half-hour drive, I parked in the ski hill lot as it was emptying for the day. The lifts had stopped working at 4:30, so the only way up the hill was by foot. Fortunately, Sir Sam’s has a covered magic carpet lift that goes right to the top of the hill, so the walking was relatively sheltered and easy. However, climbing up a 300 foot vertical drop with camera equipment was still good exercise.

I took my position on the highest vantage point where one of the chair lifts empties its payload of skiers and set up my tripod and camera. One of the grooming cats was going up and down the neighbouring ski hill, so I took a few warm-up photos of the ski chalet in the distance with the cat climbing up the adjacent hill. As it got darker and darker, I realized that my knowledge of the Canon 5d Mark II was still not quite what it should be. It’s one thing to take photos when you can see the controls of the camera, but quite another thing to take photographs by feel in the dark. My plan was to use live view to compose my shot so that I could manually focus with 10x magnification and get the exposure correct on the view screen. However, this was my new 5d Mark II (my previous one had drowned on vacation in Wales) and it was not set up properly. If set up in manual mode, the darned thing would not let me choose a shutter speed slower than 1/30th of a second. I vaguely remembered something like this happening before, but couldn’t remember the workaround. I had to resort to using exposure priority with the viewfinder and take a bunch of photos using the trial and error method, reviewing each image and adjusting the exposure accordingly.

Moonrise over Sir Sam’s

Here’s the best image. Sir Sam’s chalet is in the bottom corner. Eagle Lake stretches out in the top of the frame. A golden full moon rises in the trees. Of course, an exposure set to capture some of the foreground features easily blows out the moon, so I’ve captured the moon as if it were a second sun, emitting quite a bit of light. It’s always disappointing to me that the rising moon never looks the same size in a photograph than it does in real life. There is something psychological about a rising moon that causes the brain to blow its size out of proportion. The same effect does not work with a photo.

When I got home, I read the camera manual and learned (for the second time) that the camera has to be set to Live View “stills only” mode in order to access the full range of shutter speeds. It always pays to read the manual before you set out on a shoot!


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