Happy New Year!

This year I shot the fireworks from Zilker Park on the downward slope of the Great Lawn. Half the park was still closed due to Trail of Lights that had ended a week earlier but I was able to shoot over the fence, and the foreground was pretty dark anyway.

The smoke from the fireworks this year was particularly severe, compounded by a breeze that was very slow and intermittent out of the south so it lingered in pockets all over the north side of town for hours. Driving and walking around town afterward took a toll on my lungs and sinuses that I'm still feeling 36 hours later! I felt like I was in the Far Harbor DLC for Fallout 4, where random clouds of radioactive fog drift all over the map and damage your character.

The Supermoon over Austin and Why You Probably Wouldn't Notice If No One Told You

Unfortunately this month's appearance of the so-called "supermoon" was obscured by overcast, but here's a photo I snapped around this time last year of another supermoon.

A "supermoon" is what the media likes to call a full moon when it's near the perigee of its orbit, i.e. it's at its closest approach to the Earth. The Moon gets this close to the Earth once during each orbit of the Moon around the Earth, so about once every 28 days; thus the Moon appearing this large in and of itself is nothing special, but I suppose it makes for feel-good fodder on slow news days. In actuality the Moon only appears slightly larger; about 14% larger than it appears at apogee (this is when it appears its smallest), or around 6-9% bigger than the average apparent size of the Moon. Because of this small difference, combined with the fact that we only see the moon intermittently over long periods of time, and in different phases, it is highly unlikely that the average person would naturally notice the Moon was larger or smaller from week to week.

There are a few reasons why people "notice" a supermoon being bigger than a regular full moon, and it all comes down to our imperfect human perception.

First, the news reminds us to look at the Moon because it will be bigger than usual. We go out and look, and because a bigger moon is what we're expecting, we agree "well, I guess it does sorta look bigger." This is a form of confirmation bias. In truth, most of us have no intuitive sense for how big the Moon should actually appear, certainly not to an accuracy that would make us notice that the moon was 5%, 10%, or even 14% larger than at some other time we saw it.

Secondly, a full moon rises during sunset because a full moon is always on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. Most people are out and able to see the Moon around sunset during their evening commute, so when there's a full moon (or a supermoon), most people will see it as it's rising, close to the horizon. When the Moon is close to the horizon it always appears bigger regardless of where it is in its orbit -- this is an optical illusion of sorts because suddenly we see the Moon next to objects on land and its comparative size appears bigger. This problem, sometimes called the "moon illusion" is a long-known issue with human perception and has been discussed by scholars for thousands of years. Click here for more information on the "moon illusion." Typically, doctored photographs (of which there are many on social media after the media hypes a supermoon) fraudulently increase the size of the Moon almost to the point of ridiculousness, most likely because the photographer thought that the Moon "looked really big!" and is confused as to why their photographs don't reflect what the optical illusion had them perceive, regardless of the focal length the photo was captured at. The photograph they took is indeed accurate, but being a flat image, it just doesn't play into the same part of our brain that produces that optical illusion of the Moon looking huge next to the horizon. In actuality, any time you see the sun or the moon rise behind features on land, it will appear very big.

As a consequence of being marginally closer to the Earth, a supermoon also appears slightly brighter, owing to the fact that the flux (or density) of reflected photons from the surface of the Moon is higher when we get closer to it. An analogy for this would be that your shower feels more intense when you move your face closer to the shower head. However, I would argue that most people wouldn't notice this change in apparent brightness any more than they would notice an increase in apparent size. Our eyes involuntarily adjust to low light levels all the time, and it would be impossible to make an assertion that the Moon was brighter one night vs. another without using some additional equipment (a camera with manual exposure controls would suffice). Also, the clarity of the atmosphere (depending on temperature, humidity, particulates, etc) varies frequently, adding yet another variable into the situation that we humans are not well suited for evaluating without special equipment.

To me, supermoons are fun just because they get people interested in and talking about the Moon. The Moon, while not a favorite subject of mine in and of itself, is definitely one of my favorite compositional elements in a photograph, and all the overzealous reporting in the world won't change that.

Sunrise Clouds

Just wanted to share a quick shot I took this morning at sunrise from the Palmer Events Center. I've been chasing a cloudless sunrise for a few mornings now with no luck; at least the cloudy sunrises have a few nice moments!

"Super" Moonset

I managed to stop by campus tonight just in time to catch the Moon setting behind the UT tower.

This is the tail end of what the media has been calling the "black supermoon," but really "supermoon" just means the moon is at the perigee (minimum altitude) of its slightly eccentric orbit when a full or a new moon occurs.

The Green Flash

Usually when photographers talk about the green flash, they mean something entirely different from this:

If you happen to be looking, there's about a 30-40 second window where the rooftop lighting of the Frost Bank Tower is just warming up. This makes the roof panels glow green until their color balance gradually stabilizes and they turn white. I always thought it was cool, and it's one of those things I would never have noticed had I not been a timelapse shooter.

Shooting through the Rain

During one of the rainy weeks in December I made a few attempts at shooting some footage despite the weather. Because of the extra glow in the atmosphere, the lighting, especially as the sun sets, can be an interesting change from a normal cloudless sunset.

This shot is the last frame of a hyperlapse I was shooting:

I particularly like this moment because of the gradient of colors in the sky. The sun had previously set to the left, and the receding scattered blue was moving across the sky, mixing with the orange light from the sodium vapor street lamps that began to dominate the atmospheric glow.

Seconds later I had to abort because my light and pleasant drizzle had turned into a torrential downpour, the likes of which I'd never been caught out in before. My improvised oven-bag-and-tape rain gear would just not do, so I hurriedly packed it all in and made the long 1 mile walk back to where I parked. I definitely discovered the limits of my "water repellant" outer shell and wound up soaked to the bone. This was the first serious rain test of my rucksack, which I'm happy to report did quite well! Aside from the rain that got in during loading, everything inside was dry despite the outer shell being completely soaked.

Fun fact: I recently learned the technical difference between rain and drizzle -- take a look at a puddle; if the water droplets hit with enough energy to create a splash, it's rain. If it just creates a ripple and gets absorbed without ejecting any water, it's drizzle.


A Bridge through the Clouds

The Quadrantids meteor shower was a total bust here in Austin; the radiant point was below the horizon during the predicted peak and a light cirrus layer to the north and a full moon made sure I wouldn't see any stragglers.

However, the silver lining is that my planned shooting site up at Lake Travis gave me an early warning to a layer of lake/river fog flowing through the Colorado River valley from the north and I was able to make it to the 360/Pennybacker Bridge just in time to capture it.

Happy New Year, Austin!

We got cheated out of our big annual New Year's Eve fireworks in Austin due to perceived weather issues, but citizens on the east side certainly didn't let that stop them. As the clock struck midnight a low constant rumble flowed over the Austin landscape, an endless barrage of fireworks shooting up along the entire horizon to the east.

Although the big Butler Park fireworks show was cancelled, it's ostensibly being rescheduled for some other date in the next month or two. Hopefully there will be some better photo opportunities then!

The Lighthouse

Just a super short piece I shot Saturday night during the first UT game of the season vs. UNT.

My seat was well beyond what you would call the nose-bleeds, but I still knew the outcome thanks to our wonderful tower lighting tradition!