The day started with a walk. The church spire reflected in a puddle seemed painterly. No longer a church, it is somewhat diminished if described as the maritime museum spire reflected in a puddle. A building in which we have attended civil wedding ceremonies that are enriched by the maritime icons that symbolise journeys of hope in this life rather than what many see as the cruel and debasing imagery of the supplanted Christian ethos.
The sea was green and restive, appearing cold despite being at its annual warmest. It darkened to near black when backlit by the autumnal sun, the brightness of the reflected light reminding us of how much of our energy arrives from the sun.
I was disappointed last night, as I predicted in yesterday’s journal. The question was whether tonight would be different. Mars would rise at 19:38, simultaneously with, and several degrees north of the Harvest Moon.
I practiced setting up the Fuji X-T3, the tripod and the MTO-1000 lens in the kitchen while we zoomed through a weekly chat with a friend. I’ve learned to reacquaint my fingers with all the knobs and buttons before I go out to fumble in the dark.
The camera announced there was a firmware upgrade available. I made the decision to take it without reading what it would do. A huge advantage of the Fuji range of X cameras is that software controls many of the functions which means significant enhancements are possible. One former colleague said it can sometimes be like getting a new camera. For example, a couple of months ago the upgrade included many autofocus improvements including this: ‘Improving autofocus capability on a foreground subject even when there is a mixture of foreground and background subjects … e.g. when shooting flowers against a busy background.’ That upgrade really did make a difference so I tend to accept them all now.
The upgrade went well. The camera was set.
I pulled up The Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my phone and showed how it works over the video in zoom. The app enables the user to see where the moon or sun will rise. It’s done with a map shown relative to the viewer’s position. I used it to work out where to stand so that the moon would rise behind the Muglins Lighthouse. Yesterday, I should have stood waiting in Loretto School, today I needed to go to the pier in Coliemore Harbour.
I headed out to Coliemore Harbour and set-up as the sun set. ‘That’s a bright star’ said a cyclist who pulled up behind me. ‘No star’ I said, ‘Jupiter and Saturn’. They were the only objects in the southern sky apart from clouds. Jupiter and Saturn were superimposed on one another and very, very bright.
The sun had set at 18:58. The Muglins light came on as did street lights at the end of civil day at 19:32. It got darker and darker and another photographer appeared with a family member. They chatted, standing well away from me as we all waited and I could see they were checking the Photographers Ephemeris too. 19:38 came but not the moon. It was still too cloudy on the horizon. Mars appeared shortly afterwards. It too had risen unseen from my point of viewing but there were gaps in the clouds to the north of east and it shone like a beacon. Not as bright as the red beacon on the Muglins but brighter and bigger than usual. The others departed, him saying ‘Damp squib’ in passing.
I waited and waited, cold in the gusting wind and salty spray. My 1600 mm of lens has a viewing angle of about 1 degree so I knew that Mars and the Moon could never be in the same shot. Nonetheless, I wanted to see them together and kept the camera ready while I waited.
I had taken practice shots of the Muglins, where the moon would have appeared behind it. I became content with one of these despite the grain from the need to increase the sensor sensitivity to ISO 12,800. And then, surprise, at 19:56 the Harvest Moon partially emerged. Bright enough to drop the sensitivity back to ISO 3200, it was occasionally bathed in a planetary red light from below each time the Muglins beacon flashed its warning to mariners. It conjured up an image of a blue moon, something that will happen later this month, not unlike a recently repaired painting that has hung in our home for over two decades.
Of course, when I got home, I was told there had been a magnificent shot of the rising moon, seen over the RDS stadium in the run up to the TV coverage of the rugby match between Leinster and the red Welsh Dragons. Happily, Leinster exorcised some demons and Dragons after the marauding Saracens that scarred us so badly were finally halted in Paris last weekend. It’s a shame that fans couldn’t have been in the RDS stadium tonight to cheer our approvals.