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Posted March 8, 2012
Dispatch #2
Tracking the Moon
Project: Night Gardens

This is one in a series of dispatches by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel highlighting their photographs of gardens under a full moon.

Photo: Moonlit fountain
Longwood Gardens, August 13, 2011,
at 12:10 a.m.

Moonlight has its own soft, romantic poetry, but to get it right when photographing a garden at night requires some hard science. Six years ago, we learned this the hard way. We were photographing in a private garden, waiting and waiting for the moon to rise above the tree line, but it never did. Turns out that year the moon was on an exceptionally low orbit path. Who knew the moon’s orbit wobbles? So when we went to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, to photograph the Italian garden you can bet we made sure it wouldn’t happen again.

It was particularly important to do our homework ahead of time because the garden is surrounded by a tall allée of trees—the moon would illuminate the garden for two hours at most. Also, the fountains are on a timer. Normally the fountains are off at night, so we arranged for them to be turned on for two hours. We had to know exactly which two hours we wanted. Enter The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a software program developed by Stephen Trainor that tells you everything you need to know about where and when the moon will be at a given location, as well as the percentage of illumination and the angle and degrees above the horizon. We’d never used it before, so we nervously punched in our coordinates and the date. Up popped the data. The moon, it said, would rise directly above us on August 13, 2011, at 12:10 a.m.

It worked perfectly. The program was dead on, as the moonlit photograph of the fountains in the Italian garden shows. We had created our very own moonlight sonata.

Learn more about Diane Cook and Len Jenshel and their work at cookjenshel.com.

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