Shortlisted in the Earth and Space category, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012; featured as Optics Picture of the Day, 6th July 2012
This photograph was taken on June 4th 2012, the night of a full Moon, in rural Shropshire. To the left of the Moon, you can see a brightly-coloured moon dog or paraselene—an atmospheric phenomenon caused by ice crystals splitting moonlight up into a rainbow of colours, much like a cloud of tiny prisms. The same phenomenon can occur near the Sun in daytime, similarly known as a sun dog, or parhelion.
Getting this shot was a wonderful piece of chance: I wandered outside around midnight having seen the beautiful radiation fog hovering delicately over the field and, just as I got my camera set up, the shimmering paraselene appeared. These atmospheric canines are always quite a long way from the Moon or Sun in the sky, and I had totally the wrong lens on: a long zoom lens whose widest field of view was about a quarter of the width of this image! I nearly ran inside to change lenses, but quickly decided to take a series of photos left-to-right to stitch together instead. And I’m really glad I did, because the moondog was particularly fleeting: by the time I’d taken the rightmost image in this five-shot panorama, the cloud had dissipated and the paraselene was gone!
The technical achievement I’m proud of in this photograph is how the Moon itself looks: if you’ve ever taken a photograph of the Moon at night, you’ll realise just how bright it is compared to the dim sky and foreground around it, which makes it a real challenge to photograph both Moon and surroundings together. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to do in a single shot. So, I took several at different exposures and then (somewhat painstakingly!) manually blended them in on the computer afterwards. I’m really pleased with how this came out…but I’ll only be doing it for spectacular shots, because it’s pretty time-consuming!
This image made the shortlist, but do check out the overall winners in the online gallery, head down to Greenwich to see the exhibition in real life, or buy the book (out soon!) which contains loads of simply incredible astronomical photographs from the last few years of the competition…and, excitingly, both this picture and my highly commended image of moonrise from last year!
The image was taken with a Nikon D90 fitted with a 70–200 mm f/2.8 lens, zoomed right out to 70 mm. It’s a panorama of five shots horizontally, and the rightmost shot with the Moon in it contains five different exposures blended together.