Friday, 9 January 2015


Yesterday I had a wonderful idea: I was going to tell you about the problems that I had in trying to take a photograph that Marcia wanted. It was when she was writing Postcards from the Past. You may remember the opening paragraph.

There are two moons tonight. The round white shining disc, brittle and sharp-edged as glass, stares down at its reflection lying on its back in the black water of the lake. Nothing stirs. No whisper of wind ruffles the surface. At the lake’s edge the wild cherry tree leans like an elegant ghost, its delicate bare branches silver with ice, yearning towards the past warmth of summer days. Tall stands of dogwood, their bright wands of colour blotted into monochrome by the cold brilliant light, guard the northern shore of the lake and cast spiked shadows across the frosty grass.

We were then at The Hermitage and it was watching the moon reflected above the pond that gave Marcia this idea and she would have liked a photograph of that scene to have beside her as she wrote. So I blithely agreed to take one. Only it turned out to be impossible. Yesterday I decided that I would show you the ‘failures’ as I tried to meet her wishes but I can’t do that either: at some point I deleted them as being of no great value.

Instead I will use some ‘moony’ photographs that you might enjoy and try to explain the problem in words.

This gives you some idea of the problem. Here the moon is exactly as Marcia wanted it to be but is so tiny - and this image doesn't even come down to ground level in the foreground.
You are standing to the north of the pond (in the Northern Hemisphere – can those of you living on the other side of the equator please adjust their thoughts accordingly). The moon has risen and is exactly where I want it – due south – and is almost full. It could not be more perfect so what was the problem. Well, when you look up at the moon and glance down at the surface of the pond you see exactly what Marcia described but it isn’t quite like that. What your brain does is to reduce the distance between the moon and its reflection so that it forms a pleasing whole in your brain.

Full moon but before it has risen very high in the sky and while it is retaining some of the colours of sunset.
The camera doesn't work like that. It shoots what is there with no distortions. The result is that the moon overhead looks tiny and the reflection in the water doesn’t look like a mirror image of the moon even though it is.

This is the last but one of a sequence in which I watched the cloud shaped like some strange animal seem to gobble up the moon.
Then there is another problem: getting the focus right. You look up at the moon and your eyes focus on it and you retain that image as you look down onto the surface of the water. Your eyes again focus, this time on the reflection and that is all very satisfying.

This photograph says almost nothing but I rather like it.
Not so the camera. To focus on the moon you need to have the focus set at infinity. To focus on the pond surface at something in the order of twenty feet. You can’t have it both ways (although if it was a very brightly lit scene you could (at least in theory) by stopping down and so extending the depth of field. Even then you are pushing it: the moon is 225,623 miles from the earth which works out at 1,191,289,440 feet or 59,569,472 times as far away as the pond surface. It is probably possible with some sort of equipment but it is definitely beyond the scope of anything I possess (so I plead guilty to the charge of blaming my tools). The odd thing is that the moon just looks horrid if it isn’t in focus – and the reflection has to be crisp to make any sense.

Here the moon is in focus but the tree is not.
 Yes, I know that I was going to talk about punctuation this week but I am hoping you will not be too disappointed if I put it off until next Friday.

This is the nearest I have to the image Marcia wanted. But here we are looking over a large stretch of water, the surface is not smooth so the reflection is disturbed, it was too early for the sky to be dark enough and the moon is far from full. Apart from that . . .