Photo Essay

Perigee Full Moon Adventure

Full Moon at Perigee Philadelphia

19 March 2011- I drove into Philadelphia, a 37 mile trip from my NW suburban home. I found a parking space near University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field and walked to Penn Tower Hotel, my preselected perch. I entered at street level and did not see a registration desk only a guard/info podium. I walked past two guards, without them even greeting me, straight back to where I thought the elevators would be. I ended in a tight hall with rest rooms on the left and locked doors ahead and on the right. I used the facilities, not wanting to interrupt my photo session and walked back towards the entrance. As I closed in on the remaining guard, I saw elevators ahead and to the left. I read the instructions and climbed the stairs to another level where different elevators traveled to the hotel desk on the 17th floor. Once in the elevators I saw there were buttons to the 21st floor where there were Drs' offices. I figured all the floors would be locked out only allowing passengers to exit at the hotel levels but hit the 21st flr button and hoped for the best. On approaching the tower had I noticed a vertical column of glass that suggested stairs or maybe a common lobby on each floor each with viewing access to the center city skyline and I hoped I would get access to one of those areas. As the elevator passed the 17th then 18th floors on which was housed the hotel, I figured I wasn't locked out of the 21st flr. When the elevator doors opened before me was my wished for location.

The lobby was about 10' wide by 20' deep. Windows from wall to wall on the narrow end with locked doors opposite. Three elevator doors flanking each side of the depth. The view was good but the windows were spotted. I used my bandana to wipe the inside of the windows. The spots were made by raindrops that attracted dust and dried on the outside of the windows. I realized I would have to shoot through the spots. For some reason Franklin Field, just below the cityscape, was open with people running laps on the track. The runners may have been practicing for the high school and college track event, Penn Relays. At that point in time, I thought the top of the stadium might be a better place from which to photograph. Even though it was much lower and windier that my perch indoors on the 21st floor. I didn't have time to move and stayed where I was.

There were lights in the lobby and I feared they would create unwanted reflections in the glass but at the time, they didn't bother me as much as the spots on the glass. So there I was an hour before the moon rise with no place to sit unless I pushed the leaves of a potted plant to the side to use the top of the pot as a seat. I decided to stand the whole time shifting my weight from one foot to the other adding both feet equally sharing my load.

I began to photograph the skyline as the sun set with the fairly new Cira office building near 30th St Station being included on the left of the frame with all of the tall center city buildings clear through to the right of the frame in camera. The lighted moving marquee atop the PECO building silently announced the time and temp every minute as the countdown to moon rise continued. I took pictures of almost every display of the time on the PECO building, as the minutes seemed to crawl. I looked for changes of color and reflection in the buildings as the sun set. Not much materialized. As it grew darker the lights in Franklin Field became much more dominant. Something for which I hadn't planned.

All through the hour as the time passed the elevators periodically moved up and down. Each time I expected to be challenged by a guard as to my presence. I ran excuses through my head so that I would be prepared with a plausible explanation. An explanation that a compassionate human being would honor. Knowing that many people in a guard uniform have no compassion, I needed several options.

The sky was near black about 19:20 when the elevator nearest me at my back opened and out poured 5 or 6 Asian student tourists. Damn! They tried to open the office doors, Locked, as I expected. Then they came to the windows. MY windows and began to take snapshots of the skyline, flashes and all. Intruders fouling my perch. Getting in the way of my picture taking that I knew was going to me monumental. They conversed in what to me sounded like Japanese. Then one of them, a women, asked me in English, what I was doing there. Was I waiting for sunset? I told her the sun had already set, thinking that would appease them and they would leave, but no they also waited for the lights to power up. I thought they would get tired of waiting but, she asked me how long I thought it would be before the city would light. I told her I didn't have any idea if any more lights would be turned on and that this was probably all the lights that would be turned on. They waited, still.

Now the time was after 19:30 and the moon rise was imminent. I figured that the moon would rise just north of CC and that is why I sought a perch just south of Market St. that runs just north of east/west. I figured that the moon would be just to the left of the skyline in my camera frame. As I scanned the sky I spied it. There it was, a small orange/red disk to the right of the skyline. Damn! Just about Washington Ave. This supermoon was much smaller than I expected.

Here is the situation at perigee full moon rise 2011. The sky was near black and the lights of Franklin Field were lighting the spots on the outside of the windows. The interior lobby lights were casting reflections on the glass, fogging the image in the lens taking away contrast. I had to create a tunnel using my left arm and hand over my head to block out as much reflection as possible with the spots out of focus but deteriorating the image. I captured several images of the small orange/red orb as it rose above the horizon. I had changed the settings on the camera several times as time wore on and now the ISO setting was 400 and the aperture was wide as the stock lens would allow and the speed was at a slow 1/30 sec with a few at 1/20 sec. Slow for hand held. After I had a few exposures on the compact flash card I pointed out the moon to the Japanese student/tourist, which I confirmed they were through some earlier conversation. They also took some snapshots of the moon, flashes and all. I then told them I would be off to the park to capture some images from a distance. She wanted me to pinpoint that on a map she held out for me. I was heading to Belmont Plateau which was not on her small map of center city Philadelphia. She expressed disappointment because they hadn't a vehicle in which to travel. I shouted in my head that I was free of them. I pointed to the PECO building and told her the intersection of Market and 30th Sts. might be a good spot to see the moon rise over the skyline at the street level. I wished them a good trip and was off to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to catch the moon from there.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the iconic location where Rocky, in the movie of the same name, danced around with his hands held high and the Philadelphia skyline was the backdrop. Once at the top of the art museum steps the moon was too far to the left of the skyline to include in a good image. I conversed with a few photographer there before I headed to City Hall hoping I would capture some good images there.

I started this whole adventure just after 17:00 arriving downtown near 18:00. The traffic is never good on a Fri or Sat night drive into CC. I left Penn Tower near 19:30 arriving at the art museum soon after. My first image at City Hall was at 20:35. The moon was just becoming visible over City Hall at 21:10 and my last image was captured at 21:16. I then left for Fairmount Park's Belmont Plateau in West Philadelphia. I captured my first image there at 21:35 and my last at 21:37.

As I started home, I feared I didn't have any good images to show for my over four hours spent on my adventure. Thinking back at my adventure, I decided if I want to capture good images of the city at night, I need to get access to rooftops (no glass between the camera and the moon), bring a tripod(for slow shutter speeds) and buy a lens with a longer focal length. Hopefully I won't be interrupted by tourists.

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