A very pleasant highlight last week involved Wednesday’s full moon, which also happened to be at perigee this month. This event had been popping up on my news feeds recently, so I checked out the conditions on my usual photography and astronomy planning apps. Seeing that the conditions were rather ideal, and the weather being what it is this time of year, I figured we’d make an outing of it, so I looked for places that would work.
In this way, Wednesday evening found us preparing a small picnic and heading down south to Birżebbuġa. A little early, of course, as I wanted time to scope out my options, and to enjoy that picnic in peace. We started by visiting the Torri ta’ San Luċjan (from the outside, as it’s closed to visitors), but didn’t find the inspiration I was hoping for there. The building is beautiful, but the site is in a sorry state, and far from being photogenic. The walking paths around the tower weren’t too encouraging either. So instead we walked down a wider track to a place behind the tower, near what seems to be an abandoned oil/gas storage facility, with excellent views towards the Delimara power station and the lighthouses. This was certainly much better.
Shortly I headed back to get the car down there, we ate our picnic, and I started setting up. I had the long telephoto lens with me, together with its 1.4x teleconverter, of course. So I didn’t mess around with my usual compact tripod, and simply took the big sturdy one – the car was carrying everything, after all. I took a few photos of various interesting targets – the power station, boats, etc. – as well as the lighthouses at Delimara. By my calculation, the moon should be rising pretty much behind them, so I spent some time trying out suitable compositions. I also made a few interesting photos of these lighthouses as the sun set and the lighting changed. The one on the left is of course the historical lighthouse, now in the care of Din l-Art Ħelwa, while the one on the right is the current functional one.
An unexpected development, as I had set up, involved the arrival of a couple other photographers. It is in many ways a good sign, but I must admit I am not used to this, only rarely sharing a space with other photographers, and usually these would be my friends, out together on a planned meet. Eventually, of course, the moon appeared, and as it rose above the few straggling clouds by the horizon, treated us to its usual show.
I’ll end with some technical notes for those who may find these of interest. I had not done this kind of photography in a very long time. Indeed, the last time I did anything similar was a year ago, but then I went with a much shorter focal length, as the subject I was interested in was much closer. Before that, I need to go back almost five years, for a photo of the moonrise behind the Torri tal-Ħamrija. In both cases I was using my 6D with the same lens, but no teleconverter. This time I was using the R5, which meant that I could still auto-focus even with the teleconverter fitted. And I’d also have more resolution to play with in case I wanted to crop some. Additional bonuses included the in-body image stabilisation and the better noise performance at higher ISO settings, as expected in a much newer camera. On the other hand, with the teleconverter my maximum aperture went down from f/8 to f/9.1. And there happened to be some breeze as well, which doesn’t help. Given the technical advantages, instead of limiting myself to ISO 1600, I went up to ISO 6400, and found that if I kept the shutter speed above 1/15 – 1/20s, photos were coming out sharp (using my IR remote release). Not bad at a focal length of 840mm. Getting the lighthouse beam to show up in the photo was rather tricky, as timing is critical. I found the easiest way to do it was simply to set the camera to high-speed continuous shooting, and pick the correct exposure in post.