Strawberry, you say?
June 25, 2021

I can't say that I pay as much attention to celestial events as I should, but whenever I am made aware of their occurrence, I don't hesitate to put forth an effort to experience them, and hopefully walk away with a photograph or two if the conditions are just right. In the past, I've had a chance to witness solar flares through a solar telescope and a solar eclipse. I've also stayed up to see multiple lunar eclipses, meteor showers and planetary alignments. The difficulty is usually in the time commitment among the rest of life's happenings, especially when it involves placing oneself in the right place at the right time to avoid light pollution and cloud obscurations to observe the best view.

This time around, the spectacle was the strawberry moon, specifically named to mark the first full moon of the summer. I've photographed the full moon before, but it's always left me searching for a new way to portray it. This time, I planned to photograph it behind a mountain ridge as opposed to the horizon. The moon was to rise at 8:24PM, about half an hour after the sun had set, making it difficult to find a foreground subject that could be naturally illuminated. Still, I had projected this image in my head and I went ahead to pursue it despite the minor chance of its success.

I arrived just in time for sunset, to see the woodlands bathed in the last golden streaked sun rays. The weather was a bit cooler, with the wind ever increasing in strength. There was sufficient ambient light to hike on the ridge and search for a decent spot without worrying about the two thousand foot drop-off lurking ominously just a few steps off of the rocky path. Having found a safe perch, I waited patiently for the moon to rise. 8:24PM came and went, and I was left there waiting even longer; it turns out that the moon needed more time to climb atop this mountain ridge. In the meantime, the wind picked up to about 10 knots gusting 15 knots, and I could feel the vibrations continually resonating through the camera and tripod. Thankfully, though, the required exposure for photographing the moon isn't too limiting as it reflects a notable amount of sunlight, so I figured that I would be able to scrape by with a fast enough shutter speed at the camera's base ISO.

Finally, the moon peeked from the ridge, and I could see the tufts of grass carving jagged edges into the glowing orb. It moved quickly, emerging completely within a minute, offering me about four images before I lost the foreground to the significantly brighter background. The landscape brightened up with a tinted white glow, and I could see the outlines of the shrubs and rocks all around me, as well as the mountain trail carved along the edge of the canyon.

Navigating the path back out of the trail was interesting. I haven't been in the desert at night in a while, and I forgot just how much livelier the sandy ground becomes after sunset. I was careful not to step on any of the many insects as they scurried around foraging for food. The first find was a large scorpion, which looked like a California common scorpion, as did the second one, a few steps later; maybe they were striped-tailed scorpions, it's hard to say in the dark. There were many larger beetles crawling in and out of small holes they had dug in the sand to hide from predators. Another find was a Jerusalem cricket, although it was a bit smaller than the ones I had seem in terrariums. All around were an abundance of spiders I had never seen before, all marching along the floor at super speed. The most interesting find though was a third scorpion that was very much smaller. Its elliptical abdomen was more circular than the others, and it behaved differently too, with fast and sudden moments. The difficulty in identifying scorpions was that my cell phone pictures in the dark only gave me shape information as color and identifying marks are lost to the high ISO noise.

All and all, it was an eventful outing. I'll be trying a different location, setup and settings for the next full moon I photograph. I hope you had a chance to experience the full moon as well, but if not, hopefully these pictures do the trick.