Hunting the moon on Volcan Baru

Super-moon setting over the summit of Volcan Baru in Panama, 5:09am, December 3, 2017. As seen, not modified. Lights are the town of Boquete. Photo taken at 4,200 ft. elevation. Volcan Baru is 11,500 ft. ©2017 M. Heyer

Mark Heyer is an extremely talented photographer.  Here is his story on Sunday’s hunt for the best super moon shot.

If a beautiful sunset happens, but no one records it, did it exist?

We take photographs in the present to create our past. Events, scenes and people not recorded fade from memory and are lost forever. On seizing the moment and being prepared when it comes.

On the morning of December 3, 2017, I awoke at 4:30am with the idea of photographing a rare moonset over Volcan Baru, the cantankerous old volcano watching over our insignificant human comings and goings among its deep canyons and eternal green forests.

Not that moonsets are rare as such. However, capturing one is another matter. First, the only moonsets that really count are full moons. Second, they always happen just before dawn. Yes, when it’s dark and cold.

This was the rarest of full moons, a super-moon, the occasion when the moon’s orbit is at perihelion, closest to earth. Not only that, from my vantage point it would set directly over the peak of Volcan Baru. My plan was to photograph the exact moment the moon was swallowed by the volcano. All of my previous attempts had failed.

The sky was clear. My photographic shooting station was prepared on the terrace. Like so many times before, I watched with morbid fascination as clouds streamed over the mountain on their journey from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

Ah, the clouds. They formed and cleared, dancing, laughing and playing with my ambitions. I would sometimes wait for hours, the sky clear. Then, sweeping up from the Caribbean at the very moment the moon arrived, they would enshroud the mountain, mocking my desires.

I paced in the cool morning air, listening to the creek and the frogs, reflecting on the nature of life, the cosmos and the uniqueness of every moment.

Photographers are hunters. They have to be in the right place at the right time with the right shooting equipment. Their prey is not animals, but moments, images that we capture in cages called pictures.

From of the chaotic flows of cosmic and human energy, images appear in fleeting moments?—?only to disappear an instant later into the eternal forgottenness of the unrecorded past.

You either capture the image in its unique moment of time, or it is gone forever, never to return in the lifetime of the universe.

So I pace, waiting for my image to emerge from the chaotic jungle of mountains and sky. Test shots, a cup of tea and warm slippers prepare me for the critical moment. My camera waits beside me on a sturdy tripod. I watch with fascination as clouds swirl around the very peak of the volcano, as if awaiting the arrival of the descending moon. The rest of the sky is clear and dry.

The moon is coming close! Will the clouds lift? When the moment of encounter arrives, I will have about about a minute for active shooting. Clouds shroud the moon as it descends below the lip of the volcano. I shoot as fast as the camera will allow, hoping something good will happen.

Then, for one, maybe two seconds, the swirling clouds part and the moon is revealed in full view. I fire once before they close in again, bagging my big game and satisfying a quest of some ten years.

No sooner had the moon set behind Volcan Baru, than the sky began to lighten. Rising behind my back, the sun followed the moon across the sky like a mother chasing after an errant child. Into the darkroom I went to extract the exotic image captured in my camera.

Today, photographs, taken in the present, become our remembered past. Events, scenes and people who are not recorded may fade from memory. In time, they may cease to exist.

So, when you see a picture of something that interests you, take it!

It all starts with one person taking one picture at one moment in time. So don’t be shy?—?carpe imago?—?seize the image.

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Thomas H. Brymer II
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