See a Rare Red Full Moon

A photographer knew where the blood-red full moon would rise, and then he waited.

Babak Tafreshi never gets tired of watching the moon rise over the ocean.

On July 9, one of the best vantage points for a rare red full moon was nine miles from Boston’s shore, so Tafreshi, a National Geographic photographer, knew he would be there, camera in-hand.

To get the perfect angle, Tafreshi positioned himself near Brewster Island, home to Boston Light, the country’s oldest lighthouse, which flashed in the foreground against the deep and dramatic red moon in the distance.

“The moon distortion and horizon reddening is never exactly the same,” he says. “On this evening, the ocean mist after a warm summer day made it even more intense.”

Initially, the moon's light was scattered and refracted by the atmosphere, Tafreshi says, and the ocean mist caused it to appear red and distorted. A few minutes later it transformed into a golden color. (Read “Full Moons: What’s in a Name?”)

Moon Time-Lapse

The photos and video were so vivid, some of Tafreshi’s social media followers questioned whether they were altered or fake. But they’re not.

Most photographers find that close-up views of the moon are only achievable by using an extreme telephoto lenses or telescopes. To capture the moon’s slow ascent into the night sky, Tafreshi uses a 600-mm manual lens to create a time lapse sequence.

Perspective also helps. A moon on the horizon can more easily be compared to trees and mountains, making it look bigger. As it rises overhead, the exact same sized moon can appear to be smaller.

This so-called “moon illusion” is fascinating to photograph, Tafreshi says. Because the full moon’s path across the sky is low around the time of the summer solstice, Northern moon watchers are more likely to have this optical experience. (Read “Why the Moon Looks Bigger Near the Horizon”)

Tafreshi has been photographing the night sky for more than two decades, starting when he was a teenager. Each time he goes out to shoot, he gets better at choosing a prime spot and deciding how to execute an image. It’s never easy, he says, but he loves being able to witness the wonders of the night sky outside of a laboratory.

“In my photography, I try to bring the night sky into our modern life,” he says. “For most people it has become a forgotten part of nature, lost in light pollution and city life.”

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