The Road More Travelled

Setting full moon and Belt of Venus at sunrise along a back road in Alaska.

In the poem, The Road Not Taken, poet Robert Frost was confronted in a woods with the choice of two diverging roads.  Students of literature know that he took “the one less traveled,” perhaps because he thought he would find something new or unexplored.  While serendipity has its place in life and photography, photographers who are intimately familiar with a location through the seasons, and various lighting and weather conditions, are more likely to realize their artistic vision.

In the winter, I often travel this back road in Alaska at sunrise looking for landscape compositions.  Sunrises during cold, clear days are sometimes accompanied by beautiful pastel colors.  But on this particular morning I wasn’t looking to photograph the sun.  As I point out to my students during landscape workshops and webinars, there are two horizons to monitor during sunrises for potential photographs.  The obvious one is in the east where the sun is rising, but the other is in the west opposite from the sun.  Depending on cloud cover, one may be better than the other.  Nevertheless, on this day I looked to the west because I wanted the setting full moon in my composition.

I frequently use Photographer’s Ephemeris, a browser-based web app, to visualize on a map where and when the sun and moon will rise and set.  Combined with my familiarity of this area, I knew I could use the leading line of the road and the surrounding trees to direct attention to the full moon close to the horizon.  To my delight, this subzero morning produced an intense Belt of Venus display and I was able to get the moon nestled in the warm, magenta layer.  The cold blue of the earth’s shadow just below that layer provided a great color contrast.

Waxing poetic, I like to think this photo captures a well-deserved winter slumber for a moon which hours earlier was busy with a long partial lunar eclipse.  On this day I chose the road more traveled and that “made all the difference. “

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