David Barthel - North Shore Images PhotographyDavid Barthel North Shore Images Photography
David Barthel

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Light to Remember

It was thirty-six years ago on November 10 when a large iron ore freighter encountered a fierce November storm on Lake Superior and, despite modern technology, succumbed to its ravages. This ship, of course, was the Edmund Fitzgerald. The freighter and its 29 crew members were later immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot's song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. While visitors congregated near the lighthouse on this evening for a variety of reasons, I think most, at least in the backs of their minds, gave some thought to the true reasons behind this beacon lighting and the lighthouse itself.

Indeed, photography was the primary motivator that brought me to the lighthouse on this evening. But, it wasn't the beacon lighting itself that piqued my interest this year. I was anticipating what would have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to photograph, in ideal lighting, the full moon rising from behind the lighthouse on the very night the beacon is lighted every year. My hopes were obscured by a low deck of clouds that refused to part to show the heavenly orb's conjunction with Split Rock's lantern.

A full moon on any given night of the year occurs, on average, about once every 30 years. Thus, a November 10th full moon is a relatively rare occurrence. Often, however, the night before the day of a full moon is suitable (and sometimes preferred) for landscape photography containing the moon. Nevertheless, in examining moonrise times and positions for November 10ths spanning the next 125 years, I have found no future opportunities to photograph the full moon rising from directly behind the lighthouse under good lighting conditions during the beacon lighting events. A handful of full moons on or near November 10 will occur over this period, but none of them will be nearly as ideal, in both azimuth and timing, as this year's would have been if not for the clouds.

Without the moon visible, I took an unusually minimal approach to my photography - I clicked the shutter only twelve times during the entire evening. The photograph you see here is one of them, made near the spot I captured my iconic image, Lunar Light at Full Power, about two years ago. It is not the stereotypical view of the lighthouse overlooking an expansive Lake Superior. I like this composition for the conifers on the rocky point, giving the lighthouse setting a more isolated, northwoods feel.

Was I disappointed in not seeing the full moon on that evening? Of course. But then, in trying to keep the context in mind, I reached into the back of my mind and remembered the real reason I was there. The 29 men aboard the Fitzgerald that fateful night 36 years ago missed so much more.

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