Shooting the Moon Schmidli-Style

Want your photography to be shown everywhere? This one here spreads like wildfire — because Photoshop is able to create about every visual composition that is imaginable. But everyone does Photoshop, so we end up with many lookalike masterpieces… What about producing really outstanding photography by means of sheer old mastery, patience and technique? That’s what separates the best from the rest. Swiss photographer Philipp Schmidli just did it with his April Vollmond, April full moon:

April Full Moon
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli

Fake? It took him much more than just being at the right time at the right place. Some think this is not possible without the help of Photoshop, but yes, it is: after two failed attempts and intensive preparation Schmidli was able to capture this moon-shot-of-moon-shots, made possible by an exactly calculated lunar constellation that only happens once a year at the very location he chose. Next: Just have a biker’s silhouette in front of the giant moon rising in the horizon ready, and you’re nearly done…

In two previous attempts clouds got in the way, then bad weather interfered. Finally April’s full moon arrived, the weather was clear and Schmidli was all set for this photo idea after having spent hours exploring Google Earth, searching for the perfect location to shoot the image.

All it takes is Google Earth...
All it takes is Google Earth… | Philipp Schmidli

He not only needed a Canon 1D X, Canon EF 600mm F4L IS II and a 2x teleconverter, meaning he was shooting at a focal length of 1200mm. He also needed a hill in the distance that would allow his subject to be framed by the moonrise.

To have the subject be dwarfed by the size of the moon, Schmidli needed a large gap between the camera and the hill. He decided on a hill in the Entlebuch near his hometown Lucerne, Switzerland, after scouting the perfect spot on foot using GPS. The distance for this shoot ended up being 1.3 kilometers, that’s 0.8 miles.

... a bit of GPS calculation and...
… a bit of GPS calculation and… | Philipp Schmidli

Knowing exactly where and when the full Moon would rise used to be somewhat difficult, but then there are many different apps for this. The same full moon effect, BTW, can be achieved a day before or after the moon is actually full, but Schmidli wanted the real thing and the weather was just fine that night.

Last but not least was having to communicate with his friend, the biker! Even then, the timing and location had to be absolutely precise. Moonrise only takes about two minutes and Schmidli had to use a very small aperture, which means the exposure times were a relatively long 1/250th (!) of a second, making this even trickier.

... the right gear and hill.
… the right gear and hill. | Philipp Schmidli

How the hell is this photo of the moon even possible, many ask. Here’s a list of online references picking up this moon shot. And the list is growing.

The moral of the story: you’ll never have a problem selling real uniqueness and quality. Well in this case I think it’s a thing called Swiss precision.

But before you set off trying to accomplish a similar ET-like shot, that Canon 600mm alone will set you back more than $10k. Well eBay has it a bit cheaper…

April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli

And once again the end result in its full glory because it’s so beautiful… Why the moon slightly darker on the upper left side? That night a partial eclipse of the moon took place, making the image even more special:

April Full Moon
April Full Moon | Philipp Schmidli



  • Bengt Nyman

    Excellent ! Nice work.

    It fills you with a sense of awe and accomplishment.
    Compare that to the feeling had it been a two layer Photoshop combo of two borrowed images.