Around 3 weeks before I took this picture I was shooting sunrise at this same location (see photo below), when it crossed my mind that a photo of this iconic tree with the rising full moon behind it would look really cool. So I quickly checked the PhotoPills app to find out that from this viewpoint the moon would rise just behind the tree.
The Z-Tree, also called N-Tree, is a dwarf cypress and a well-known landmark in Everglades National Park because of its unique shape. However, its location is not really on the map and there is no signage in place for it. I’m actually glad it is this way, as it makes it less prone to vandalism. I saw it for the first time by accident, as I was looking for compositions in the dwarf cypress forest area of the park.
The day of the full moon shot was kind of eventful at the park. I was fortunate to be accompanied by some family and friends. The moon rise was going to be around 8:00PM, so we arrived at the park a few hours earlier to spend some time in the Anhinga Trail before heading south on the main park road to the tree location. While driving, a park ranger vehicle passed us at full speed. Something must had happened, we thought.
We arrived at the tree location around 7:00PM, so I had a whole hour for planning the shot and finding the composition. This was more difficult than I thought. I wanted the moon to look big enough in the picture, so I needed to use a telephoto lens. But then I was too close to the tree, and I couldn’t go back because that would put me in the middle of the road.
As I was struggling with my camera and tripod, going forward, backwards, changing lenses, and battling millions of mosquitoes, dozens of police cars started to pass on main park road going south. At that point, we were sure something big was happening down there, and we were questioning whether it was better to leave or stay. But there were so many cars coming that we decided to stay put as it didn’t seem safe going against the racing police vehicles.
Anyway, back to the photography stuff… After trying many different things, I decided that the best option was to create a vertical panorama. So I chose a focal length that would include the whole tree in the frame (so I didn’t have to take multiple rows of images) while keeping the moon reasonably big. So I ended up taking 4 images at 178mm. Now, the last image which includes the moon, is both a focus and exposure stack. Since I wanted the moon in focus, but this last shot also included part of the tree, I took one shot focusing on the tree and exposing for the tree, and another shot focusing and exposing for the moon, which was brighter than anything else in the scene. I stitched the panorama in Lightroom using the first 3 images (without the one with the moon in focus), and then blended the one with the moon in Photoshop.
I think the image turned out pretty good. Although I have to be honest, on location I thought I had failed to take the shot. But fortunately with the help of Lightroom and Photoshop I was able to make it work.
Regarding the police incident, we later found out that there was an active shooter situation a few miles down the road. The park closed and many people were even stuck between Flamingo and the location of the incident. The good news is that it was resolved without any injuries.
Tree (3 images): f/11, (61, 92, 181 sec respectively*), ISO 100, @178mm
Moon(1 image): f/11, 0.8 sec, ISO 100, @178mm
* It was very dark and the light was changing rapidly, that’s why I had to adjust the shutter speed with each shot