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Flight of fancy Phillip Brents | Fri, Jan 13 2012 02:22 PM

Sunday’s full moon was a spectacular sight, particularly for motorists heading due east as the Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor rose at sunset above faraway mountains (and intersected flight paths  by incoming airliners).

If you had staked out the perfect observing location in advance, you could catch their elusive flight of fancy across the moon's golden face.

Cold winter nights, especially those in December and January, offer several interesting photographic opportunities for dedicated nocturnes.

Extremely cold temperatures in the upper atmosphere cause condensation trails that arise from the wings of high-flying aircraft. Such phenomena are often observed just before sunset, with stark white jets of vapor cutting through the deepening blue sky.

But contrails, as they are called, can also be observed at night under strong light such as that produced by the moon, if it happens to be nearby, and offer just as exciting photographic opportunities, though photographers will have to take care to utilize longer exposures to capture them.

Try short exposures (1/4 to 2 seconds) at higher ISO settings after a long vapor trail has appeared next to the moon. Longer exposures, however, will also capture the blinking safety lights of any moving aircraft that create them.

Even when contrails are not visible, long exposures (5 to 15 seconds under lower ISO settings) of passing aircraft can produce colorful "step-ladder" patterns stamped on the background star field.

And dramatic moonrises can also be caught during various phases of the moon. The moon need not to be full to produce a striking montage against familiar foreground objects such as trees and buildings.

These photo were taken using the methods desribed above from downtown Chula Vista, with all its surrounding urban glare, with nothing more than a tripod to steady the camera.

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