“Can you get off here?” he asked, eyes glued to his iPad. I was driving on the very left lane of the Bay Bridge. The exit he wanted, coming up soon, was on the right.

San Francisco bound on the eastern span.

“Let’s come back later,” I suggested.

“No, no…Now.”

And so I cut clear across five lanes of heavy traffic in a last ditch dash into Treasure Island.

Welcome to our world of photo shoots.

Ilia Gur, my passenger and photography buddy, had suggested our upcoming shoot months ago. “The moon will rise in full eclipse, and just after sunset. Perfect timing!” 

Ilia Gur and I on a photo shoot in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

Ilia is the tech geek; I am the sites guy. He has unbound enthusiasm, I approach our projects with tempered realism.

Full lunar eclipse in May 2021; shot from Grizzly Peak at around 3 a.m.

We had done an eclipse shoot before, in May 2021. It was an exhilarating all-nighter atop the Berkeley hills.

May 2021; moon setting at sunrise, still in eclipse,

This one would be easier, on a Sunday evening, only about two hours. Ilia was dead set on our shoot spot, Marin Headlands, a classic location for breathtaking vistas of San Francisco.

Marin Headlands, rugged hills west of the bridge.

We planned on making a social weekend out of it, wives included, staying in my Potrero Hill apartment.

Moonrise, May 2021, shot from Marin Headlands

I too was eager about this shoot, but with some concern about the Marin Headlands. It is a popular tourist spot and crowds can be a problem. Worse yet is the weather. Pacific fog banks can unexpectedly shroud the area, obscuring the view. Weather forecasts for the shoot predicted heavy clouds.

TPE

At first Ilia was dismissive of my concerns, remaining fervently optimistic. But now, the day before the shoot, as we approached the Bay Bridge, he finally took it seriously and began searching for an alternate site on his TPE (photographer’s ephemeris) app.

That’s when he made me cut clear across and plunge into Treasure Island. He had discovered a suitable Plan-B in this small patch of flat land in the middle of the Bay.

Treasure Island; old photo with the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge in the background.

After lengthy reckoning, Ilia settled on an obscure spot at the south-eastern corner of the Island facing Oakland and the sleek new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge. The moon would rise in dramatic juxtaposition to it.

The new eastern span at sunrise. Shot from treasure Island, June 2018.

I was immediately sold on this new spot. It had easy parking, it was unlikely to be known,  a secret spot just for us. Most important, it was in a corner of the Bay least likely to be affected by fog.

For Ilia however, the spot remained merely a Plan-B. His heart was still set on the Headlands.

Downtown San Francisco from Marin Headlands; prior moon soot May 2021

Now came the most difficult part of this shoot, convincing Ilia to accept this new spot.

On the day of the shoot, as it got closer to sunset, I could see fog obscuring the Golden Gate from my apartment’s balcony. When I pointed this to Ilia he was unconvinced. He checked Webcam views of the Headlands to be certain, and finally, reluctantly, he agreed to Plan-B.

Fog by the Marin Headlands. Photo taken on another occasion in February 2021.

Later, as we drove across the Bay Bridge toward Treasure Island, far in the distance the Golden Gate looked clear. A break in the fog bank. Ilia pleaded with me to turn around and head to Marin Headlands. It was too late. It would take too long. We would miss the moon rise.

The die was cast. We were committed to Treasure Island.

Upon arrival, another surprise: six photographers already there! Our discovery was no so secret after all.

Still, this was reassuring since others had also deemed this a suitable spot for this rare event.

So we joined them and waited for the sun to set.  All the while Ilia kept checking webcams for conditions in the Headlands.

At sunset, clouds began gathering over our target. So disheartening! Could the other photographers assembled at Marin Headlands be doing better? We weren’t sure.

Then a new problem: We could not see the moon.

Moon rises in eclipse by the eastern span. Lights of the port of Oakland in the background.

The full moon I am accustomed to shooting is brilliant, its position apparent even through clouds. This one was rising in eclipse!

Our fear of missing out reached a new height.

We huddled with our fellow photographers, all eyes glued to the sky, giving each other tips on where the moon might be.

It eventually did appear through a break in the clouds, and just in time to line up with the bridge. Ilia’s TPE reckoning was dead on.  

Close-up of the eclipsed moon

We all went to work with much zeal.  I made last minute adjustments in my camera settings to account for a faint, pink moon: Matrix metering instead of spot-on-the-moon, aim the auto-focus on the brightly lit bridge since it failed to lock on to the dim eclipse.  

The moon remained visible until it rose far beyond the bridge and disappeared into thick clouds. We were done.

I was happy with my take. Ilia? He was still checking webcams for conditions in the Headlands.

We spent the next few days searching for eclipse shots in various photography sites, texting each other our finds. Marin Headlands did turn out to be disappointing. Some photographers were stuck there resorted to Photoshopped superimposition of other eclipses onto the cloudy scene they encountered, a futile attempt at recreating what they had missed.  

We then breathed a sigh of relief! We had been at the right spot.

All that uncertainty and angst was worth it.

Most photo shoots go this way. Those admirable photos you all see rarely avail themselves with ease. I suppose that’s part of the fun. But it sure doesn’t feel that way while we are at it .