See what I did there? It’s no secret that I love photographing the moon, it’s one of my favorite things to photograph and I’m constantly looking for new and unique landscapes to showcase our satellite. This past weekend I traveled to North Florida to visit family just outside of Gainesville. The place I traveled to would be perfect for a horror movie, you have to travel down a long stretch of highway for about 20 minutes heading North out of Gainesville and then turn off down a small road. This road goes past an old cemetery behind the Antioch Baptist Church and then turns into a dirt road. The road turns dark as as it enters the forest, with live oak trees forming a canopy over the road blocking out much of the sunlight. Below is a really bad iPhone pic from the last visit over a year ago when I arrived at night. I shot this from my phone while driving down the dark road.
See what I mean? Spooky. Anyway, this current trip coincided with a full moon that was to rise that evening so after hanging with the family for a bit, I informed them of my plan to venture out into the woods to photograph the moon. Now, I’ve been there before and explored the woods many times…even at night. I love being alone in scary places, that mixture of dread and excitement is a feeling I live for and has resulted in some of my favorite photos of abandoned churches and other buildings. Usually the first reaction I get when showing a person a photo of one of these locations is “That’s awesome!” quickly followed by “You’re crazy…I couldn’t go out alone at night to those places”. They’re probably right, who knows who or what lurks in these remote locations and abandoned structures. I was soon to find out.
Once I mentioned my plans I was told to watch out for wild boars, several had been sighted in recent months and some of them were very large and dangerous. I was told of one recent incident when a large hog in excess of 300 pounds broke into an enclosure and attacked domesticated pigs. A family member also told me that she had been charged by one outside her house. I did some research and learned that attacks on humans by wild boar were relatively rare which eased my mind somewhat. Somewhat. With visions of Hogzilla dancing in my head, I gathered my camera gear and ventured out into the cold night to photograph the moonrise. Next to my family’s property is a large open field which borders the woods. It was getting dark but not yet pitch black when I walked out into the adjacent field and saw the moon was just starting to rise. I used my zoom and took some shots of the moon coming up behind the branches of a tree and once I was finished I changed lenses and walked out further to in the direction of the forest to figure out where I would shoot with my wide angle.
It got darker, it got colder, and the wind picked up. I looked at my phone which had been rendered useless since there was no cell reception out here. The moon was ascending higher in the sky and if I was to do this I needed to get a move on. I walked out even further. I glanced behind me and there, very far off, was the distant light of the kitchen window with it’s warm and inviting glow. I turned around and ventured forth until I found a suitable location. I set up my tripod and prepared to shoot my panorama. Was that a child’s laughter I heard carried on the wind? Or something else? I heard thumping noises far off in the distance and decided to hurry this up. I photographed my three shot panorama with each exposure painted with my floodlight. I did this a few times until I was satisfied with the images and got ready to leave. Funny thing is if I was out there with no camera I’d be freaked out but when I’m behind the lens I’m fearless. Most of the time…
I heard gunshots far off in the distance and was to find out later that the people a few properties over had a target range in the back. I didn’t know this at the time and the thought of Hogzilla entered my mind again. I looked around one last time and then decided to enter the forest to see what would make for an interesting photo. Naturally, this required me to venture even further out. I debated whether or not to use my floodlight which can illuminate a huge area but might also attract whatever it was that lurked out there. Since it was a full moon I decided that the light from the moon was enough and carefully made my way into the dark forest. I looked back to the house again and now the light from the kitchen window was just a tiny speck visible through the woods. I was alone. A few minutes later I came upon an awesome scene, a small clearing with the moon just clearing the treetops. I did a quick exposure, again painted with my floodlight and decided to head back. This time for real.
Later on that evening as I looked at my photos on my laptop, now sitting in the kitchen under the comforting light I had seen from far off earlier, I heard a yell from outside. We all ran outside and saw a pickup pulling up. One of the people from a few properties down the road was arriving to tell us that three large wild boar had been on his land and were headed in our general direction and to get the dogs inside. I thought about the gunshots I heard earlier and asked about that and was told that was somebody else doing target practice. After he left I asked where his property was and found out it was about a half mile to the east…the same direction I was facing to photograph the moon. While I don’t believe I was in any real danger, I realized that it’s always a good idea to become familiar with the geographic region you are visiting and research the wildlife you might encounter. Researching crazed axe murderers who only stalk their prey by the light of the full moon is another matter…for that you are on your own 😉
Be safe and see you soon!
–Mark Andrew Thomas
Some drone footage I took during the day showing the landscape of the area. Not so spooky during the day, but at night…