luna pic

'It's a pic I've been thinking about for 10 years': Behind the lens, 1km away, of an iconic supermoon image

James Crombie had some help getting his head around a massive mathematical problem before he could take an iconic photo.

photographer-james-crombie-with-epcr-branding Bryan Keane / INPHO A rare pic of Crombie, rather than by Crombie, when Connacht faced Brive in 2017. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES, James Crombie might have been recharging his batteries today after a weekend assignment in France to capture the best glimpses of rugby matches in Clermont and Toulouse.

Surreal and abnormal times, however, have brought so many of us far from the ordinary work cycle and towards chores, projects or ideas that had previously never even made it to the backburner, beyond the fanciful stage.

By now, many of you may have already come across the striking, almost mythic, ET-meets Setanta image taken by Crombie last night on Offaly’s Croghan Hill.

A haunting picture of the moon bearing over a hurler was a scene which the Inpho Sports photographer has had in mind for quite some time. Last night, with his regular work rhythm and plans for the Olympics long since reduced to tatters, he made it come alive.

a-view-of-the-super-moon-near-croghan-hill-co-offaly James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s a pic I’ve been thinking about for 10 years,” Crombie told The42 today.

“I don’t think I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen people walking by the moon or taking pictures of the moon…

“There was a bit of maths involved in getting that perfectly right. The supermoon really helps because obviously the size of it.”

A bit of maths is a touch of an understatement when we’re dealing with celestial bodies, so Crombie was grateful to have the guidance of his friend Colin Hogg, who works in the geophysics section of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

“He sent me on Pythagoras’ theorem, saying ‘we did this in sixth year, remember?” Crombie says with a laugh. Though Hogg has been in touch to say that it was, in fact, the cosine rule that applied.

The help in working through the problem was a serious boost. With a two-minute window to work in, he guided the hurler in his shot by phone, encouraging him to run, jump and throw as much as he could stomach in the narrow timeframe.

Even with Croghan Hill picked out as a location, with such great distances involved it is a chance that would not come around often.

“I know myself from researching online that you’d ideally want to be a kilometer away from the person. You need a hill that’s high enough, with a clean sight of view and you’ve to make sure that there’s nothing behind the hill. So at a kilometer away, you need a high hill for that. But not too high, because it’s too far. 

“So it’s a fine line. Croghan Hill between Tyrrellspass and Rhode – I think it’s an old volcano – is close to where I live. We went down the night before to get our maths right and I saw where the moon came up, but Colin was able to calculate that (the spot to shoot) would actually be 143 metres to the right of where it came up and he helped me get the longitude and latitude for it with Google Maps. 

“Now, we could have stood there and hoped and we probably would have got it,” says the photographer. But the potential for heartbreak was too great to ignore sound science.

Last night’s setting was ideal. The moon rising at around 19.30 to set the countdown running for Crombie to pick off the shots he needed from a kilometer away with a Canon 400mm lens with a 1.4 converter.

“Ideally, I’d have liked to have a 600mm, but that’s in Dublin,” he says.

No matter, he made the best of it to capture an iconic, uniquely Irish image that will prove difficult to replicate. Tonight, the moon will be larger, but will arrive later, leaving the surrounds so much darker.

“The night before it was too bright, you could only see the outline of it. Tonight, it will be… not too dark but you’d only get black all around the moon.

“To get that shot right, you need that bit of ambient light, to see the difference between grass and sky.”

a-view-of-the-super-moon-near-croghan-hill-co-offaly James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“It was 20.20 before we could shoot it. The guy on the hill was on the phone telling me, I can see it, it looks amazing’. but I was looking at a black sky.

“I think it was 20.20 or 20.19 (that the moon came over the hill) and it lasted about 120 seconds from the time it was at the bottom of his feet to being over his head.

“It was amazing how quickly it went.”

A fleeting moment, left indelibly emblazoned in our memory. All in a day’s work for photographers.

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