Image: Paul Roa

Photos of Airplanes Flying In Front of the Moon Will Make You Feel Alive

Raul Roa and his group call themselves the "Lunartics".

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Oct 13 2016, 1:41pm

Image: Paul Roa

For three years, Los Angeles-based photojournalist Raul Roa has been shooting planes as they cross the moon near L.A.X. airport. On good days it takes him just 15 minutes to capture an aircraft perfectly framed within the glowing moon. Other times he's sitting and snapping for hours, only to come back with nothing.

There's lots of moving parts at play when you're shooting the moon. Having spent many nights figuring out the logistics, Roa managed to get his celestial pastime down to a science. About once a month, he gathers a group of fellow photographers to join him on a chase for the moon; they call themselves the Lunartics and they include Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Nick Ut, best known for his "Napalm Girl" photo taken during the Vietnam War. All of the images in this piece were taken by Roa.

Roa, who's not one to keep his skills a secrets, also runs workshops to teach newbies the special set of techniques he's mastered over the years. First, he tracks planes in real time using an app called Plane Finder that tells him any plane's path, speed and altitude. He's also got the Deluxe Moon app to track what kind of moon is rising that day and where it's positioned at any time.

But the ultimate trick to getting a stellar shot—which Ansel Adams once famously said—is knowing where to stand. Roa lets the position of the moon dictate where he'll be on the ground. Sometimes it's the parking lot of a Denny's or a back alleyway beside a school. Wherever he is, he likes to be about 30 miles from the airport so he can see planes at an altitude of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. "If you're too close to the airport, planes will be lower so they'll look big against the moon or they'll go by so fast you won't catch it in time," he says.

Next, he sets up his gear, a Canon camera with a Sigma lens set to a focal distance of 300mm, aperture of 5.6 and a shutter on burst mode. A tripod will help keep the massive lens steady, but Roa prefers to move his body with the plane. He then faces towards the moon. When he sees a plane approaching the orb, he rotates his body towards the plane and follows its path with his lens. He looks through the viewfinder, and as soon as the moon's bright light enters one side of the view, he clicks and hopes for the best.

Roa said he'll repeat this until he gets an awesome photo, or until it's time to go to bed.

"A lot of it is technique but a lot of it is also chance," he says. "The moon, the planes, your position on the ground, your camera setting, it takes so much to create one image. That's why I like it so much."

Raul Roa (third from left) with the rest of the Lunartics. Image: Nancy Newman

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