Back on July 18, 2008, I went up to Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky to check out the moonbow. For those that might be reading this and wondering if hiking is involved, there is none. It only takes about 1.5 hours to get there from Knoxville. I had gone up with Anthony and Calvin.
When we arrived, it wasn’t crowded just yet. We walked around to the different overlooks and took some photographs of the falls. For one of the overlooks, we had to wait because a wedding was going on. After looking at the different overlooks, it appeared that the first main overlook would probably give the best view. Anthony and I setup our tripods and waited and waited and waited and waited some more. The rangers had said that the moon would probably clear the ridge after 11:00 or so. When the moon clears the ridge, the way it shines down on the mist, it creates the moonbow. The moonbow is pretty faint to the naked eye. Truthfully, its not all that impressive. However, when recorded on camera, you can see a lot more of the color detail.
Moonbows only occur in two places in the world pretty predictably. The other place is at Victoria Falls on the Zambia and Zimbabwe border in Southern Africa. There are some other places it occurs if several conditions are right, but at Cumberland Falls, the main condition that needs to be meet is the full moon.
You absolutely must have a tripod to photograph the moonbow. The lighting is very low, so your shutter needs to stay open for a long time. If all you have is a point & shoot camera, please don’t bring it to try and photograph the moonbow. You will not be able to capture anything. Make sure your flash is turned off. You want to record the ambient light being reflected off the moon. A flash not only adds weird illumination to the photographers around you, but also adds mixes in with the light from the moon. Lastly, most flashes from a point & shoot camera is only powerful enough to illuminate a subject 10 feet away from the camera. The recommended exposure is to use ISO 400, f/4, for 4 minutes. (The long exposure and the ammount of light from the moon makes it appear as if it is daytime.) Fall and winter are the best time to go because the skies are usually clearer and the air condition is usually cleaner. A shutter release cable that has a lock function is also nice to have. Lastly, make sure you focus your lens before it gets to dark. You can always check the moonbow dates by visiting the Kentucky State Parks website for Cumberland Falls.