Two photographers explain their love of ‘moon-planing'

Posted at 6:54 PM, Aug 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-11 01:35:22-04

Have you ever heard of moon-planing? It’s chasing the moon around an airport looking for the perfect shot of a jet in silhouette.

With all eyes turning skyward for a big meteor shower this week, and the eclipse just over a week away, a pair of moon-planing pictures are getting quite a bit of buzz.

“I worked my way up to freelancing for the New York Times and USA Today,” said Guy Rhodes, a Chicago-based photographer who spends time storm chasing in Arizona.

“[I’m a] professional sports photographer; been doing it for about 12 years now. Before that I was a military photographer,” said Mark Rebilas, who lives in Phoenix but travels around the country taking pictures.

Mark and Guy are friends who met through the course of their careers; together, they have a niche hobby that not many people even know exists.

“Moon-planing is when you set up to photograph an airplane flying in front of the moon. Sounds easy, but it takes a lot of calculations to get things to line up just so,” said Guy. “It's kind of like fishing. You just put the camera on a tripod and look up and just wait for it to happen.”

There’s a little more to it than that. 

Guy uses an app called The Photographers Ephemeris. It tracks the sun and the moon as they progress across the sky.

Using the app, Guy can figure out a rough estimate of where he needs to stand to see planes flying in front of the moon. But the app is just a ballpark estimate.

“You might have one plane that will go off and cross just under the moon and the next three go just over it. And you start to doubt yourself. Do we need to move? Are we in the wrong place?” Guy explained.

With everything — moon, planes, and photographers — in constant motion, there are no guarantees for a great shot.

“You have to drive fast to get to the spot too because the window closes quite quickly,” Mark said.

On Monday night, Mark and Guy caught the window wide open.  he pair each took perfect shots of jets leaving Phoenix Sky Harbor via direct flight through the moon.

“I’m very pessimistic so the whole time it's coming up I’m going nope, it's too high. No, it's too low,” said Mark, pointing at Guy. “He's like, shut up man!”

There was some debate as to which photo is the best,” said Guy. “In my photo, both of the wing tips are cut off. And on his only one of the tips [is cut off]…we're kind of perfectionists with this stuff.”