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Photographers capture stunning moon halo shots

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Rebecca Zenefski, a photographer based in St. Paul, was searching for something completely different when she spotted her first moon halo, a perfect ring of light around a full moon. She had spent hours waiting in the cold near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, with her boyfriend as they tried to catch a display of the Northern Lights. The moon was full that night, and the light was so bright it dashed her hopes of photographing Aurora Borealis.

“We found a spot that was next to a lake, and it looked like it could be daytime. I was feeling discouraged,” says Zenefski. “When I turned around, I was amazed by what I saw.”

Moon halos are created when moonlight is refracted through ice crystals that are suspended in the clouds. Due to cooler temperatures that linger high in the atmosphere, the optical phenomenon can happen any time of year.

“You’re out there with somebody you love, and you see this beautiful moon halo that has lit up the sky and everything around it. I just got this free feeling,” says Zenefski. “That’s when I realized I had to change my attitude.”

Zenefski runs her own business, By Rebecca Studios, as an editorial and portrait photographer. She first worked as a freelance photographer for her alma mater, St. Kate’s, and she went on to build a full portfolio of wedding and event photography. She also moonlights as a volleyball coach, so she knows a thing or two about fostering a positive outlook.  “Look behind you, change your perspective, or you’re going to miss something,” says Zenefski. “That’s what I try to do as a photographer. I really look for the things around me, and try to see them from a new perspective.”

As savvy at social media as she is with the camera, Zenefski documents everything she participates in. She began taking photos at night as a way to remember a number of camping and kayaking trips through Minnesota.

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David R. Johnson, of Grand Marais, Minnesota, has also captured many moon halos over the years. He does nature photography on the side, but he enjoys it so much that he upgraded his equipment about six years ago to enable him to take a wider variety of shots.

“I carry three cameras with me at all times,” says Johnson. “I’m always trying to find something new to shoot. I see something, and then my imagination starts running, and I’m out the door.”

Johnson has done a lot of wildlife and landscape photography, wowing his fans with images of eagles, waterfalls, and lighthouses. He also keeps close tabs on the astronomical calendar, tracking everything from full moons and eclipses to meteor showers.

“With full moons and super moons, you only get one or two cracks at them a month, or in the case of super moons, a few times a year,” says Johnson.

Johnson appreciates each moment as a photographer too, and he enjoys the sharp contrast between night and day.

“It’s so much quieter,” Johnson says. “You get to hear all kinds of creatures — owls, wolves, coyotes. Then in the summertime, the loons are sounding off.” Johnson caught images of the Milky Way and the Northern Lights on March 7, and he’s looking forward to the penumbral lunar eclipse coming up on March 23.

With no shortage of cloud cover, the region has been graced with many moon halos this year. As Zenefski will tell you, the halo makes a lasting impression.

“It’s like that feeling you get when you dip your toes in the ocean. It’s a wonderful experience.”