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The research, patience, and story behind a breathtaking photo

The basilica of Superga and the crescent moon - Photo By Valerio Minato

Photo courtesy of Valerio Minato

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 02/24/24

It took six years and a lot of research and dedication for Italian photographer Valerio Minato to snap this photo showing the moon, a mountain, and a basilica.

When 42-year-old Valerio Minato woke up on December 15, 2023, he said he felt “agitated.” For six years he had been trying to capture a photo showing the perfect alignment of the Monviso, a mountain in the Alps in Northern Italy, the Basilica of Superga, near Turin, and the moon. Having very few opportunities throughout the year where these three elements line up, Minato had just a small chance of getting the perfect shot. He spoke to Aleteia about the story behind the photo.

“When the moon started to touch the left side of the Monviso, I said, ‘Wow, maybe this is it.’ It was setting in the exact spot I had expected so it was also confirmation of the calculations and planning I had done,” Minato said of the night on December 15. In the “beautiful moment when the moon was centered perfectly, I snapped the photo.”

“I have to say, I was still a bit anxious then because this was a difficult photo to take technically. It is not easy to set up your camera with those light conditions as it is very dark but the moon is very bright,” Minato said. “When I came home and I started to work on it and I realized that everything happened correctly I just said ‘wow.’ I was so happy.”

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A post shared by Valerio Minato (@valeriominato)

Patience and dedication that pay off

Since then Minato’s photo has gone viral on the internet and on December 25, 2023, was even featured as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

“It was unexpected and amazing that my photo won, and on Christmas Day,” he said. “This also caused the photo, that was already doing well on social media, to become super viral. […] People started writing to me from all over the world.”

Minato’s research, patience, and dedication throughout the years paid off. He has been photographing Turin and its fascinating skyline and monuments for 12 years now and started trying to get this shot in 2017. 

“I started going around this area of hills northeast of Turin where you could see Monviso and Superga [a hill that hosts the Basilica of the same name on top]. After finding the three or four points where these two are perfectly aligned, I started to evaluate — let’s say complicate my life — to try and take a very different picture from the ones I had already shot,” Minato said, smiling. 

Other than researching the perfect locations, Minato had to study carefully the lunar phases that would allow for this alignment. He explained there were only around two days a year when he could attempt the photo and in some years the alignment didn’t occur at all. 

“The moon had to cover the entire tip of the Monviso, and this is achievable with either a full moon or a crescent moon, which is the case in the photo. In fact you can see on the right the part of the moon illuminated by the sun,” he said. 

The effect seen in the photo is called the Da Vinci glow, meaning it is when the dark side of the moon is illuminated by the light reflected off Earth so one can see the crescent and also the full outline.

The emotions of a photo 

What initially started as a hobby for Minato has now become his full-time job, as he sells his photographs of Turin and the surrounding natural landscapes. He has also traveled across Italy to photograph its hills, valleys, and mountain animals. 

In fact, he said that some of his favorite photos were a series shot in the summer of 2023 in the Abruzzo region in Central Italy. The photos show a Marsican brown bear named Amarena (black cherry in Italian) with her cubs. Shortly after, at the end of August, a man shot the bear in fear after it had entered his property. 

“Already those photos had taken a special place in my heart and then, with what happened, they became even more important to me and I admit also painful,” Minato explained, acknowledging also the power a photo can have. “Images are a powerful means to share a message.”

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