The Supermoon and how to photograph it
Monday 14th November will see the largest supermoon since 1948, and the largest supermoon we will see until 2034. It will appear around 14% larger than normal, and brighter too.
This is due to the moons orbit being elliptical (oval shaped), so the moon will get closer and further away from Earth during its orbit. This is called the Perigee (closest point in the orbit) and Apogee (furthest point in the orbit). On Monday, the moon will be at its Perigee, just 356,511kms (221,526 miles) from Earth. Woooooow I hear you all say!
Despite the incredibly geeky nature, it’s actually a very popular time for photographers and can deliver some fantastic and unique results. As with everything though, timing and location is key. Now you could just take a photo of the moon, crop it a bit and voila… a photo of the supermoon, but it doesn’t show scale; it could be a photo of the moon at any occasion. What’s far more impressive is comparing the size of the moon to a foreground subject of some kind, like an iconic building or landscape. This needs to be carefully considered though.
Timing, or more accurately the lighting at the time, is important to getting a great shot. I’m sure we’ve all done it; it’s pitch black outside so we use a long exposure. What we’re greeted with on the back of the screen however is a giant bright white ball of light, not looking particularly moon like at all. The moon reflects so much light, and moves across the sky so quickly; long exposures just do not work. You’ll need a much quicker shutter speed, somewhere between 1/30th and 1/200th depending on your aperture. This creates a problem; chances are your foreground is now completely black. You’ll need a heck of a lot of artificial light to balance the exposure. This is fine on a large structure like this pier, lit up like a Christmas tree, but if you don’t have a foreground like this, you will need to adjust your timing.
For unlit, or landscape scenes, you’ll need enough natural light to illuminate your foreground. The best time to capture the supermoon is while it’s still relatively light outside and the moon is just rising. This allows you to keep your shutter speed short enough without losing detail in your foreground.
Before you venture out, you need to plan the location carefully. You need to know what time the moon rises and sets, and where in the sky it will be at a given time. This will dictate when and where you are going to shoot from. There are some fantastic tools and apps out there to help you plan your trip out, such as Photopills, TPE (The Photographers Ephemeris) and Star Walk.
You don’t need any fancy gear to get shots of the supermoon. A solid tripod and a long lens (the longer the better!) will be enough. The further back from your chosen subject you can get, the larger the moon will “appear”. At your chosen focal length, moving backwards causes your foreground subject to reduce, whilst the moon will remain the same size. This in turn gives the illusion of a bigger moon. Too close to your foreground subject, or too wide a lens and the moon will appear much smaller, ruining the effect.
Arrive at your chosen location early; you want plenty of time to setup and compose your shot before the event takes place. The moon moves very quickly; just 10 minutes can be enough for it to move out of your chosen composition, so you don’t want to be rushing. You’ll also want time to experiment and make sure you know how to adjust your settings. There’s nothing worse than being in a time crunch and forgetting how to adjust your ISO!
There are no hard and fast rules for settings. It will all depend on the light you have available at the time, however there are some things to consider. To keep everything in focus, you’re going to need an aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/16, and to keep the moon sharp, you’re going to want something 1 second or less.
All that’s left is to plan, and shoot!