On Monday we’ll experience the largest supermoon in more than 60 years. That’s not as long as we needed to wait for a Cubs’ World Series win, but it’s a long time.
A supermoon occurs when the full moon coincides with the time that the moon is closest to Earth in its orbit. This makes the moon appear larger and brighter. It’s only about 7% larger and brighter than an average full moon. But, hey, it’s a reason to get out and shoot it. And a reason to hashtag all of your images with #supermoon while the world is excited about it!
A beginner’s mistake when photographing the moon is to stand in your backyard and get a closeup of the moon up in the sky. There is nothing wrong with that, but your image will look the same as everyone else that has done that. To make your image different, you’ll want to combine it with an iconic object in the foreground. Remember that Scott Bourne recommends that you make photos rather than just take photos! This is great chance to do that.
Shoot the moon when it is just above the horizon
Think about when you’ve seen the moon and said, wow! Was it straight above you or just over the horizon? The moon always appears largest when it’s just above the horizon near trees and buildings on the ground. It’s not actually larger, but you perceive it as larger when near these objects. It gives your brain a sense of scale. But when it’s up in the sky there is nothing to compare it to. It’s lost in the huge sky and appears smaller So make sure you go out right when the moon is rising or setting.
Choose a great subject
You want a subject that will stand out against the night sky. Statues, identifiable buildings and natural formations in open areas are all good examples of good subjects. Look through Instagram or Flickr for images around your area and visualize them with the moon behind them. Then you’ll need to find a location that you can photograph that subject from a long ways away looking in the direction of the moon.
Use a long lens
Buy, rent, borrow, or steal a long lens for your camera. If you want to make the moon appear large in your photo, you’ll need to zoom in as far as you can and stand back far enough to zoom all the way in. You’ll also need a sturdy tripod to support this lens.
If you don’t have a super long lens, you can crop your image closer, but you’ll lose resolution to print big. I like this image, but it’s a crop of a larger image.
Even if you don’t have a long lens, you still want to get far away. If you’re close to a building and use a wider focal length, the moon is going to be a dot on your screen. You don’t want that. For this image I had my Fuji 18-135mm lens and zoomed to 135mm. But the image still works because the moon appears large compared to the water tank on the building.
Use The Photographer’s Ephemeris
Once you have your subject, you need to figure out where you need to be. The best tool for location information regarding the sun and moon is The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It’s a free desktop app but I recommend that you buy the mobile app.
You’ll need to set the location and date for your supermoon shoot. It will tell you when the moon sets and rises. In Chicago the moon sets just before sunrise and rises again just after sunset. The morning is closer to the time of the full moon at 7:52am, but either time will work.
Words of wisdom
The Photographer’s Ephemeris will get you really close if you’re shooting a moonrise, but once the moon rises you may realize that you’re not quite in the right place. When I was shooting the supermoon rise over Adler Planetarium the moon was coming up over the left edge of the building. I needed to run a few hundred feet down the lawn to get the moon in the place I wanted it.
Work quickly! When you’re looking at the moon through a long lens, you’ll be surprised how fast it is moving. Make sure all of your settings are set before the moon rises.
Speaking of settings, you don’t need to get fancy. I recommend ISO 400, f/11, and whatever shutter speed is required for a proper exposure. Check your histogram to be sure you’re not clipping the highlights. The moon will be the brightest object in the frame. It’s the only object in the shot directly illuminated by the sun.
You may want to bracket exposures. This will guarantee that you have the correct exposure for the the moon and foreground. You may also need to combine exposures later in Photoshop.
Cross your fingers that you have clear skies! Or check the weather in advance and move to a different location.
I’m off to check the Photographer’s Ephemeris for Chicago. The next supermoon this large occurs in 2034. Hopefully we don’t need to wait that long for the Cubs to win again!