If you love astrophotography, today (06/23/2013) you will witness a unique event called “The Supermoon”, where the moon will not only be full, but will also appear larger than normal. If the skies are clear and you are lucky to see the moon, this will be a great time to get out and try some moon photography. If you have never done it before, you might be wondering what camera gear and settings you should use in order to capture the moon in its full glory. In this short article, I will give advice on how to photograph the Supermoon and explain some of the steps involved in the process.
What is a Supermoon?
A Supermoon is a name given to a somewhat rare event, when the moon is new or “full”, and it is physically at its closest point to our planet. As the moon rotates in its elliptical orbit around the Earth, there are two points that astronomers marked with names: “lunar perigee”, which is the the point of the closest distance of the moon to our planet at 363,104 kilometers, and “lunar apogee”, which is the point of the farthest distance of the moon from our planet at 405,696 kilometers. So when lunar perigee coincides with a new moon, which normally happens several times a year, the “Supermoon” can appear up to 13% larger and 30% brighter compared to a full moon at lunar apogee. Although the Supermoon can be seen several times a year, only one of those is usually the most “super”, meaning it is the fullest and the closest of them all. And that date for 2013 happens to be June 23.
How to capture the Supermoon
Without going into all kinds of unnecessary details, let’s get down to business and talk about how to actually photograph the moon.
What you will need: A sturdy tripod, a high resolution camera (the more resolution the better), a telephoto lens (the longer, the better + a teleconverter if your lens can take one) and a remote shutter release (optional).
Here is a quick summary taken from my detailed article on moon photography that I published a while ago (some newer recommendations have been added):
- If you do not have a remote shutter release cable or device, set your camera to a timer. The idea is to eliminate camera shake caused by your hands and the mirror slap before the exposure. If you shoot with a telephoto lens longer than 300mm, it is best to enable exposure delay mode in combination with the timer. If you shoot with a Nikon DSLR, go to the Custom Settings menu, find Exposure Delay and turn it on. On newer Nikon DSLRs like D800, set Exposure Delay to 3 seconds. If you have a remote shutter release cable or device, then a timer is not necessary, but I would still turn Exposure Delay on to prevent mirror slap from potentially causing camera shake.
- Turn Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction off on the lens.
- Set your camera + lens on a stable tripod, point at the moon and lock it down. Since the moon moves fast, you might need to readjust the position multiple times.
- Set camera mode to Manual for full exposure control.
- Set ISO to camera’s base ISO (typically ISO 100 or 200) as a start and turn off “Auto ISO”. You might need to increase ISO a little later, if the shutter speed is too low. The above image was captured at ISO 200.
- Set aperture between f/8 and f/11. If you shoot with a teleconverter, stop down the lens a little to get maximum resolution. For example, if you have an f/2.8 lens and you are using a 2x teleconverter, your maximum aperture will be f/5.6. Set your lens aperture to f/8 minimum to get sharper results (the above photo was captured at f/11)
- Set shutter speed to between 1/125 to 1/500 of a second. You do not want to shoot at slow shutter speeds, especially at long focal lengths, because the moon moves very fast. If you have your camera metering set to spot metering, your built-in camera meter will indicate if the moon is properly exposed or not. Use that meter to balance the correct shutter speed (make sure to keep the focus point on the moon when you do that). I set my shutter speed to 1/125 for the above shot.
- If the moon appears large enough in your viewfinder, set the camera to Live View mode and focus on the moon. The camera should be able to acquire proper focus. If it cannot, then you will have to manually adjust focus to infinity.
- Take a sample shot and make sure that the moon is property exposed (not like a white blob or too dark). Adjust ISO or shutter speed as necessary.
- To have the least amount of noise and better post-processing options later, use the “Expose To The Right” technique if you can (make sure to shoot in RAW format). Basically, slightly over-expose your shots without blowing out any highlights. The above photo was slightly overexposed, which I corrected in Lightroom later.
Once you have a nice shot of the moon, the rest is all post-processing. For the above shot, I increased “Clarity” to 70 in Lightroom, darkened the blacks a little, increased contrast and decreased exposure by a stop. Then I took the image to Nik Software Viveza, added a point on the moon and increased “Structure” quite a bit, which recovered plenty of the structure of the moon. The last step was downsampling the image to 1024 pixels and adding some sharpness.
I hope the above tips will help you capture some stunning shots of the Supermoon. Definitely check out my article on how to photograph the moon for more detailed information. Good luck!