Tonight will be the first of three "supermoons" that will occur this summer. Supermoons are full moons that appear bigger and brighter than the other full moons throughout the year. As you probably suspect, this means that some of the best moon photographic opportunities await for those who come prepared. Here’s a helpful guide that will have you shootin’ for the [super]moon in no time.
Full moons, and the supermoon being no exception, will rise coinciding with the setting of the sun. You can find the specific time and direction for moon rise in your area by using online references such as this one. It is important that you arrive on location early to figure out which compositions you will want to try. Once the moon rises above the horizon, it will move at a fairly fast pace. Keep a close eye on the situation, as the closer the moon is to the horizon, the larger and more impressive it appears. You will only have roughly a half hour of optimal shooting time, so do not skimp on preparedness. Make sure the memory card has ample space available, the camera’s battery is fully charged, and your bladder is empty.
Choice of location is what makes the supermoon so wonderful! Normal full moons can certainly add to a landscape shot, but the supermoon magnifies that theatrical effect. Be sure to include objects in the foreground as reference points. They will only help to make the supermoon seem even larger by relationship of scale. Cityscapes, silhouettes of people, rural red-wood barns, iconic rock formations, your neighbor’s house, you name it- a supermoon is going to take the image to the next level.
"Sydney Bridge Opera House and Supermoon" by Rex Boggs.
The gear you will want to bring is likely the same you’d take with you for nighttime long-exposure photography. A sturdy tripod and remote shutter release will allow for tack sharp shots in the twilight darkness. Using a telephoto lens, the supermoon will be compressed up against your foreground objects, making it appear larger, and you can bet the results will be absolutely breathtaking. The bigger the lens you use, the more dramatic your supermoon photo is going to be. You will want to find a focal length that balances in your foreground composition while still getting the moon to appear super sized. Think in the 200-400mm range, with 85-100mm being questionable and the bottom end of usability for this purpose (but I’m sure someone creative enough will prove me wrong about that).
Photographing the moon can seem challenging. The reality of it however is that it’s not so bad. First thing’s first, keep the ISO on your camera low. With night photography, there are naturally a lot of shadows. These shadows can produce noise easily when tampered with in post processing because they do not store as much data information as highlights do, so a low ISO setting will combat this issue when you try to add some pizzazz later on. Also, the moon is brighter than you may think (it’s reflecting the sun!) and a high ISO won’t be benefitting you any. With your camera in manual mode, set the aperture to f/11 or close to it. This will allow for sharpness throughout your image, from the foreground to the moon in the sky. Now you will want to adjust your shutter speed. The shutter speed you choose will be specific to the surrounding area you are photographing. That is, if you are shooting a cityscape full of lights along with the moon, you are going to be able to get away with a higher shutter speed. For the most part though this is something that you will have to experiment with for a few frames. Start at 1/60 and work you way in the direction that makes sense until you come to the right exposure.
Need a little creative inspiration? Check out this Fstoppers article from last year showing off some of the best supermoon shots in recent years. Also be sure to mark your calendars for the next two supermoons after this one, August 10th and September 9th.
(Lead image provided by Arches National Park.)