This coming Monday, the 14th November we’re going to be treated to the largest Supermoon for decades. If, like us, you’re looking forward to get out and about with your camera to capture some images of this lunar spectacle, follow our quick guide to getting the most out of the Supermoon.
What is a Supermoon?
To the naked eye, there won’t be much apparent difference between the moon on Monday 14th November and the moons in October or December. However, in astronomy terms the moon will be approximately 14% larger and up to 30% brighter than an average full moon.
A Supermoon is a lunar event when the full moon occurs during Perigee, the point of the moon’s elliptical orbit of the earth when it is closest to us (as opposed to Apogee, when it is furthest away). This means that the moon will be around 226,000 miles away from us, rather than its average distance of around 237,700 miles, a difference of around 21,700 miles.
Where is best to photograph the Supermoon?
On Monday 14th November, the Supermoon will rise from around 4.30pm in the direction of East-NorthEast across the country and will be highest in the sky at around 9pm.
I’m sure we’ve all tried to take a photo of a particularly bright or red moon in the evening with our smartphones or compact cameras, only to be disappointed with the results. Not only that, but if you happen to be outside on Monday 14th and aren’t aware it’s the Supermoon, you might think it’s a slightly brighter than normal moon but are unlikely notice any massive difference.
So how do photographers get all those fantastic photos of a huge moon set next to landmarks around the world? Well, a bit of photographic trickery is involved there. I’ll get to that later.
In order to demonstrate just how super the Supermoon is, you’ll probably want to feature some Earth-based objects in your photos, to give it a sense of scale. Shooting the moon in an urban environment can therefore be a good choice, provided you can get a clear line-of-sight to the moon, with some buildings in the foreground. If you’re by the coast, piers can make excellent additions to the foreground. If you’re a purest, you can always find an area of countryside with as little light pollution as possible and an unobstructed view of the moon.
When is best time to photograph the Supermoon?
There’s a phenomenon that you may not have heard or, but you’ll probably have seen, called Atmospheric Refraction. If you’ve ever noticed a rising moon on the horizon and thought it looked particularly massive, then you’ve experienced atmospheric refraction. This phenomenon is the curving, or deviation of light from a straight line as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, making the moon magnified as it comes up over the horizon and therefore appearing larger than it actually is.
Therefore, Moonrise is the best time to photograph the Supermoon, as it will be visibly the largest during it’s path across the night’s sky. When photographing at this time, you will also benefit from some ambient light left in the sky as it should occur close to sunset, meaning you can use faster shutter speeds or lower ISOs than photographing against a black night sky.
Timing here is key. The Moon will rise quickly, so you’ll want to be set up with your camera and ready to shoot before sunset. It’s best to take a few test shoots and exposures and settle your position before the Moon comes up.
Although Monday 14th November will be point at which the Moon is the closest and therefore largest, it’s reasonable to expect the weather will not be in our favour in the UK, so you can always go out a couple of days either side and you’ll be able to capture the moon at close to it’s nearest point.
What do I need to photograph the Supermoon?
A camera with a long lens and manual settings is a must-have for photographing the Supermoon. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a DSLR camera, a Micro Four Thirds camera or Mirrorless camera will do just fine as well.
There are two approaches to photographing the Supermoon. Firstly, using a wider lens to capture an expansive landscape, perhaps capturing the reaction of other photographer or stargazers looking up at the moon, silhouetted against the moonlight.
The second, and probably most popular way to photograph the Supermoon is to use a longer lens and capture the Moon next to some foreground or landscape objects to add perspective and a sense of depth to the image.
By using a longer lens, the moon will appear much larger in the context of foreground objects thanks to a photographic occurrence known as lens compression. Lens compression, in photography, is the apparent distance between foreground and background objects affected by the focal length of lenses. Telephoto lenses have maximum lens compression which means that at their maximum zoom, objects will appear to be a similar size and the apparent distance between them will be minimised.
Three key thing you’ll need to photograph the Supermoon are a solid, sturdy tripod, a long telephoto zoom lens, and a camera (obviously). As it’s mid-November, you’ll also probably need a coat and gloves.
Settings wise, aim for a medium aperture of anything from f/8 down to f/22 if your camera can handle it. You’ll be shooting on a sturdy tripod so you can use a longer exposure time, but you don’t want it to be too long otherwise you’ll see a blurring of the moon as it travels across the sky.
If you’re shooting at super-telephoto lengths, use a fast shutter speed of 1/100th of a second or faster. Similarly, use as low an ISO as you can get away with to get a properly exposed image, and don’t be afraid to go to the limits of what your camera can handle, as some of the latest cameras perform well at high ISO.
Most importantly, have fun! Don’t forget to look at it with your own eyes too to appreciate this lunar spectacle! Wrap up warm and maybe take a flask of your preferred hot drink with you.