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Photographing the moon when its orbit is closest to the earth.

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Moon photography tips

The Photographers Epemeris (opens new window)




The moon circles the Earth in an elliptical orbit. When the Moons orbit is at its closest point to Earth this is known as its perigee. 

Occasionally this perigee coincides with the day of the full moon and gives result to a spectacular moonrise with the moon appearing up to 15% bigger and 20% brighter.

The Supermoon as it rose on 13th July 2014 at 21:06 behind the harbour on the Greek island of Rhodes.

(Actually this was the day after the true full moon which rose at 20:15 on 12th July 2014 a few minutes before sunset)

Exposure settings were 1s @ F5.6, ISO 800 @ 400mm

Image adjusted and cropped in lightroom.

Getting the Shot

part 1 - Planning

Planning is essential - The moon rises VERY quickly, taking only a few minutes from when it first appears over the horizon to being completely visible.

So, If you want to capture a shot like the one above you will need to plan in advance and be set up ready in the correct position with the key camera settings already dialled in.

As mentioned on the more detailed page on this site  "moon photography tips"  the best day to photograph the moon is often the day AFTER the official full moon. 

However it is a good idea to scope out your chosen venue (after consulting the excellent "photographers ephemerides" to get accurate details of the time of moonrise and the direction from which it will been seen.) on the day of the ACTUAL full moon. 

This will give you a good opportunity to carefully plan your exact location for the following day - to ensure you can be ready with a good composition (with some foreground interest) BEFORE the moon is visible above the horizon. As you can see from the shot below which was captured on the 12th July the presence of too much residual ambient light from the setting sun renders the moon less visible and therefore less distinct in photos taken around the time of actual moonrise.

Moonrise on the 12th July 2014 (the date of the actual full moon)

As you can see, with so much residual sunlight, the moon is much less distinct than in the shot shown at the top of the page which was taken at moonrise the following day

However, decent shots can still be taken on the day of the full moon. 

You just have to wait a little longer for the daylight to diminish and the moon to become brighter.

This shot was taken only 7 minutes later than the previous shot!  And as you can see the moon still appears quite large and the remnants of the sunset give interesting hues to the sky.

Getting the Shot

Part 2 - the equipment and settings

  1. Use a tripod. Absolutely essential as you will be using long focal lengths and slow shutter speeds. (if you have image stabilised lens remember to switch the stabilisation system OFF when using a tripod)
  2. Use the longest focal length you have. The compression of perspective with long focal lengths will help exaggerate the size of the moon compared to your foreground details. For the shot at the top of the page I used a 200mm lens with 2 x extender. With the crop factor of 1.6 from my Canon 60D this gave an effective focal length of 640mm.
  3. Use "live view" Most DSLRs have a live view function. This is much easier to use than trying to look through the optical viewfinder. (Don't forget to cover the optical viewfinder with the provided rubber cap to prevent stray ambient light reaching the sensor)
  4. Use manual focus. In combination with live view, it is much easier to fine tune the focus manually (assuming you want the details in the moon to be as sharp as possible) . I use the live view 10x zoom function to give a very close up view when focusing.
  5. Use spot metering.  So your camera's metering system will give you exposure feedback based on the brightness of the moon and not the surrounding sky. (otherwise you will find the moon is likely to be very overexposed.)
  6. Use Exposure simulation. If your camera's live view has the option to give "exposure simulation" be sure to activate it. This will allow you to instantly see the effect of any changes you make to your exposure settings as you make them.
  7. Use manual exposure mode. To give you facility to dial in changes to shutter speed and aperture independently of one another.
  8. Shutter speed . Even though the camera is tripod mounted, make sure shutter speeds do not fall below 1 second  (will appear as 1" ) . This is because the moon is actually moving pretty fast in your frame and shutter speeds any slower will result in motion blur of the moon. If exposure is too dark at shutter speeds of 1s then increase aperture (use lower F number). When you reach the maximum aperture size (lowest  F number) then start to increase ISO to achieve desired exposure.
  9. Use a cable release - to avoid jarring the camera as you take the shot. If you don't have a cable release then use the 2s timer function.
  10. Take plenty of shots - The moon is rising quite fast, you only have a few minutes to capture desired image. So take plenty of shots - checking the image review regularly and make adjustments to exposure and focus as necessary.

As you can see from the screen shot above, I took around 30 shots (eventually I chose the 7th shot) . The entire 30 shots were taken over only 13minutes!!

Finally, be creative and experiment.

For the shot below I dialled in a much smaller aperture in order to create the starburst effect from the security lamp (on the right hand side of the shot)

Exposure settings

1s at F16 , ISO 800  at 400mm

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useful links from Supermoon

go to JARGON BUSTER digital photography terms explained

Go to moon photography tips

Click here for link to The Photographers Ephemeris (opens in new window)

Return from Supermoon to main Gallery page

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