Shoot for the moon: a guide to taking super moon photos

Poor Man in the Moon. While ineligible for the “most photographed person on the planet” title, he is nevertheless an immensely popular target.

This was even truer last weekend. Because the full moon ventured closer to Earth than any other time this year, it appeared a whole lot brighter (lucky) and larger (less envious of that) than usual. Scientists refer to this as a ‘perigee moon’. Everyone else calls it a ‘super moon’, or ‘pretty’.

I had a go at some moon photography over the weekend in the hope I could impart some useful advice to any fellow rookies. One hour and ninety photos later I began drafting a “what not to do” article in my head. That, however, is okay. ‘Learning by doing’ can be fun, even if it doesn’t mean winning a Pulitzer Prize or becoming rich and famous.

That’s not to say I didn’t conduct some research before heading out. The Insight Guides Blog contained some great tips on moon photos. They suggest using “a long, fast lens on a DSLR” (digital single-lens reflex camera). Tripods are also strongly recommended – especially for shots that require a long exposure time.

They also recommend aiming for round about a two second exposure time. This varies of course depending on what time you’re photographing, and the effect you’re aiming for.

It also depends on what you read. Another piece, for instance, suggested using as short an exposure time as possible for a sharper image. Meanwhile this Stuff article suggested using a wide-angle lens, while Insight Guides said the opposite.  Art, it seems, isn’t all that scientific.

Armed with all this conflicting knowledge, I walked down to the Hamilton Gardens with an old Nikon Coolpix 4500. My primary aim was to get as accurate a shot of what I was seeing as possible. In some cases I almost succeeded.

I will spare you my efforts because I’d rather show you some great shots from our Open2view photographers.

Before I started this gig, ‘shutter speed’ and ‘exposure’ were terms I used only when forgetting to close the blinds post-shower. Luckily our team of real estate photographers are a very talented bunch. For them photography is more a hobby than a job – a prerequisite for thriving in this business. Check out their shots – you can click each image for a larger version.

(Quick note: shutter speed/exposure and aperture control the amount of light that reaches the film. Fast shutter speed means less light. The higher the f-number, the smaller the aperture and the less amount of light. Clear as mud? Good. Onwards.)

Kym Raubenheimer’s snapshot taken from Papamoa Beach captures the moon’s colour perfectly. (Taken using a 270mm lens, shutter speed 1/50 seconds, f-number 10.)

Tim Whittaker took this amazing picture using a 300mm lens with a 1.4x converter to increase the focal length. (2.5 seconds, f/14.)

Alta Van Blerk snapped this stunning moonrise shot from her Tauranga home. (Half second exposure time at f/5.)

Moon above Rotorua by Deanna Onan

Deanna Onan’s photo of the moon above the Blue Baths in Rotorua is breathtaking. (1.6 seconds, f/18.)

Finally, this photo from Matthew Lowe shows the surface in great detail. There’s just something a little suspicious about this photo, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (300mm lens, 2.5 seconds, f/8.)

So here’s what I learned/had reinforced in the last few days about moon photography:

  • Size matters when it comes to lens. My Coolpix 4500 was just 32mm, while the above photos were taken with lens several times larger.
  • Dawn and dusk are great times to capture the moon before it glows too bright and winds up looking like the sun.
  • Photos with other reference points make for great pictures. Having the landscape (or cityscape) in the foreground often adds something to the image.
  • Use a tripod! It’s much easier to keep the camera still if you’re not holding it in your cold, caffeine-ridden hands.
  • There is no magic formula. The above pics used a range of shutter speeds and apertures. Feel free to try different settings for different effects.
  • Do wrap up warm. The moon is not the best source of heat. Plus, wearing a cool hat helps make you look and feel like a real artist.
  • Most of all – have fun! If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing it wrong.

And in case you’re thinking “little late for these tips pal”, next month’s full moon also largely coincides with perigee season. It will be a whole 1527 km further away from Earth than last weekend and one percent less bright. The difference will only be slight though as the camera adds fifty pounds anyway. Sorry, Man.

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