Back on November 14, 2016 we experienced a supermoon in Texas. A supermoon is a full moon that coincides with the closest distance that the moon is to the earth in its elliptic orbit. The result is that technically the moon appears larger than normal. This appearance is relative – you don’t really discern the difference without a visual reference, but alas it makes good marketing and a reason to celebrate our closest neighbor in the sky.
Equipment and Technical Challenges
The biggest challenge of shooting the moon is its brightness at night. If you’re only photographing the moon, its fairly easy. But if you want anything else in the picture – clouds, trees, landscape etc… dynamic range gets pretty extreme in the dark and makes these kinds of shots difficult.
The second challenge is getting a lens long enough if you want the moon to take up a large part of the picture.
I started out using a Sony RX10 III which has since been replaced by the Sony RX10 IV. The RX10 series is essentially a bridge camera, or a point and shoot on steroids. These cameras feature a 1 inch sensor, but an incredible zoom lens that extends to about 800mm (35mm equivalent). Close but not super close up. This ended up being my favorite camera for composed shots featuring other elements. Especially if you shoot the moon at dusk or even during the day you get great results.
For the November 14 Supermoon I used my Sony A6300 with an old manual focus Canon FD 400mm lens. With crop factor this ends up being about a 600mm or so but I had a perfect shot lined up with downtown Fort Worth in the foreground as the moon rose into the sky about 7:30pm.
But I wanted to get closer… a telescope is probably your best bet but at the time I knew little about this. So I opted for Nikon’s current bridge camera – the Nikon P900. This camera is essentially not that great. It shoots JPG only which is its biggest flaw. The buttons are fiddly – especially in the dark. I really fell like I’m fighting the camera. BUT – it has a 2000mm equivalent zoom lens. This is by far the longest camera lens I’ve found and the best part is the camera is about $500. Not as sharp as the RX10 at all, but it gets the job done.
So its been 13 months of moon shooting. I get out every week or 2 and the hardest part for me is creating variety. Most of the interest for me came surprisingly from clouds, mist or even trees blocking the view. Last week we saw a beautiful super blue blood moon which turned into a lunar eclipse about 6:30 in the morning. Now this is an amazing sight if you’ve never seen one. The bright moon turns red, fades into darkness and back again and you get beautiful color gradients from the moon during the process. As luck would have it, this went down behind the trees on my neighbors house… but it worked in the end.
The challenge with shooting the moon is the lack of variety. Everyone has shot it and NASA’s done it with the best lenses available. So how do you make it your own?
Here’s to another year of trying.