This weekend of December 2-3, 2017, the moon will be full. Best of all, it’s a perigee or super moon, which means that it will appear larger in the sky. On top of that, in the northern hemisphere, it’s winter, so humidity levels may be lower in the air. All in all, it’s a great time to go out and practice shooting the moon!
If you’ve ever tried this before, only to come home with photos of a glowing white orb in the sky, this time will be different. Here are some hints for getting the detailed shot of the moon that you wish you’d taken before.
- Do your homework a few days ahead to determine when and where to shoot. There are numerous apps available to help. I like LightTrac for my iPhone and The Photographer’s Ephemeris for my laptop.
- Try a practice run the day before. You’ll need to take into account the height of trees and buildings that will appear in the shot. The moon doesn’t rise straight up… It rises diagonally. By the time it’s high enough to be seen above the buildings or trees, it may be in a different part of the sky! Because it will be lighter out when you shoot (the moon rises later each night), the photos from the practice day may end up being your best.
- Use your longest lens.
- Use a tripod.
- Shoot in Manual!
- Set your ISO to 100 (or 200, for some cameras that don’t go as low as 100 ISO).
- If you are trying to include the foreground in the shot, choose a higher f/stop number, like f/11.
- You must underexpose the shot, using your shutter speed! For the photo in this post, the shot of the moon was underexposed by 6 stops. It will take some trial and error to get the best exposure.
Now, here’s the story of how this shot was taken and created.
I took it in Seoul, South Korea, on May 5th, 2012. For some reason, this perigee moon had everyone really excited. (Don’t believe it? Google it!) I planned to shoot it over the Cheonggyecheon Stream. I set up my tripod early in the evening in the spot I’d chosen earlier in the week. And I waited.
As time went by and no moon appeared, I realized that it was now probably behind the buildings near the stream. I kept myself busy shooting fun, long-exposure photos of people in crosswalks and along the Cheonggye. Finally, long after the moon should have risen, I gave up, packing up my tripod and heading back to the apartment.
As I was nearing our neighborhood of Insadong, crossing a wide street, I sensed light coming over my shoulder and turned around. And there was the moon, rising above a building named the Dreampalace. I couldn’t believe it!
I raced to set up my tripod on the sidewalk, all the while trying to stay out of people’s way. A tree blocked my view of the moon over the building, so I moved slightly and started shooting photos of a street sign with the moon next to it. Soon, the moon had moved enough to be viewed above the Dream Palace. In total, I shot 62 photos, varying the exposure and the composition.
It’s astounding how fast the moon actually moves. The shots that were underexposed were shot at 1/15 second to 1/100 second. In those, the moon was round. When I tried to expose for the foreground, and set the shutter speed to 10 seconds, the moon was oval!
In the end, I had some excellent shots of the moon, and some excellent shots of the building, but no good shots of both together. No problem, I thought. I’d combine some of them in an HDR image. Interestingly, the HDR shots came out with the foreground too dark and the moon a glowing white orb with no details.
Then, I decided to create an HDR, with lighter versions of the shots. I thought I’d then upload it to Photoshop, along with an underexposed shot of the moon, and use masking to replace the bright moon with the detailed one. It sounded so simple!
As it turns out, there was one big problem. The moon wasn’t in the same place in both shots, since it was moving. When I aligned them, I discovered just how oval the moon had been in the shots with a slow shutter speed. I couldn’t simply put the better moon on top of the oval overexposed one. Part of the overexposed one stuck out. And, since the sky glowed around the moon, I couldn’t just mask it.
After much trial and error, and many gently tweaks in Photoshop, I finally had a photo that represented what I had seen that night.
All of the shots were taken at ISO 100 and f/11. The HDR version of the building was created from three photos and the final version had a shutter speed of 4 seconds. The detailed moon was shot with a shutter speed of 1/15 sec. They were then combined in Photoshop. The difference in exposure between the two shots combined in Photoshop was six stops.
Finally, why would I bother to create an HDR version of the foreground? As it turned out, if I exposed for the building, the neon sign was badly overexposed. If I exposed for the neon sign, the building was barely visible. So, in choosing a dark building with a bright neon sign, I’d added an extra complication to the composition! Now I know why people shoot silhouettes in the foreground!
This weekend, I’m going to do my homework (See numbers one and two above…) and start shooting two days early, to allow for practice and a blue hour shot. If my calculations are correct, the moon will rise above the Capitol building, at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street, in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. What a perfect composition!!!
On Sunday night, I may also be able to get a shot of the moon above the Magazine in Colonial Williamsburg, during the Grand Illumination. Now, all I need to figure out is how to expose for the moon, a colonial building and fireworks! 😉
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