Photographing the “SuperMoon”

As most of you who know me realize, I really like photography. But what most of you do NOT know, is that I also really like astronomy! So when this rare – every 18 to 20 year – “SuperMoon” event presented itself, I was literally drooling over the chance to take some photographs of it! Luckily, the weather gods were smiling down upon me, because there wasn’t a cloud to be seen from my viewing location!!

Here’s my gear: A Nikon D300 with Sigma 50 – 500mm zoom lens, tripod mounted, using a Nikon electronic shutter release.

Throughout the shoot I used the following settings:

  • An ISO 200 setting, and
  • An aperture setting of 6.3 (wide open for this lens at full zoom)

If you’ve ever looked at the moon through a telescope, or even through a large zoom lens, you’ll soon discover that the moon is really moving!! I mean moving much faster than it actually appears to the naked eye! So unless you have a rig that can track the moon as it moves across the sky, taking long exposures of the moon are out of the question!! So the goal here for me, using what I have, was to let in as much light as possible (open up the aperture setting on the lens as wide as it would go) and use as fast a shutter speed as possible to get a clear image. Below are the fruits of my labor, presented in chronological order.

7:59PM: Here is the first semi-usable photo from the shoot. With the first couple of shots being totally black, I opted to set the shutter for a 5 second exposure – everything else, aperture and ISO I left as is. One thing you’ll notice about this shot is that the tree branches are in focus, while the moon is blurry, washed out, and has no detail.

8:27PM: In this shot, the moon is getting brighter – not as much atmosphere to shoot through now, and not as many tree limbs in the way either. I increased the shutter speed to 1/125 of a second and left everything else as is – with the exception of the focus. I discovered that the “infinity” focus setting on my lens – isn’t really infinity, and like Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, I had to manually adjust the focus “To infinity and beyond”. Notice how the details in the moon are now more prevalent, but the tree limbs are now blurry? The blurry tree limbs are the result of the large aperture setting which creates a short depth of field (the “depth” of a photo that appears in focus).

8:38PM: Here the moon is finally clear of all obstructions. Being higher in the sky and brighter, I was able to set the shutter speed to 1/250 of a second. It’s pretty good, but is still slightly out of focus. A slight nudge of the focus ring was still in order. . .

And finally. . .

8:48PM:  Here we are – “the money shot” – the shot that made it all worthwhile! The moon was now bright enough that I could increase the shutter speed to 1/400 of a second, and the focus was as good as a guy wearing bifocals, squinting through a small viewfinder, could get. NOTE: I did enhance this photo in Photoshop to enhance the contrast and sharpness.

Hope you have enjoyed my ramblings and the photos!