Photographing the Super Moon

Duke Johnson

There was a lot of hype surrounding the 2012 ”Super Moon,” and quite a few people took pictures of if. Many more just went outside and looked at it. For that result alone, all the hype was warranted as it reminded people to go outside and look up. For me, it was an excuse to dust off the camera and try something new.

With the annular eclipse coming up on May 20th, I thought I’d try my 2X extender on a astronomical object to see if it would work. Using this extender with my 100-400mm zoom on terrestrial objects has always met with poor results, so I thought I’d try it here one last time. I wanted a large image, so it was necessary to push the lens to its maximum, which meant that achieving a good focus was incredibly difficult. The range of being in/out of focus is just barely perceptible in either the image or the lens focuser itself. After several tries taking photos of the mountains in preparation, I became really frustrated with the soft focus until I turned on “live view.”

credit: Duke Johnson

That’s a function in some Canon cameras that allows you to see a very magnified version of the subject in the viewer while in video mode and you can tweak the focus in nearly real time. Even as the moon rose, I wasn’t sure what would work so I took several series of shots and recomposed in the middle to make sure I had a chance at a usable image. When I got back home, I decided to try to show the path of the moon by doing a composite of two images taken several minutes apart. Since the two images were from two differently composed scenes, I had to make the composite image by realigning (shift and rotate slightly) the images in Photoshop before they could be merged to show the moon’s path. The later image (higher and to the right) that shows the full moon also shows off Tyco, a large crater on the bottom of the moon quite well. After I finished post production on the merged image, I went back and worked up the lower of the two as a single. My favorite thing about this imageis the way the trees on the ridge stand out against the lunar disk.

credit: Duke Johnson

I’ll add in here an interesting fact about photographing the full moon: had it been clear the night before, I would have had virtually the same shot, but with the mountains illuminated by the setting sun. In general, the best “Full Moon” pictures are taken the day before the actual full moon because you get the warm light from the setting sun. The day of the full moon, the moon comes up as the sun goes down so your horizon appears much darker.

Now, was the moon noticeably larger than normal? Not really given that I had nothing to compare it to. Was it noticeably brighter? Same answer. Thinking about that, I am reminded of an expression we often have when looking for objects through a telescope that are very dim. You’ll have a split second here or there when you “think” you see it, and then it’s gone again. That, my friends, is what we call averted imagination. While not technically the same phenomena here, it is fairly easy to convince yourself that you can see the difference. Next time you’re out, try covering the moon with your little finger at arm’s length. Try it several times during the month or over several months. Amazingly, the moon always appears the same size.

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2 thoughts on “Photographing the Super Moon

  1. I am looking to find out if anyone else reported the meteor last night in SLC. It was in the Southern sky traveling Southwest. It was about 10 PM last night, large, fragments visible, and a large green ball. I would love to know the best way to hear more about where to report. Thanks!

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