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Photographing the Supermoon and What I'll Do Differently Next Time

I decided I wanted to photograph the Supermoon rising...now what?

By: Abby Shepard + Save to a List

In December of 2016, there was a natural phenomenon happening called the Supermoon, where the moon was extra close to Earth during its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the moon as seen from Earth. 

This so-called Supermoon was a big deal. In the days leading up to the date of the Supermoon, I saw news about the moon on TV, social media, and in photography circles that I followed. Everyone was talking about the best techniques, times, and locations to photograph this moon. 

Naturally, I decided I should probably photograph this Supermoon too.  

The day before the Supermoon, I read some blog posts about moon photography, looked up what time it was scheduled to rise, picked a general location at a nearby wildlife refuge, and figured I was good to go. 

The next day, I packed and arrived at the refuge about 15 minutes before the moon was scheduled to rise. I didn't know which direction the moon would be coming from, so I just started driving around. I quickly discovered a small group of photographers lined up with tripods along the road. I didn't want to get the same shot, so I drove down a little farther and started getting my gear out. 

Everyone else had a tripod, so I started getting my tripod ready. I had only used this particular tripod once before, and quickly realized that I really didn't know how to set it up. With tripod in one hand and camera in the other, I saw the moon start to rise and heard shutters clicking. I realized that the best location to get the moon was where the photographers were standing, because the moon was rising directly behind a small island in the water.

I should have probably been about 100 feet to the right of where I was standing. I also missed the birds crossing in front of the moon.

At that point, I grabbed the tripod and started running toward the other photographers, frantically trying to adjust my camera settings on the way. A flock of birds flew across the moon and everyone got excited. My camera settings were wrong so I missed it. 

In about 10 minutes the moon was up, and photographers started leaving. Meanwhile, I had just figured out how to set up my tripod. 

While all the other photographers were leaving, I finally had my tripod set up, so I decided to take a few more photos.

I still got some shots that I was happy with, but I could have done better. 

Here are a few things I will do differently next time I decide to stake out a photo: 

  1. Decide the exact location before leaving the house. 
    Pick the location and try to visit at least once before the event you're trying to photograph. 
  2. Figure out cardinal direction when necessary.
    Use a compass to figure out direction when direction matters, like in a sunrise, sunset, or moonrise. 
  3. Get there early.
    Get to the site early at least 30 minutes early, or more if it involves hiking. Allow enough time to get to the location, frame your shot, get your equipment set up, and your camera settings correct. Things happen FAST, so you want to make sure you're 100% ready before the event happens
  4. Pay attention to other photographers.
    When you see other photographers crowded around a location, chances are, there is a reason. Try to figure out what that reason is. With the moon, I wish I had stopped and thought about why everyone was crowded at that one point, and then decided how I wanted to frame my shot. 
    (However, if I think another photographer is getting something fleeting like wildlife, I will let them be. )
  5. Know your equipment.
    Make sure you know how to work your equipment! Practice assembling your tripod or quickly switching between camera settings that you think you may use. When staking out a certain shot, it may not be the best time to try the brand new tripod... 

Not a bad photo of the moon, but this could be any moon. There is nothing in this photo that makes this moon look particularly super.

Next time a Supermoon rolls around, I'll be ready!

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