Coincidence with Earthquake at Japan and subsequent tsunami made the Hindu festival Holi’s moon on 19th March a Super Moon. With sensation seeking media on the toes for disaster of magnitude larger than the devastation at Japan, I headed to the highest place in my home town to capture this Super Moon.
When I reached my place to photograph moon, sun was just setting. As soon as I arranged my tripod and fitted the Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens, I could see faint traces of moon behind the 2 large monolithic stone we have at my hometown called Konaje Kallu. Haze was quite a lot and I was able to get a faint picture of the moon. Then I added 1.4x extender on the lens. This gave me some more reach as the moon started raising up in the eastern sky.
So how different was this Super Moon. I couldn’t make out that it was larger than any other full moon. In fact I had seen moons which were larger than these. Until almost 20° up into the horizon I was not able to define moon as there was strong haze as well as smoke. So only after half an hour I could get a good shot of the moon.
The detailed photo of moon above was taken by combining 2x with 1.4x (even though the exif shows only info about 2x). When you combine 2 extenders you must stack the 2X behind the lens, then the 1.4X. When you combine two extenders the effective magnification will be 2.8x, so my 300mm was now effective as 840mm. I could have used my EOS 7D which would have added another 1.6x crop factor for this equation, but the image quality of 5D mark II is far greater as it is full frame camera as compared to cropped sensor of EOS 7D. 5D mark II also fared better with the stacked tele-converters.
Metering moon is quite tricky. As it is a bright object in a dark sky. Spot metering will be your friend in shooting the moon. If your camera has it, use it while metering off the moon. Experiment with bracketing to bring out other objects in the frame. It’s better to have the foreground a little dark than the moon be completely blown out with no detail.
To photograph just the moon by itself, without any objects in the foreground, you will need a long telephoto lens like explained above to magnify the moon and try to fill as much of the frame as possible. Even with a good telephoto lens setup though, you will most likely be cropping the final image, simply because only a telescope would be able to provide enough magnification to fill the entire frame. With your telephoto lens mounted in your camera, secure it on a tripod and point at the moon. Make sure that your tripod is good and stable enough to accommodate and hold your lens and your camera. Set your camera mode to full Manual Mode. Set your base ISO you have in your camera, in my case it is ISO 100. Make sure Auto ISO is turned Off. Set your aperture to f/11. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 on cameras with base ISO 100, and to 1/250 on Nikon DSLRs with base ISO 200. Set your lens to manual focus and set your focus to infinity. Be careful while setting the focus to infinity, as some lenses allow focusing beyond infinity.
On my 5D mark II I used live view with magnification to accurately acquire focus on moon surface. I have used it many times for my moon photography and it works great! If you do not have such a feature in your camera, then try setting your lens to the center of the infinity sign, then take a picture and see if it came out sharp by zooming in the rear LCD of the camera. Bracketing few shots would be nice so that you can get an accurately exposed moon.
It’s too bad that people are getting so silly about this super moon business. It really isn’t that super at all. In fact it is only little closer than it normally gets in it’s elliptical orbit around the earth. If you want to wonder about something think of the effect the much larger earth will have on the tectonics of the moon since it is also the same distance closer to the moon.
The mean distance to the moon, 384401 km, is the semi-major axis of its oval elliptical orbit. The closest moon (perigee) was 356375 km on 4th January 1912; the most distant moon (apogee) will be 406720 km on 3rd February 2125. The mean distance is not equidistant between the minimum and maximum because the Sun’s gravity perturbs the orbit away from a true ellipse. Although the absolute extremes are separated by many years, almost every year has a perigee and apogee close enough to the absolute limits to be indistinguishable at this scale. On March 19th Moon came 356577 km close to earth. So in effect Moon was closer by 27824 km from its mean distance which is insignificant. That is why we did not have any catastrophe as predicted by the popular media. If you suspect March 11th earthquake happened because of this, you are wrong as on that day moon was far off from this perigee.
Even the scientific world seems to have been influenced by this mass hysteria. NASA science news podcast wrongly mentioned last perigee was in 1983. They all forgot that perigee and apogee happen almost every month. Almost every year there is one full moon which is near perigee. Check this Lunar Perigee and Apogee Calculator.
The frequently-stated assertion that the Moon always keeps the same face toward the Earth is also not really correct. The combination of the eccentricity and inclination of the Moon’s orbit causes the Moon, as seen from the Earth, to nod up and down and left and right. These apparent motions, the lunar librations, allow us to observe, over a period of time, more than 59% of the Moon’s surface from the Earth, albeit with the terrain in the libration zones near the edge of the visible disc, only very obliquely. By taking photos of moon during perigee and apogee we can make out these lunar librations.