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Super-rare supermoon: Six photography tips

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Saturday, November 12, 2016, 2:30 PM - We're a couple of days away from a super-rare supermoon shining in the night sky, and shutterbugs and stargazers are in for a treat.

It happens on the night of November 14, and the phenomenon's rarity is enhanced by the fact it is our satellite's closest approach to Earth in since January 1948, 68 years ago.

So it's not something you'll want to miss. And if you're planning on bringing your own camera to the show, NASA's senior photographer, Bill Ingalls, posted a series of tips on NASA's website this past week. Here they are:

#1: Share the shot with a major landmark

Sure, the moon will appear larger than its been in decades, but Ingalls said it would be a mistake to try convey that without some kind of reference.

"Instead, think of how to make the image creative — that means tying it into some land-based object," he says. "It can be a local landmark or anything to give your photo a sense of place."

Harvest Supermoon behind Cornwall Seaway International Bridge. Rob Fry, Cornwall, Ont., September 2014

Harvest Supermoon behind Cornwall Seaway International Bridge. Rob Fry, Cornwall, Ont., September 2014

#2: Scout the location

A well-framed supermoon shot doesn't just happen on its own. Ingalls recommends you use whatever tools you need to find the right place to be to have your supermoon rise beside a major landmark.

"It means doing a lot of homework. I use Google Maps and other apps – even a compass -- to plan where to get just the right angle at the right time," he says.

If you do it enough time in advance, you can perhaps even get permission to shoot in less readily accessible places, like rooftops.

#3: Work with what you have

Even if you don't live near a recognizable landmark, or can't get permission for the right access, or don't have the latest gear, Ingalls said improvising with  what you DO have on hand can pay dividends.

In his case, Ingalls had to be creative when shooting Comet Lulin in 2009, having only basic equipment. In the end, he aimed a long telephoto lense between two trees, and used his own car headlamps to illuminate the landscape for a long exposure. The resulting shot won accolades from National Geographic. 

"I had just basic equipment and saw all these people with great telescopes making a picture I could never get. So what could I do differently?" Ingalls recalls.

Maria Czarzasty, Mississauga, Ont., September 2015

Maria Czarzasty, Mississauga, Ont., September 2015

#4: Share the experience

For many, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Why not bring friends and family, especially children? 

Aside from being a fun teaching moment for children, your companions can be ready props for your shot.

"There are lots of great photos of people appearing to be holding the moon in their hand and that kind of thing. You can get really creative with it," he says.

#5: Use your gear the right way

If you're heading out with a digital SLR, Ingalls has a few technical tips for you.

First, he suggests white balancing your camera with the daylight setting: The light, after all, is reflected from the sun.

For those carrying longer lenses, he advises you to remember the moon is, in fact, a moving object.

"It’s a balancing act between trying to get the right exposure and realizing that the shutter speed typically needs to be a lot faster," he says.

#6: Don't write off your smartphone camera

Ingalls says thought it can be "maddening and frustrating" to try shoot the supermoon with your humble smartphone camera, it can be a good challenge.

"You’re not going to get a giant moon in your shot, but you can do something more panoramic, including some foreground that’s interesting," he says. "Think about being in an urban area where it’s a little bit brighter."

As for technique, Ingalls' advice is to tap and hold your finger on the moon, then slide up or down to darken or lighten the exposure.


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