It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Supermoon!

Supermoon by Bill Ingalls/NASA

The supermoon rising over the Washington Monument / Photo by flickr user NASA HQ PHOTO

I was traveling back from Kansas City on Sunday night, so I didn’t have a chance to shoot the “supermoon” this year. The featured photo at the top of the page  and the series directly below were taken by Bill Ingalls for NASA. Not only is it a great capture but the series can be used to illustrate some of the finer points of lunar photography.


1. Use the longest telephoto available to make the moon appear as large as possible. Ingalls used a 600mm in this shot.

2. Use a tripod and shutter release cable to avoid blur.  I have no idea if Ingalls used either. While some pros suggest that you use a 100 ISO, Bill used a 2500 ISO to great effect.

3. Be sure you know where the moon will be rising and where it will appear in the sky relative to your position.

Of course, I learned #3 the hard way last year when I decided to shoot the supermoon rising over the Marine Corps Memorial (often called the Iwo Jima Memorial) on May 5, 2012, the last time before this past weekend that the moon was as close to the Earth during its elliptical orbit.

The technical name for this astronomical occurrence is the “perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system.” It happens about every 14 months, which means we can expect it to happen again on Aug. 10, 2014. This will give you plenty of time to prepare if you want to shoot it next year.

See, I had this great vision of the image I was going to capture — a giant moon rising over the Marine Corps Memorial with the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol in the background. But there’s a difference between envisioning a shot and preparing for a shot.


Photo by Joe Newman

I thought I had prepared. I had read some tips on how to photograph the moon. I had a telephoto lens, a tripod and a shutter release cable. I had checked to see what time the moon was rising with the Naval Observatory web site and made sure to get to the memorial with plenty of time to set up.

The one thing I hadn’t done was scouted at what angle the moon would rise and where it’s arc across the sky would take it. Me and a dozen other people had set up on a little hill above the memorial. From where we were we completely missed the moon coming up over the horizon. In other words, I got the composition I was hoping for, except without the moon!

In fact, from the angle we were set up at, there was almost no way to frame the moon into a shot of the memorial. So, instead of shooting the monument from “6 o’clock,” I had to pick up my tripod and move to the “9 o’clock” position to get the moon into the frame. It’s not a great picture (I overexposed for the moon) but the next time the supermoon pays a visit, I’ll be ready.

Supermoon over the Marine Corps Memorial

The supermoon rising above the Marine Corps Memorial / Photo by Joe Newman

Photos of the moon and the Washington Monument are by Bill Ingalls for the NASA HQ PHOTO flickr page and are used under a Creative Commons license. 

Joe Newman

I'm Joe Newman, multi-media story teller, non-profit do-gooder, international street photographer, serious poker player, intrepid traveler. Bourbon drinker.

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