A very rare natural event occurred a few nights ago, and if you missed it, you’ll have to wait until 2034 for a replay. The full moon on November 14th was the biggest, brightest and closest “supermoon” since January 26th, 1948!
That’s almost 70 years!
Related: Supermoon in October
But what is a supermoon anyway?
A supermoon is simply defined as a full moon at its closest point to Earth during its orbit (the perigree), according to Space.com.
Supermoons are possible because the moon does not have a circular orbit around the Earth. Instead, its orbit is slightly elliptical and on average, it is 238,900 miles from the Earth. For a perigree to occur, the moon must be at least 5% closer.
This month’s supermoon will be the fifth for 2016, with another scheduled to take place on December 14th. However, there’ll only be one supermoon in 2017.
Not so super, Supermoon
Images on the Internet may be misleading and you should know that the supermoon does not appear this big everywhere on Earth. How you see the supermoon is based on where you’re located in the world and the weather conditions at the time of the event.
Here in Dominica, it was hard to tell that Tuesday’s moon was any larger than a regular full moon. However, it was much brighter that usual and this encouraged many local photographers to get creative.
Many parts of the world were covered in clouds, which made it difficult to get a clear view of the supermoon. For example, the Daily Mail reported before Tuesday night that most of the UK will have clouds obstructing the view. Unfortunately, their prediction turned out to be true!
Finally, due to the movement of these celestial bodies, it may have been daytime in your part of the world when the moon was at its fullest. The next image shows the day and night sides of Earth at the exact instant of the full moon.
If you missed the supermoon on November 14th, you may have still been able to see a bigger, brighter moon on the night of the 15th.
How I Photographed the Supermoon
I was looking forward to the November supermoon. I had hoped to be better prepared for it but I was able to conjure up a few photo ideas to experiment with.
However, car troubles led me to abandon my plan and I observed from home instead. I was surprised to see that for most of the night, the supermoon remained high overhead and it didn’t descend to the horizon as I’d hoped.
Therefore, on the following day I threw out my photo ideas and decided to capture the two photographs you see below.
“Blue Skies and Bright Lights”
From past experience, I knew that I could get a great view of the capital from upper Fond Cole. So I drove up there, parked, and walked along the street looking for the best perch to set up my equipment.
I was lucky to find a house with a flat concrete roof, allowing direct access from the main road, and walked onto the roof to set up shop. I stood about one foot from the edge and paused for a minute to admire the view. Beautiful!
I had fun creating this image and performing my first exposure blend. I’m satisfied with the final product… what do you think? For those interested, I used two photographs to create this image. The first was a long exposure of approximately 47 seconds long and the second was 30 seconds long.
“Behold, the Supermoon”
When I was satisfied with the first group of photographs, I decided to capture the moon head-on. This proved to be easier said than done for more than one reason.
First of all, there was a thick blanket of clouds moving over the area. The moon ducked behind these clouds, playing hide and seek with me for more than 20 minutes. Secondly, due to the moon’s position in the sky, and my location on the ground, I could not use a tripod to steady the shot. So I had to capture this image by hand, which is a tricky endeavor at night.
WARNING: Technical photography talk ahead… One rule of thumb when capturing photographs without a tripod is to use a shutter speed that is at least as fast as the focal length for that shot. This meant that I needed to find a way to achieve a shutter speed that was at least 1/200 seconds… at night no less!
Normally, I’d be able to raise the ISO to get a quicker shutter speed. However high ISOs mean grainy, low quality images. I ended up using exposure compensation to under-expose the frame by 5 stops. That, coupled with a relatively large aperture allowed me to use a 1/500 second shutter speed. I was able to capture the moon without shaking the camera which resulted in a relatively sharp image!
I wanted to see the supermoon from The Morne, Scotts Head, The Cabrits and Cold Soufriere. However, as high up in the sky as this full moon was, it was impossible to get the kinds of shots that I wanted. I’m happy with the images I did capture though and I look forward to experimenting with exposure blending some more!