Supermoon fever seemed to grip the online communities on Saturday night. Twitter was buzzing with it as people who would normally pay no interest in our nearest celestial neighbour peered upwards trying to see if the moon was indeed 14% bigger than usual and 30% brighter as the news websites reported. Of course if you hadn’t seen the moon for a few months then suddenly caught it on Saturday it would have looked different, if you look for it all the time you didn’t see much since the move to a big moon is gradual and not all at once.
The Supermoon, or perigee moon, is not a once in a lifetime occurrence as the media would have us believe, it actually happens a few times a year as the moon’s orbit gets closer to Earth and then ebbs away again, it’s just some are closer than others, this year’s wasn’t as close as the March one last year but it was still impressive.
With the moon’s latest close approach to Earth the timing wasn’t great with regards to the moonrise time still falling in daylight. The moon came up over the horizon from Edinburgh at 20.37 and to that ends I was stood on Blackford Hill with a good view to the South East with a Nikon D7000, Sigma 200mm f2.8, 2xtele and photographic tripod and the MacBook pro so I could try some tethered shots. However, as with all good astro plans the weather got in the way dumping a low bank of cloud on the horizon spoiling the fun. The sky was still very light too so gave up and went home in a huff.
It didn’t take too long though for the moon to get over that cloud bank and around an hour after moonrise I got my first shot at it from home. Sadly, it was so low I had to shoot from the front garden in-between passing Lothian Buses double deckers and glaring sodium streetlights. This was shot tethered to the MacBook pro with Sofortbild which lets you get a real handle on the focus, the golden glow of the low moon still very evident.
Remember those buses I had to try and avoid, I didn’t manage it every time…
About an hour later with the moon higher in the sky I tried again, not tethered this time due to where I had to stand to get the shot (half way up the neighbours stair to avoid a telephone cable). The golden glow has lessened but there’s more contrast and detail.
It might have just been imagination but even at midnight the sky still looked almost twilight to the south with that moon shining so brightly.
The following night with a later moon rise and more cloud about I wasn’t hopeful of anything at all but it did peek out from between the houses over the road very low down and very orange. Pretty impressive even though it wasn’t a “Supermoon” any longer.
The reality here is that any phase of the moon, near or far is a delight to photograph. Despite it being the same subject it’s a challenging subject to get right and atmospherics and cloud play their part too. It’s probably my favourite photographic object and it’s not out of reach for those even with basic photographic equipment. Supermoon or not, give it a try on the next clear day, daylight, twilight or night time it’s always worth a go.
There’s nothing better than a special event to bring out the photographers in Edinburgh, even more so it seems if it’s a once every 20 years lunar event as we had on Saturday 19th March. The event in question, the Perigee Moon saw the moon at it’s closest to earth for 18 years meaning it would look 14% bigger and 30% brighter. Would we even notice? Who care’s it’s a photographable event and plans had to be made!
Last week after being in North Queensferry I had noticed the moon directly above the Rail Bridge so that was a possible location. Blackford Hill was another but it gets slightly cold up there if it’s windy. So, with the help of Twitter and The Photographers Ephemeris, I decided on Calton Hill. From the Photographers Ephemeris you could see the position and time of the moonrise, around 6.30pm and due East.
On arriving at Calton Hill the first thing that struck me was the amount of photographers already setup at 6pm with cameras on tripods facing the wrong direction! I can only assume one set up incorrectly and the rest followed as they had all moved by 6.30pm.
It was cold on the hillside on Saturday and as you would expect, half 6 came and went with no sign of the moon. Typically, the clear skies of earlier in the day had given way to heavy cloud cover, not what you want for moon photography. My efforts were further hampered by missing my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 lens, which has to go for repair earlier in the day leaving me with just my backup Sigma 28-300mm zoom, nice enough lens but oh so soft on the focus at the 300mm end. With that in mind, moon shots were out but moon above a landmark might still work out.
Just when I was about to give up hope the first glimmers of an appearance were in the Eastern sky, at this point I was up at the side of Observatory house and this was the first shot I got of any sort of moon just to the side of the National monument:
Walking past the monument revealed where at the photographers had went; they were dotted everywhere around the hillside here. The moon however, was not in a mood to show itself and the only other shot I got was this:
Long exposure and moon shots don’t go but there wasn’t even a remote chance of shooting the land and then the moon to combine in Photoshop. Fed up and cold I packed up and headed off being that I wasn’t interested in getting the moon high in the sky. Typically, on the way back to the car with all the gear packed away the moon popped out, just for a minute.
Now, I hate not getting the shot I went for so the next night, the moon was due to rise at 8.15pm again, due east. On checking possible locations this time I went, appropriately, for the car park of the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill. You don’t want to be parking in the public car park up here at night unless dogging is your thing…
Predictably, 8.15 came and went and it was nearly 20 minutes later till the first glow in the clouds gave away moon position. Higher than I’d have liked I started to get some exposures of the land hoping if the cloud cleared I’d get a change of an exposure for the moon to combine in. After another 20 minutes of hanging about, finally the clouds obliged. 2 shots were got, first of the moon then without moving the camera a longer exposure for the land. This was the final result of the 2 combined with Photoshop CS5.
Not quite the weekend of lunar photography I’d hoped for and 18 years to wait for it to happen again.
Or fake it?
Processing this shot last night I thought an added moon gave it a nice balance!
Not that dissimilar to another faked shot from a couple of months back:
Lesson to be learned? You can’t control the elements so if you really want the shot, learn to fake it! ;o)