Education Tutorial

How I shot the Supermoon

By on November 17, 2016

The media-hyped supermoon of November 2016 created a sensation and hype that I haven’t witnessed in a long time. Being the largest and brightest full moon in the last 60 years or so, it formed some very unrealistic expectations in the minds of the masses, including average viewers and veteran photographers alike.

If you were disappointed by the reality of the supermoon of November 14, 2016, then you are not alone. Let me take that heavy burden off your chest by saying that the whole “supermoon” craze was an utter disappointment. I remember seeing a much larger moon on days which were not the so-called supermoon days and my expectation, too, was shattered when I first saw the moon rising above the horizon on the evening of November 14.

Disappointment aside, it was at least a full moon, and the best thing about this moon was its rising above the horizon during blue hour (applicable to Qatar region). See, we have already picked on the GOOD points from an otherwise disappointing event. And that’s what turned my image into one of the most liked, shared and talked about images of the supermoon not only in Qatar but in the region. The sole purpose of this article is to give you some battle-tested tips and inspiration to help you see and capture a great moon shot in the future.


The Supermoon Shot

Let’s have another look at the photo of the supermoon that I captured on Nov. 14, 2016.

Supermoon rising above the sea as seen from Al Wakra Port

Supermoon rising above the sea as seen from Al Wakra Port

Impressive, isn’t it? I’ll get to the details of what makes this image tick and adds the “wow” factor. But let’s start with the technical bits first.


My Gear

Nothing fancy in the gear department. Or at least I can confirm that there is nothing latest in my camera bag. Here is what I used to take the above shot:

  • Nikon D800
  • Nikkor 70-200mm f/4
  • Vanguard Tripod

As you can see from above that I have a decent setup. Now if you remember the kind of moon images in which the moon takes up almost the entire area of the frame, and compare it with this image above, the first thing you will notice is the apparent “small” size of the supermoon. Thanks to the bombardment of those images of a giant moon across the internet, most people have developed a misconception about the real size of a moon. People also believe that the only way to get an excellent moon shot is by using a super-telephoto lens such as 600mm or even higher. Well, that’s simply not true. And my image should be a visual proof to what I am saying.


The Uncut Shot

Since seeing my supermoon shot on Monday evening on my facebook page, many people might have been wondering how I got the moon to look quite big in my photo. Especially after reading the above section, you too would be curious to know how a 200mm lens can render the moon as big as it’s in the photo. Have a look at yourself.

Uncropped frame showing the phases of the moon over a 60 minute period

The above image shows the composition I was able to get with my 70-200mm lens. The interesting part is that I didn’t even use the lens at 200mm and was shooting at 145mm throughout the 1-hour period.


The Magic

Magic always happens in the mind of the artist and comes to life through his/her skills. A photographer’s skill is to make an image, even if the situation makes it harder. Imagination and improvisation are important skills that can not be replaced with tools. It is just not possible. So making the best effort to think hard and fast in the field is a life-saver.

Let’s analyze and learn some tricks from the supermoon shot.

Trick #1: The Crop

Outline showing the final cropped proportion

Outline showing the final cropped proportion

The yellow rectangle in the image above shows my final crop. As you can notice that I cropped the frame excessively and the reasons are the following:

  • To make the moon look much larger than I got in my shots
  • To make the boat more visible
  • To exploit the sense of scale between the boat and the moon and use it to create a stronger composition

As mentioned earlier in my previous article titled “Supermoon 2016: A Guide for Doha“, I placed an emphasis on establishing a sense of scale between the moon and the subject to give the moon a larger-than-life size and add that wow factor.

Trick #2: Dehaze & Luminance Contrast

Many shooters noticed the unpleasant haze over the horizon on the evening of November 14, 2016, making the moon hard to detect as it began to rise. The moon had begun rising at 4:58pm but we couldn’t see anything clearly for at least 10 minutes. It might have been there but was hard to detect and in all the excitement, and fiddling with the camera controls, most of us were not looking very hard until we lost some precious minutes. And even later when we finally spotted the moon and began taking photos, the haze was just killing the visibility.

Haze results in the lack of contrast and the easiest way to fix it is by using a combination of Photoshop “Dehaze” filter (accessible from Adobe Camera Raw), contrast and clarity sliders. Let’s have a look at the difference it can make in such a situation:

Before Dehaze/Contrast/Clarity

Before Dehaze/Contrast/Clarity

As you can see from the above image, that it’s not even close to great. Here is how it gets improved after applying the dehaze, adding contrast and clarity.

After basic adjustments (Dehaze, Contrast & Clarity)

After basic adjustments (Dehaze, Contrast & Clarity)

Small adjustments in the right amount have improved the frame. But it was only possible with a RAW file. That’s why always shoot in RAW.

The next step is using color to create a powerful effect.

Trick #3: Color Contrast

If we analyze the composition, we can notice that the image comprises two colors, that are blue and red. A larger portion of the image is blue but due to haze and the absence of any artificial lights in the scene, the image looks dull and lifeless.

Let’s add some “color” contrast by boosting those blues and reds and add life to the image. I used the following steps to boost the color contrast:

  • Applying the Orton effect
  • Adding Vibrance adjustment layer
  • Adding Levels to boost the white point a bit
  • Adding Hue/saturation to boost the reds/magentas

 

Adjustment layers to boost color contrast

Adjustment layers to boost color contrast

And here is the result after that:

With boosted color contrast

With boosted color contrast

With just a few adjustments, the image has improved significantly and the results look promising.

Trick #4: Imagination

This is the most important aspect of the whole process. If I had just taken a single shot as the one shown above, the image would never have a powerful impact. As I had no super telephoto lens to get a supersized moon in the frame, I decided to go with a more wider composition and show the progression of the rising supermoon instead. That’s what improvisation and imagination are all about. Embracing the limitations of the situation and thinking fast to find a practical workaround can often turn the game in your favor.

To show the progression of the moonrise, I took consecutive shots every 60 or so seconds. As I forgot to bring my intervalometer with me, I had to trigger the camera manually and used my iPhone stopwatch to time my shots at a 60-second interval.

At the time of post-processing, when I stacked the frames using layers in Photoshop, I noticed that the 60-sec interval was too short and resulted in a lot of overlap of the moon between two shots. Therefore I picked the frames that were 120 seconds apart, which gave me a nice overlap between every two frames.

Here is what the progression of the rising supermoon did to an otherwise boring and dull composition.

Uncropped frame showing the phases of the moon over a 60 minute period

Uncropped frame showing the phases of the moon over a 60 minute period

In addition to the above, I added some red color below the boat to give off an effect of the reflection of the moon in the sea. That was the final touch (see “the supermoon shot” section above).


The Downside

Even though the final image looks great, it has a major flaw, and that is “size” or resolution. As I had to crop the frame aggressively, I ended up with a much lower pixel dimensions. Thanks to a 36.3MP file of the D800, the final cropped image is still big enough for online sharing but it’s not suitable for print production.

Another mistake that I had done was not going all out at 200mm. Remember that I mentioned that I used 145mm for this composition. An extra 55mm of magnification would have given me a tighter shot and a bigger image even after cropping. Well, I learned a good lesson that would hopefully come in handy the next time I go out to capture the moon.


Go out & Experiment

Now you know the process that I followed to get the image you have seen on my facebook page. Why don’t you give it a shot over the weekend and share your results with me. For your convenience, I have listed the moonrise details for Thursday, Nov 17 and Friday, Nov 18, 2016.

Thursday Night Moonrise (17 November 2016): Moon will begin to rise at 7:50pm in the direction of ENE (East North East). So you can begin shooting it from 8:00pm.

Friday Night Moonrise (18 November 2016): Moonrise will begin at 8:50pm so you can start shooting from 9:00pm. Direction of the moon is once again ENE (East North East)

Locations to shoot the Moonrise: I have suggested the best spots for the supermoon observation and shooting in my previous article and the same applies to the moonrise over the coming weekend (Nov 17 – Nov 19, 2016). So check it out and take your pick from the many spots I have suggested.


Well, that’s all there is. I hope I have provided some useful information for you to get better moon shots. As always, feel free to drop me a comment or question in the comment section below and feel free to share the article and tag me if you’d like me to have a look at your moon shots. Happy shooting everyone! And don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest tips and techniques.

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HAMMAD IQBAL
DOHA, QATAR

Hi, I am Hammad Iqbal, a professional photographer based in Doha. Welcome to the "HI Blog" where I share tutorials, tips and techniques about shooting and post-processing images using Lightroom and Photoshop. Follow my updates by subscribing to my newsletter and discover with me the art of photography and post-processing!

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