I was driving back to my hotel in Ullapool after photographing a beautiful Loch at sunset, when this spectacular view suddenly revealed itself. Whenever the Sun, the Earth and the Moon are in alignment we see the full illuminated surface of the Moon, a ‘full moon’; but when this coincides with the Moon’s closest approach to Earth within it’s elliptical orbit, known as the perigee, then it appears much brighter and bigger than usual and is referred to as a ‘supermoon’. Supermoons can be seen approximately every 14th full moon, but often the full-moon preceding and following the perigee also appear large enough to qualify.
Unlike a new moon, the full moon rises in the opposite direction to the setting sun; the timings of moonrise vary, and there are numerous apps available to help us predetermine where the moon will rise and at what time. This image was made using a focal length of 400mm on a full-frame camera and this is probably the best starting point for choice of lens. Telephoto lenses magnify camera shake, so a sturdy tripod is essential, the heavier the better; and a large open umbrella to shield the camera from the wind can be very helpful too. Even with a sturdy tripod and impeccable technique, shooting the moon is still technically challenging and it is always worth making a series of exposures to increase your ‘hit-rate’.
One of the most challenging aspects of full or ‘near’ full moon photography is that the moon often rises after the sun has set, against a darkened sky. The perfect exposure for the moon itself is almost the same as that for photographing the scene in daylight, so if we want to capture both foreground and the moon as it rises above the horizon we have a decision to make. We can expose for the moon and render the foreground in complete textureless silhouette, or we can compromise, as I have done here, overexposing the moon, intentionally blowing it out, but maintaining some detail in the shadows and capturing some colour in the sky. The degree to which these considerations apply depends on the timing of moonrise and we can of course capture multiple exposures to cover the wide dynamic range of the scene and then blend them together in post-processing. Shooting supermoons opens the door to a wonderful creative playground.