Chasing the Supermoon!

Supermoon Hype

The usual media hype about the Supermoon was lurking on the Interwebs. "...biggest since 1948" noted CNN, "Supersized!" screamed USA Today . Peer pressure was mounting on Facebook too. "Get your camera ready, Harry" said one friend. Another mentioned they were excited to see what I would do with that incredible lunar event.

On the other side of the coin, I am firmly among the Supermoon deniers. "The supermoon isn't super. It's just the moon," as Rhett Allain explains in Wired Magazine's Science column in October of 2015. Really, blowing up the idea of a supermoon by comparing its size to the tiniest full moon is cheating. As NASA writers note in the article, fourteen percent larger doesn't make much of a difference.

I've eaten fourteen percent larger cookies before, and it doesn't make me want to have any fewer of them.

But when the day approached, I couldn't resist. Making a stand against the Supermoon is like making a stand against the tides themselves. Beautiful waves, an air of expectation, and the undeniable challenge of making something impressive out of this event when my equipment is clearly mis-matched to the task: time to go get it.

How to Catch the Moon?

Before my last trip to Colorado, I had taken a hard look at how I use my equipment. I ditched my array of lenses and settled on a much simpler solution: two camera bodies, each with a lens I never remove. For those riskier excursions, I added a "pocket camera", a more sturdy little Sony I can house in a waterproof casing for wave shots. My goals: avoid contaminating my sensor, reduce time setting up, and mitigate some of the weight I had been carrying in my camera bag. I now never change lenses in the field.

These two lenses cover a variety of situations, but don't address every one. They certainly didn't address the special challenges of making a Supermoon look ridiculously huge!

I would need to get creative.

Getting Creative

We live on the sunrise side of the Big Island of Hawaii. In a less poetic sense, that also puts us on the rainy side, and often gives us a thick cushion of clouds right at the horizon. I knew from checking Photographer's Ephemeris that the moon would be rising up out of the ocean just as sunset's colors were fading in the sky. If the clouds would cooperate, it could be impressive. We scoped it out earlier in the day, looking for a palm tree I could catch in the moonrise shot. Rain was in the forecast, clouds were in the sky, but this was the Supermoon of the Century!

My wife Mouse, dog Little, and I grabbed a cup of tea, a tripod, and an umbrella for the adventure and walked the two blocks to the ocean. We set up early, tried to get a fix on the spot the moon would emerge, and chatted with neighbors passing by. Soon we had a group enlisted in moon-spotting. It's not easy to aim in the right direction over the ocean, and the moonrise is as quick as the sunrise, so we nearly missed it. The ability to quickly disengage from conversation and focus on the camera was a key asset 😉

Luckily, a full moon is big for several nights in a row. I could pull out a variety of tricks for the event. The second night found us with another chancy forecast. Just as moonrise approached , so did a hard-hitting rain storm. We tropical folk are a hardy breed, though, so we set out for our date with the moon anyway. Tonight we had a better handle on the moon's angle, a better array of clouds at the horizon, and a good palm tree for our foreground. Plus, the moon rose nearly an hour later, giving us entirely different light. THIS was the shot I had hoped for last night!

Big Waves or Big Moon?

On the third night, I was ready for a change. Between big waves and the moonrise, I had been catching both ends of the day with my camera, and Mouse was ready to take an evening off.

For the last plausible Supermoon night, I indulged myself. I love big waves. The full picture stretched upward: the giant waves lit by super-moonlight, the expanse of the night sky, and the waning supermoon itself.

A little Grateful Dead in my headphones, a heavy tripod, an empty stretch of coastline, and the later night brought on by a later rise and wanting a higher moon: peaceful enjoyment. The blues of the shot mirrored the calm of my happy spirit. I set up a vertical panorama to stitch together these three shots, capturing the wave shot at a higher speed and panning upward to get the moon at a more leisurely pace.

My favorite part of any shot, of course, is the edit afterwards. Moon shots definitely rate some attention. A nice cup of coffee, some music, a couple challenging shots and a fun little video, an ocean breeze... I was in heaven.

So, on the next week's episode of Weekly Edit I went through the Darktable edit I did of the moon-and-palm tree shot. Because the moon is so very bright and I wanted detail in the rest of the image, I used a the Watermark Module to do compositing within Darktable. Later in that episode, I also played with the moon-and-wave panorama shot again, just for fun.

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