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One Shot: Supermoon

Look, Up In the Sky...

Sam Garcia had an appointment with a fellow photographer to shoot the Supermoon—the name given to a full moon at or near its closest point to earth (or perigee) as it travels its elliptical orbit—on August 11, 2014. The moon, however, had a different idea.

As luck and nature would have it, when Sam awoke at 2:00 a.m. he saw the moon dead-centered in his bedroom window. He got his D800E and 500mm lens, opened the window, pulled up the screen, laid back down on the bed—"in exactly the same position I'd been sleeping," he says—and with the lens braced on a couple of pillows on his chest, made the shot.

Wake, see moon, shoot moon, go back to sleep. Done and dusted. "I don't see how I could have shot this any more easily," Sam says. "If you have a choice between being good and being lucky, pick lucky every time."

True, we have to credit luck, but there were still a number of deliberate decisions that contributed to the success of the image.

First there was Sam's idea to shoot the moon in black-and-white. "People tend to forget that the moon is a very gray object," he says, "and essentially there's no difference between a black-and-white photo of the moon and a color one when the frames are properly exposed." If the moon has a yellow cast as you view or photograph it, what you're seeing is the reflected light of the sun. "By setting my camera to black and white," Sam says, "I was retaining the basic look of the moon."

Why set the camera for black-and-white rather than shoot in color and remove it later? "Because," Sam says, "removing color later is a very different thing than shooting black-and-white. I wanted to be thinking in black-and-white and seeing black-and-white on the LCD."  

He also set his camera for increased sharpness and contrast.  

"My cameras are always set to high sharpness regardless of whether I'm shooting color or black-and-white. I don't agree with the idea that sharpening should be done after the fact—I want a photo that's sharp right out of the camera. How many photographers have you heard say, 'Oh, this take I just made is way too sharp'? Mostly you hear that it's too soft. I say shoot sharp, and if you shoot a RAW file and if you really don't like it, you can always unsharpen it."

And the increased contrast? "I just personally prefer a punchier contrast to all my pictures."

He made one other setting as well. "I dialed in the red filter in the monochrome setting. I'm trying to get a dramatic picture of a dramatic moon, and the red filter gave me more of a punch between the blacks and the whites, a greater distinction between the craters of the moon and what little shadows there were."

If Sam had gone out that night to shoot more of the moon, it's not likely he would have used the sense-of-scale indicators or framing devices, like tree branches or church steeples, that many other people photographing the Supermoon use. "I had in mind the big, clear, unadorned moon, in all of its graphic round detail."

His mention of "big" brings us to Sam's final choice for the photo: "I dialed in the 1.5x crop factor on the D800E to give the illusion of an image made with a 750mm lens and make the moon even bigger in the frame."

So, what can you do make your own Super moon image a success? Well, first you have to find out when the Supermoon will be on view, and you can do that by Googling or searching Supermoon dates.

Then, keep the big glass handy. There's no denying the power of a 500mm NIKKOR to render detail and deliver sharp focus and dramatic size, but it's also possible to get satisfying results with a 70-300mm or a 200-400mm NIKKOR. "If you're using a lens shorter than 500mm," Sam advises, "set it to infinity and close down to f/11 or f/16 to let depth of field help with focus."

If you're a fan of COOLPIX cameras, the P900 has an 83x optical zoom that makes it the equivalent of a 2000mm lens and, yes, a Moon Scene Mode.

You might also consider a tripod, as it's handier to carry than a pile of pillows.

Will the Supermoon cooperate by appearing in the center of one of your windows? We can't help you with that, but you should remember that while it might be better to be lucky than good, luck does favor the prepared.

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