On Saturday 31st March, we will experience the second ‘Blue Moon’ of 2018. A ‘Blue Moon’ is the rare moment when a second full moon appears during one calendar month.
A blue moon usually happens once every two or three years, and double blue moons only happens three to five times in a century. This hasn’t happened since 1999 and won’t happen again until 2037. As a lunar month lasts about 29.5 days, and a calendar month can last between 28 and 31 days, it means there can be two full moons in one month.
Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer, David Noton, has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.
1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know
The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.
2. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom
On Saturday, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens3.
3. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details
As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.
4. Integrate the moon into your landscape
Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.
5. Master the shutter speed for your subject
The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.
By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.
On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!
Commenting, Michael Burnhill, the European Technical Support Manager for Canon Europe, says:
“Shooting the moon can be difficult, whether you shoot it against a night sky or landscape, getting the right exposure isn’t easy. Therefore, it is recommended either using exposure bracketing, or even better, shooting in RAW to allow exposure compensation to be done later in post-production.”
“All recent Canon EOS cameras have a noise reduction feature that can be switched on in the camera settings menu. This is an important consideration in a bid to reduce the noise that can occur during long exposures.”
“In terms of lenses, when you have a Blue Moon such as this one, there are two options. Either you shoot with a telephoto or wide angle lens, depending on what you want to achieve. A telephoto lens will give you the detail, whilst a wide angle lens will allow more of the scene to be included in the shot.”
For information on Canon products, visit www.canon.ie
Prepared and edited by Andrew Carroll, Journalism MA in DIT.