Lonely Planet Writer

Astro photographer shares tips for capturing the forthcoming supermoon of the century

With the most incredible supermoon of the 21st Century due to take place this week (14 November), Lonely Planet news has rounded up top tips from expert astro-photographer Andrew Whyte to help sky-watching snappers get the best shots of the ultra-rare occurrence. So grab your camera and follow these instructions, as another moon like it won’t be visible until 2034!

A supermoon photographed behind a building with Sony’s 70-200 G Master lens.
A supermoon photographed behind a building with Sony’s 70-200 G Master lens. Image by Albert Dros

1. Use apps and maps to prepare for the shoot

A supermoon and a windmill taken with Sony’s 70-200 G Master lens.
A supermoon and a windmill. Image by Albert Dross

Information about moon-rise times and positions is readily available online and can be cross-referenced with maps to help confirm if the shot you’re seeking is possible. Try to include a landmark or landscape feature in your scene. This usually means photographing when the moon is low to the horizon, so make sure there’s nothing in the background that can obstruct your view of the moon. Tall buildings, for instance, or in more rural settings, a copse of trees or distant hilltops.

2. Minimise vibrations

A tripod will add a huge amount of stabilisation to night photography, allowing for longer shutter speeds.
A tripod will add a huge amount of stabilisation to night photography, allowing for longer shutter speeds. Image by Andrew Whyte

Anything that causes a camera to vibrate can lead to a loss of sharp detail in your final image. The Sony 70-200 GM lens I used for this shoot has a built-in stabilisation feature which proved very effective at overcoming my slight natural movements. A solid tripod and cable release further helps to minimise the chance of movement.

3. Take control of your camera

Getting familiar with your camera's settings will allow much more control.
Getting familiar with your camera’s settings will allow much more control. Image by Andrew Whyte

For consistent results you need to instruct the camera what settings to apply. I prefer to shoot in manual mode but shutter priority can also be used. The moon moves swiftly across the sky so, in either case, it’s important to select a shutter speed above 1/100 sec (or higher for longer focal lengths), then adjust brightness using ISO (manual mode) or the exposure compensation dial (shutter priority).

4. Use auto-focus

A stunning scene of a tree against the starry sky.
Auto focus can help you pick out subject to concentrate on easier. Image by Andrew Whyte

Photographing a large landmark from a distance gives you the best chance of retaining sharp focus across the whole scene. I stood up to 3 km away from my chosen subjects. At that distance you may be able to use auto-focus, although I opted to focus manually, helped by the a7R II’s zoom assist and focus peaking features.

5. Keep shooting and watch the scene evolve

Like anything, photography takes time and practice to get right.
Like anything, photography takes time and practice to get right. Image by Andrew Whyte

Even the best-framed photo can be interrupted for better or worse. From an inopportune passer-by in the foreground, to a well-timed bird or plane in front of the moon. Take a few photos in quick succession for each composition and watch ahead for anything entering or leaving the frame, as some “lucky” shots are really the product of the photographer’s vision and anticipation.

6. Stay out late & get creative

The forthcoming supermoon is due to occur on November 14.
The forthcoming supermoon is due to occur on November 14. Image by Andrew Whyte

As the moon rises higher and the sky darkens, so arrives the chance to capture a different kind of image. By choosing a subject much closer to your position, a contorted tree, architectural feature or even friends for a moonlit portrait, you’ll help to throw the background out of focus and enjoy city lights or stars which render as soft, overlapping circles (commonly known as ‘bokeh’) instead of pinpricks of light.