Secrets of the Supermoon

Warning: objects in rearview mirror may appear larger than they are. 

Especially when said object is a supermoon, and you replace "rearview mirror" with the screen of my iPhone. If you've ever tried to snap a picture of the moon and wondered "It sure looked bigger in the sky", you know what I'm talking about.

I recently undertook a project to photograph the moon with pregnant ladies. I knew two lovely ladies that were going to be first time mothers, and I wanted to create a special concept for them. Full moon, full bellies.. it just made sense. I had no idea just how much I would have to learn to make it happen. That hits the spot... Finding the right location was tricky. I thank God everyday for amazing apps, like The Photographer's Ephemeris (although she insists, please, just call her TPE) & Sky Guide. For basic planning purposes, TPE helped me scan the island and see where the sun and moon will be rising and setting, when it will be full, and where I can angle the moon behind my subject and still have enough space between us in order to use a telephoto lens. TPE helped me find the best spot, and then I hiked out there and scouted during the day to make sure I could elevate my subject and be able to see them unobstructed from far away. Using Sky Guide, I could hold my phone up to the sky, fast forward to the time and date I would be shooting, and see exactly where the moon would be in relation to where I was standing and where I wanted my subject to stand. So far so good.

Bigger isn't always better...

I knew in order to make the moon appear larger in the picture, I needed a telephoto lens, but I didn't know how large I needed it to be. 400mm? 1600? After looking at a few images on other blogs, I decided 800mm would give me the size I wanted. Only one problem- it's $350 to rent the 800mm lens for 3 days.

  After consulting with the helpful staff at Hawaii Camera, I opted for the poor man's version- a 100-400mm lens paired with a 2x converter to create an equivalent 800mm, and a sturdy tripod. I was ready for my first victims.

I brought my beautiful friend Stacy and her husband out to the spot, and then ran back to my location 500 feet away to set up the lens. They set up their phone on speakerphone, while I juggled mine in one hand while adjusting the camera and tripod. As the moon started to rise, I realized we weren't in quite the right spot! I yelled directions into the phone. Quick- move! Over there! Two steps, no back! We soon found out that at 800mm zoom, the moon moves across your camera screen so quickly, you only have about 15 seconds to capture it before it's too high. 7 days of planning and anticipation is a lot of hype for a mere 15 seconds. thatswhatshesaid

Stacy and Rom were committed to getting the shot, so I had them move to a higher rock and re-positioned my camera. I double checked the alinement of the moon against my subjects and my camera lens angle using Sky Guide, and we waited again.... the excitement....the anticipation....

Watching the glow of the moon silently rise up behind them and illuminate her full belly was magical, but we had to work fast. When I was exposed and focused on Stacey and Rom, the moon was a white blur. In order to have both subjects properly exposed and focused, I took two photos- one adjusted for the moon, and one adjusted for my subjects, and created a composite with both my subjects and the moon in focus.

The result was beautiful. For my next attempt, I wanted to create an image where the moon was still large, but the belly was larger against the moon. To understand how to create this effect, I had to learn a little more about the science behind it all. Back when I was in highschool and my little brother was in middleschool, he helped explain my math homework to me. He likened himself to Jason,  child mathwhiz of the comic Foxtrot.

10 years later, nothing has changed. He's now getting his PhD in physics, and he helped break the science of solar photography down a little better. My first question- is there a size difference between the moon at different times in the night?

The moon is not bigger on the horizon A picture of the moon at 800mm zoom taken high in the sky, and a picture of the moon gracing the horizon with the same settings are, in fact, virtually the same size on the screen of my camera. It turns out it's all one big solar optical illusion, and for all photographic planning purposes, it's not actually as large as it appears. thatswhatshesaid

Distance is the greatest determining factor

I thought I could control the relation of the size of my subject against the moon using the zoom on the lens, but it turns out of all the factors involved, the distance between the camera and the subject is the one that makes the greatest difference for my purposes. My mathwhiz brother broke this down to me even further in a spreadsheet involving the lensmaker equation and other fun things, but that's a whole new level of nerding out that I'll save for another day.  For the second shoot, I decided to be only 300 feet away from my subject. I brought out another lovely mother, Coco, and her husband Ryan, who helped hold the phone for her on speakerphone. I stuffed my own phone down my shirt so I could holler at them while using both hands to adjust the camera and focus (another reason to pick a spot farther away from civilization). With the knowledge gained from my attempt the night before, we were nearly perfectly aligned as the moon rose, and in that special moment, Coco bowed her head gently towards her growing belly.

Mission accomplished, we hiked home under the light of the full moon, having created a special memory of the anticipation, awe, and fullness of heart embodied in these beautiful first time mothers.

Thank you to everyone who helped bring this vision to life. :)