It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the Supermoon! And a Little Journalistic Transparency …


The other night I went out to shoot the “Supermoon.”

The real term for it is as super perigee Moon. Essentially its the same Moon but this month the Moon’s perigee positioned it much closer than normal. In fact, the moon was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a normal full moon. Read about it on NASA’s website here: Super Perigee Moon for the more technical issues.

The super perigee Moon, "Supermoon," rises over the Space Needle in Seattle, Wash. But read further to see how it was captured.

So after spending the afternoon at the Seattle Center with the Seattle SMUG group hosting a workshop on lensing, I drove over to Alki Beach in West Seattle to photograph this rare celestial event. Alki Beach is mostly due west of downtown Seattle.

Like all the other 100s of photographers, I wanted to get the moon in context with something to show its size. I found a good spot and waited for it to rise. It began as a little bit of a glow beyond the Cascade Mountains to the east.

In a few minutes, I realized how far south  the moon was rising (remind me next time to consult the Photographer’s Ephemeris). It’s a free down loadable tool invaluable to the landscape or cityscape photographer. It show’s you the line you need to be on to capture both the moon and sun as they rise and set. It’s a really cool tool.

So I had to adjust my plans. I grabbed my gear and ran further south along the water front to capture it rising above the cranes at Harbor Island. Fun times.

As the moon rose, I shot it tight. I used my Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 lens with my TC-14E II 1.4x tele-converter mounted on my D-300s body. The rig was mounted via the lens collar o the 80-200 for stability.

The Super Perigee Moon, Supermoon, rises over Harbor Island and the Cascade Mountains as seen from Alki Beach in West Seattle.

The camera was set at ISO 200 for better image quality and noise control, while my white balance set on daylight. Why not use auto white balance?

As we know from general knowledge, the Moon is lit by the Sun and the corresponding white balance would be daylight. I also do not like to use automatic as in cases like this, the camera would read the bright orange of the Moon and the lights and try to correct them.

so to avoid some major color correction in post, I manually set my white balance to daylight.

As I wanted to have a reasonable amount of depth of field, I used a f/stop of 16, making my shutter drop to 2 seconds. You can tell I used a small aperture by the starbursts created by the crane lights. A cool side effect, and one I had forgotten about.

What was good, was that as the moon was low on the horizon and beaming through thin upper atmosphere clouds, it was darker. This was good as it brought the brightness down to about the same range as the lights on the cranes.

It was bad because it softened the features. But cool it created a glowing effect around it. Gotta learn to take the bad with the good. And for the most part, it’s all good.

So I began shooting the Moon as it began rising and varied my exposure to get it within range of my sensor. I was happy with the results.

So being as I like to Tweet what I am doing and photos I’ve shot, I went to my car and downloaded the images. While kneeling on the curb and working on my photos, passers-by looked over my shoulder as toned the images.

Many watched as the images popped up on my screen. For ingestion and editing purposes, I use Photo-Mechanic. It’s a simple program that allows you to caption, tag, and add all your information as each image is transferred from the card to your hard drive. It’s a great, easy to use program at a good price.

So I edited the two photos I wanted and sent them over Twitter (@pabloconrad if you’d like to follow me). I used the hashtags  #Supermoon and #photojournalism to ensure they were seen by interested individuals.

The super perigee Moon as it rises over Harbor Island and the Cascade Mountains seen from Alki Beach.

As I was photographing the Moon rising over the cranes, I looked towards the Space Needle and said to my self “I have to get one with it rising over the Needle.”

When it comes to rare celestial events, I always like to photograph them. I also like to cover my bases and try to get one with a local landmark in the photograph. How often will this happen? One doesn’t know. That’s why they’re rare.

So after Tweeting the first two photos, I headed over to the Space Needle. A nice long drive over the West Seattle Bridge, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and through the lower Queen Anne neighborhood. It was frustrating to say the least.

Finding the angle with the Space Needle and the Moon in one shot wasn’t easy.

But as luck would have it, I found a parking spot on 3rd and Republican streets. I walked around for about 5 minutes. I walked up an alley between 2nd and 3rd and there the Moon was behind the Space Needle.

It was beautiful. I literally gasped and said a very loud “Wow!”

So I quickly set up my tripod and the same rig from Alki Beach and began shooting. Because of the high contrast to the scene, it was impossible to get a single exposure that had detail in the Moon and the Space Needle. You sacrificed one or the other.

I bracketed from exposing for the moon, to exposing for the needle and there was not ONE exposure that I could get in range for both. It was disheartening and disappointing. However, I WAS NOT going to miss an opportunity like this.

So I kept shooting. When I felt I had good exposures from the needle and the Moon, I left. During the drive home, I hoped I pull the detail out from both as the latitude of the scene was extreme.

After getting home, I downloaded the files and opened them in Photoshop. No luck, curves wouldn’t do it, burning, dodging, all the normal tools I use wouldn’t bring out the detail in both. It was disheartening and devastating.

The two images I used for the composite photograph.

One of the things I don’t like to do, as a journalist, is over-manipulate images. I avoid composites like the plague. I think they are a bit excessive and a violation of journalistic ethics.

So with  a lot of hesitation, I decided to use two photos: one of a properly exposed Space Needle, and one of a well exposed Moon.

With a simple selection, I used the elliptical marquee tool with a 1:1 ration (to get a circle) and selected the well exposed moon. Then pasted it over the over-exposed Moon. It wasn’t hard as I used the same lens set in both shots.

I cringed when I did this. I’m not used to doing these things. It doesn’t sit right with me.

After placing the new moon, I had to erase a touch of the layer with the Space Needle as the Moon moved enough to have a full disk. Just used the eraser tool.

That is it. I exposed my soul. I feel a bit naked but also cleansed exposing my shortcomings.

But that aside, that is what I saw. I just couldn’t get the exposure to come out correctly.

Would I do this in a news photo. NO. Just deal with a poorly exposed image.

Thanks for stopping by and reading.

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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