No doubt, you noticed the full moon from time to time, but you may not be aware, or may have forgotten, there is a full-moon phase every month. These are the nights to take your camera, tripod and other appropriate equipment to the right location(s) to capture big, bold and detailed images of the full moon.
Every month’s full moon has been given a name (often more than one) based on Native American and early European settlers’ traditions. The full moons during the months of September, October, November and December make exceptionally good subject matter at the northern latitudes, so dress warmly and follow the tips in this article.
THE AUTUMNAL FULL MOONS
September’s full moon is the famous Harvest Moon, sometimes known as the Full Corn Moon. Occasionally, the Harvest Moon will be seen during early October because the moon cycle is 29 days. Both Native Americans and farmers in Europe and then North America knew the skies well enough to understand that the Harvest Moon appears to rise at nearly the same time on its specific night and the nights before and after that date. This gave farmers enough light to harvest crops later during the evening. Typically, the full moon rises, on average, 50 minutes later every night, but it’s only 25 to 30 minutes later in the U.S. and 10 to 20 minutes in Canada and Europe during the Harvest Moon period.
For September 2012, the Full Harvest Moon is September 29th at 11:19 pm. For 2013, it is earlier, on September 19th at 7:13 am.
October’s full moon has several names, the most well known being Full Hunter’s Moon. It’s also been called Blood Moon or Sanguine Moon. Again, this event signaled an excellent time for Native Americans to do their final fall hunting before winter firmly established itself. The harvest had been completed, so the fields were fallow and wide open. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, reducing the foliage, behind which deer and other animals could hide. October was also when deer were at their greatest weight, having eaten in anticipation of another winter with far fewer food sources.
The 2012 Full Hunter’s Moon is October 29th at 3:50 pm, while the 2013 event will occur October 18th at 7:38 pm.
Full Beaver Moon is the name the Native Americans gave November’s full moon, which is also known as the Frosty Moon. The beaver reference was applied because beavers are typically doing their last bit of busy work before the winter arrives and Native Americans knew it would be their last opportunity to trap beavers before the waters around their dens froze.
November 28th at 9:46 am is when you’ll see the Full Beaver Moon during the fall of 2012, while 2013’s will fall on November 17th at 10:16 am.
It shouldn’t be surprising that December’s full moon goes by the names, the Full Cold Moon, the Full Long Nights Moon or the Moon before Yule. Of course, the longest night of the year occurs during December, the Winter Solstice. Not only is the night longer, but also the Moon remains above the horizon for a much longer duration than most other full moons.
The Full Cold Moon for December 2012 is December 28th at 5:21 am and during 2013, it will occur on December 17th at 4:28 am. The name Moon before Yule will be more appropriate during December 2013, as the date is prior to Christmas, while 2012’s is after Christmas.
You may have noticed a great variety of times for these full moons: morning, late afternoon, evening and during the middle of the night. With this PhotographyTalk article, however, you can make your plans well in advance, so you can set the alarm clock. All of these times are U.S. EST or EDT.
For more information about full moons and their calendar, visit the Farmers Almanac.
Now that you have the valuable information above, you need to know how to take advantage of it. Knowing those peak times are important because the best moon photos are taken far from the city and the interference of its many bright lights, or accumulation of light. That’s why those very early morning times for December’s Full Cold Moon during 2012 and 2013 are excellent targets.
Of course, it’s the middle of the night in December, so your first consideration is to be sure you’re dressed for the weather. Capturing the best images of the moon is always a waiting game, so you might want a ground cover or even a platform, so you’re not standing on snow-covered or wet ground for hours. Hand warmers or some kind of warming device will be welcomed, but one that can be easily switched on and off, so any light from it won’t affect your ability to see clearly or your photos. A big thermos of coffee or cocoa is not a bad idea either.
The photography equipment you’ll need to shoot good full moon photos is rather short. Typically, a DSLR body is required because you need, at a minimum, a 300mm lens; 500mm or longer is actually the best. Now, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars for a telephoto lens with such an extreme focal length. Such lenses are readily available for rent at approximately $40 for four days.
With advancements in compact camera technology, there are now better compacts with a super optical zoom lens that may also be capable of doing the job. For example, the new (July 2012) Panasonic LUMIX FZ200 has a lens with the 35mm equivalent of 25–600mm. It’s Intelligent Zoom mode allows the super optical zoom to jump to 48x, which is the equivalent of 1,200mm.
Rock-solid camera steadiness is also a must, so don’t expect to handhold a DSLR with a 500mm lens attached to it, so additional necessary equipment is a tripod and a shutter release cable or remote trigger device.
Once you’re dressed for your full moon photography adventure, found the best location and equipped yourself properly, you need to follow some rather easy shooting tips.
- Shoot RAW images, so you have all the data to edit your full-moon images. Make sure you bring some extra memory cards, since RAW images are much larger files.
- Use the Aperture Priority mode, which results in the widest aperture, or lens opening. The camera must capture as much light as possible.
- Choose an ISO setting between 100 and 400. This will eliminate digital noise, so your images are razor sharp.
- Cameras don’t read a bright moon against a dark sky very well, so meter with the spot-metering mode.
- Because the camera can misread the light, it’s best to shoot in the bracketing mode, so you’ll capture the full moon at a variety of exposure combinations. Thus, assuring that you’ll bring home one or more winners.
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