The Super Moon Spectacle
“Supermoon wows sky-gazers for only time this year” – Fox News. “Stunning pictures show the spectacular phenomenon, which has only occurred once this year, rising across the world’s skies.” so reported NBC-NEWS. The super moon mania is a rather new phenomenon. Only in recent years has there been this craze about an astronomical event that has recurred a few times each year for eons. And you find it only in the popular news media. For astronomers and sky fans it’s just a big yawn. Here is how the next super moon event, January 1, 2018, is covered by Sky & Telescope magazine: “The first full Moon of the year (for viewers in North America) coincides with its closest perigee of the year.” – Nothing special there. For the super moon of December 3, 2017, the one so breathlessly described by Fox and NBC, this astronomy fan publication had just this to say: “The last full moon of the year floats about 2° to the lower right of Aldebaran. The Moon, which is at perigee, will occult the star near dawn for Alaska and Asia.”
Photographers and artists, however, seem to have taken to the fad. For photographers, however, there is one big problem. There is no spectacle there. The “super moon” is only about 14 percent larger than the minimal-sized full moon. Oh, you can see the difference if pictures are pasted next to each other, like here, but up in the sky, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Is the super moon brighter? Not really, although it appears so to our eyes, as you can see here, but that is just an illusion. The popular media might say otherwise, but they are misinformed, or worse, “misinforming”.
Here is an old photo of a super moon that I took several years ago near Savannah, Georgia. I never shared this picture, it just isn’t very impressive. The moon is invariably over-exposed, washed out, if the landscape is exposed to have detail showing. Other photographers, no doubt, have the same problem. So what can you do? Fake it! Make it look bigger than it really is! It is easy enough to use a telephoto lens and take a bigger image then paste it into some other, nice photo. It is done all the time. The internet is replete with such images. Many are embarrassingly badly done.
A “close-up” of the moon, processed to show detail, will be too dark to match a landscape photo with some detail and some glow around the moon. It will look obviously fake like this image here. Hint to would be fakers: The darkest part of the moon will always be brighter than the brightest part of the surrounding sky – including clouds! Hint Two: The moon is never in front of clouds! Visually such a fake will look like the moon is a big beach ball tossed into the air. Even our colleagues who create with brush and paint get this often wrong. What can be even worse is a huge moon pasted into an obviously wide-angle photo. Even unsophisticated viewers will recognize the unrealistic perspective.
If you must be “creative”, stick to being close to what is real. I tried to do this with this, my last offering here.