An aircraft taking off from Ronald Reagan National Airport is seen passing in front of the supermoon as it rises, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Washington. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Astronomers and astrophotographers will already be in the know, but if you're interested in getting some spectacular photos of the Moon any time soon, then be on the lookout for the upcoming 'blue supermoon' on August 30, 2023. We already had one 'supermoon' earlier in the month, back on August 1st, but if you missed your chance, then there's another opportunity right around the corner. While the monthly occurrence of a full moon is a pleasing and often awe-inspiring sight, the larger and brighter supermoon phenomenon is a bit less common. It also provides an excellent opportunity to create some truly stunning and unique images of our lunar neighbor.

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For those who are curious about what a supermoon actually is and are interested in some tips on properly photographing this event, let this handy little guide help you out!

What exactly is a supermoon?

First things first, though. What is a supermoon, and why is it different than a normal full moon? Also known as a 'perigean full moon' in astronomical terms, a supermoon occurs when the Moon's phase is at its fullest, and its orbit is at the closest to the Earth – otherwise known as the perigee. In other words, when we have a full moon happen at the same time as when the Moon is at its closest point near the Earth, we get a 'supermoon'.

NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center photographer Lauren Hughes takes photos of the Super Blue Blood Moon eclipse from California’s Trona Pinnacles Desert National Conservation for the Jan. 31 of the total lunar eclipse that provided a rare opportunity to capture a supermoon, a blue moon and a lunar eclipse at the same time.

Image credit: NASA/Lauren Hughes

The reason for this phenomenon is due to the fact that the Moon's orbit is not perfectly circular but rather elliptical. There are points during this oval-shaped orbit where the Moon is the furthest away from the Earth, the apogee, and then closest to the Earth, the perigee. From our perspective here on Earth, the Moon's apparent size fluctuates during this orbit as it gets closer and farther away from us. During a supermoon, the Moon can appear about eight percent larger and approximately 16 percent brighter than a typical full moon. Compared to full moons that occur at the farthest distance from Earth (at the apogee), supermoons appear about 14 percent larger and about 30 percent brighter.

However, this upcoming August 30th supermoon is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, this will be the biggest and brightest supermoon of the year, as the Moon is coming particularly close to the Earth, at 357,344 km (222,043 miles) – or about 27,359 km (17,000 miles) closer than average.

A supermoon, is seen as it rises behind the U.S. Capitol, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The second special thing about this upcoming supermoon is what gives it its unique name as a 'blue supermoon'. You may recognize the phrase 'once in a blue moon'. It's an idiom used to describe a rare but repeating event. A 'blue moon' happens when you have two full moons during the same month. We had a full moon on August 1st, and we'll have another one again on August 31st. In an astronomical sense, a blue moon isn't, despite the idiom, all that rare. They happen about every two and a half years or so. However, a blue supermoon is, in fact, much more uncommon. The last blue supermoon occurred in December 2009, and after the one at the end of the month, we won't see another one until August 2032. Yes, 2032. Fingers crossed for good weather and clear skies!

So, it goes without saying that capturing some beautiful photos of the blue supermoon would make for a special treat.

How to photograph the supermoon

Most will tell you there's no inherently right or wrong way to photograph any subject. We photographers all have our own unique perspectives, visions and creative styles in how we approach making a photograph. There are a plethora of ways to photograph the upcoming supermoon, and there's not one correct way to do it necessarily.

During the supermoon, you can, of course, capture excellent shots of the Moon just on its own in the night sky. The procedure for capturing this type of photo is pretty straightforward and is the same as how I would approach taking photos of a regular full moon. However, given the supermoon's characteristic larger and, well, super appearance compared to a regular full moon, classic supermoon photographs tend to be shot in a way that emphasizes the size of the Moon through perspective, juxtaposing it against the surroundings.

Get up close and person to the moon with a long, telephoto lens. Taken with an OM-1 and the 300mm F4 Pro + 1.4x teleconverter, this is a good image of the Moon itself alone in the night sky. However, it lacks any sort of context or foreground objects to give the Moon a sense of scale to showcase its sheer size.

Image credit: William Brawley

For starters, a word about exposure settings: the Moon, super or otherwise, is surprisingly bright. Unlike typical night-sky photography, you won't need a super-fast aperture lens or high ISOs. For the Moon, you'll want the opposite. Start at ISO 100, and don't be afraid to stop your lens down some. You may also need to dial back the exposure, either through manual exposure mode or by using exposure compensation, to keep the Moon from being overexposed against the darker evening or night sky.

What equipment do I need to photograph the supermoon?

For lunar photography, it does help to have some specialized equipment, namely, a long telephoto lens – something around 300-400mm is a great starting point, but I've gone even longer, such as 600mm-equivalent with my Olympus 300mm F4 PRO lens. Even a long-zoom camera with a far-reaching, built-in zoom lens can work well, too.

Another key piece of gear is a tripod. While many modern cameras have fantastic image stabilization, you'll have better results with a sturdy, solid tripod in this situation.

Taking a shot of the Moon in the dark night sky is all fine and good, but to really emphasize the supermoon, it's best to juxtapose it with some buildings, terrain or other objects in the foreground to give the Moon a sense of scale. Let your creativity run free. You could capture a shot of the huge supermoon peeking out from behind skyscrapers downtown or perhaps have some trees silhouetted in front of a giant orange moon. It's up to you and what your surroundings have to offer.

A supermoon rises behind the Washington Monument, Sunday, June 23, 2013, in Washington.

Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

To get that low-to-the-horizon composition or that vibrant, orange glow to the Moon, you'll need to time your shooting during the early moonrise period in the late evening. Having the Moon just peeking over the horizon gives you a better chance to get the classic shots with objects in the foreground. Plus, due to the Earth's atmosphere, much like with the 'golden hour' during sunset, the Moon will take on those golden, yellow or orange hues. When it's lower to the horizon, light reflecting off the Moon travels a longer distance through the atmosphere. During that time, the bluer, shorter wavelengths of light are scattered away, leaving more of the redder wavelengths.

How do I plan my shot of the supermoon?

But where will the Moon be relative to my location? Where do I need to go to get a good shot? One way to help plan your composition is to use apps like the Photographer's Ephemeris or PhotoPills. These apps will let you map out your location and give you the time, angle and other critical details as to where the Moon will be at a specific point and what angle you'll need to face.

Apps like the Photographer's Ephemeris can help you map out your shot, showing you the time, the light direction and more information about the Sun, Moon and the Milky Way. Available on desktop (seen here) or on mobile apps, the mobile version can also use augmented reality to overlay where the Moon will be at a specific time in a given location.

If you have an idea of where to shoot, I'd also recommend doing a little reconnaissance mission a day or so beforehand, if possible. That will help you plan the ideal location, where to place your camera and give you a sense of what the landscape looks like and what subjects or objects you can incorporate in your supermoon composition.

The Photographer's Ephemeris mobile app uses AR to help visualize where the Moon will be in the sky at a certain time in a specific location.

Lastly, one more tip about composition. You'll want to use your telephoto lens or the longest lens you get your hands on. Ideally, you'll also want the objects, whether trees, a hillside or a building, far off in the distance. You'll use your telephoto lens to help compress the scene, bringing the far-away object(s) and the supermoon up close. The perspective compression offered by the telephoto focal length helps accentuate the size of the Moon, providing a kind of optical illusion effect in terms of the sense of scale compared to the foreground scene.

Have you taken photos of the supermoon before? What are some of your favorite places to take moon photos? Do you have a favorite tip or trick to pull off fantastic moon photos? Leave us a comment down below!