Why your pictures of the Super Moon aren't so super

So, you're out with your camera or smartphone taking shot after shot of the Super Moon and you can't figure out why the moon looks anything but "super." Here's why:

1) Your eyes are basically a fixed 50-mm camera lens. Chances are, you're using a 35-mm lens that might zoom to 50-mm, or you're using your smartphone that may have an equivalency of less than 35-mm with the hopes of wowing all your friends and followers (I've been there!). The problem is, when you use a lens shorter than what your eyes essentially are, the moon will be captured smaller than you perceive the moon to be. The solution is to use a telephoto lens, or something greater than 50-mm. If you're getting another subject, like a tree, in your shot for comparison, you'll have to stand way back to get the right shot. Here's a more detailed explanation.

2) Another reason is called the "moon illusion." This is where things get really interesting in a mind-bending sort of way. How many times have you looked at the moon near the horizon and stood amazed at how large the moon appeared? What if I told you the moon near the horizon is the same size as the moon when it's overhead? Here's are a couple neat reads (1, 2). Basically, (try to stay with me here), we know the moon is of a certain size. Our brains, however, trick us into thinking that the moon is further away from us when it's near the horizon (we know that objects should look smaller when they're further away). Our brains compensate for this by making us think the moon is larger than it really is when it's closer to the horizon (see the interactive example here - note: Flash necessary). This is called size consistency.

3) Let me guess: the moon in your shot just looks like a glowing white blob? A couple things to note here: first off, low-light exposures on smartphone are notoriously bad. A slight movement and your moon is now a blurry mess. Secondly, on better cameras, the built-in metering is setting the exposure settings for everything else BUT the moon, making it overexposed. You'll either want to try a manual setting, if possible, or hold the shutter release down half way with the moon in the center of your shot, then (without letting go of the shutter release), move your shot to the desired composition and then shoot. The rest of your picture will look underexposed, but the moon will look a lot better!

So basically, if you're disappointed at the size of the moon in your photos from the past couple evenings, I'll bet you're not alone!


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