Photographing the June 2021 Supermoon

By Ian Middleton

A Strawberry Supermoon

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This is the strawberry moon (supermoon), the last supermoon of 2021, captured rising beside the church of Saint Ana and Mount Krim on the Ljubljana Moors in Slovenia. It was a last minute decision to capture it from this viewpoint and one that was both fortuitous and almost deadly!

June’s full moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon. It’s not actually strawberry coloured. The name is because it appears around the time of the strawberry harvest in northeastern USA.

A supermoon looks slightly bigger and brighter since it’s closer to the Earth than usual. June’s Strawberry Moon is the second and last supermoon of 2021.

The June 2021 supermoon rising behind Mount Krim on the Ljubljana Moors in Slovenia.
The June 24th 2021 supermoon (strawberry moon) rising beside the Church of Saint Ana and Mount Krim on the Ljubljana Moors in Slovenia.

Planning the photoshoot

My original plan, made in haste the night before, had been to hike up to the church of Saint Ana, which sits on a hill in the middle of the Ljubljana Marshes, a 160-square kilometre piece of swampland just to the south of Ljubljana.
 
I planned to photograph the moon rising from behind Krim, but I was late leaving and thus got to the start of the hike at 8.40pm. The moon was due to rise at 9.05pm, but of course I knew it would take a good half hour or more to crest the mountaintop.
 
However, it had also been my intention to capture the sunset. Not only was I too late but it wasn’t a great sunset either. Therefore as I sat in the car park at the starting point, I pondered whether I should bother going up or find another location quickly.
 
Suddenly, I remembered a viewpoint from where I had found a great view of this church on its hill with Krim beside it. It had been a few years since I photographed it. Quickly I checked TPE (the Photographer’s Ephemeris) and saw that the moonrise aligned with the church and Krim from there, so I whisked off.

Finding the exact spot

The Church of Saint Ana and Mount Krim on the Ljubljana Moors in Slovenia.
The glow behind the two peaks is from the moon as it was rising behind. This is the sign to look for when trying to see where the sun or moon is coming up.

Upon arrival I used the AR (augmented reality) feature of my Photopills app to find the perfect spot.

AR is a great tool for fine tuning your planned composition when at the location. You can simply point your phone at the scene and see the trajectory of the sun or moon.

Using this I was able to move myself into a position where the moon’s course would bring it right up behind the telecommunications tower on the right hilltop.

The ever increasing glow behind these hills was a clear indication that the moon was coming up exactly where predicted.

Dealing with flies and wind

The downside, however, was that I was on the marshes. My viewpoint was right next to a field and the flies were ferocious. To add insult to injury it was windy and while standing in the wind brought some relief from the onslaught, it was not a good place to setup my tripod. When using a telephoto lens, as I was in this case, even the slightest bit of wind can be a problem.

I was using a Canon 100-400 L series zoom. This is a big, long lens which is also very sensitive to even the slightest breeze. Even when securely mounted on a tripod, it becomes a problem when using slower shutter speeds, and naturally as I was shooting at night I would be doing just that.

Long telephoto lenses are sensitive to vibration from even the slightest breeze, making it difficult to do long exposures.
Long telephoto lenses are sensitive to vibration from even the slightest breeze, making it difficult to do long exposures.

Therefore I had to set everything up in a more sheltered area, which in this case was behind the open boot of my car. I setup very quickly and then got inside the car and waited with the aircon blasting, swatting the odd errant fly that had somehow made it inside.

The supermoon appears

Bitten by flies on the ljubljana Moors while photographing the supermoon.

One hour after the moon had risen, at 10pm, the magic happened. The moon crested the mountaintop right in the perfect position. It was time to face the flies!

I got bitten to hell in the 15 minutes that followed. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised just how much.

Anyone passing would have thought that a madman was taking photos, as between clicks I would run around insanely slapping flies off myself.

But it was worth it! For the next 15-20 minutes I danced around my camera shooting a variety of images as the moon came right up where I had anticipated.

Dynamic range

Now, the moon coming up so late presented a problem with dynamic range. What we see with our eyes is not always possible in camera. The moon gets much brighter the higher it climbs in the sky. Once darkness falls then the intensity of the moon is elevated. So while we can see the detail in the moon, the huge difference in contrast (the difference between the brightest part and the darkest part) between the moon and the darkness of the surrounding landscape is beyond the range of all cameras. Our eyes can take in a much wider range of contrast, which is why we can still see the detail of the moon and some detail in the surroundings, in my case the church and the hilltops.

So you are faced with a choice. Expose for the darker parts and accept that the moon will be a round ball with no detail, or expose for the moon and have the surroundings in complete darkness.

However, there is a third option: take two exposures, one for the moon and one for the surroundings. Then blend them.

Cheating?

Before anyone starts shouting that this is cheating, remember that what you see with your eyes is not possible in camera. Therefore by making a double exposure and blending them, you are actually reproducing the scene more faithfully.

For this image I shot one at 2.5 secs, the second was taken at 1/80 sec. The faster exposure captured the detail of the moon while the slower one captured the detail of the church, hills and clouds. The result more closely resembles what I saw with my own eyes.

2.5 secs

The long 2.5 sec exposure has captured the church and clouds and hilltops but there is no detail in the moon itself. Instead we have a large bright ball in the sky.

1/80 secs

The shorter 1/80 sec exposure has perfect captured the detail of the moon, but as you can see the rest of the scene is completely black. Not a single detail of the church, clouds or hilltops is visible.

Choosing the right white balance

When the moon is up high and it is night, then I find the closest white balance to correctly reproduce the white of the scene is “fluorescent” Sometimes though some more adjustments are needed.

As you can see on the first example of the double exposure, the churchfront has a nasty green hue upon it. This is a result of the mix of colour temperatures.

The moon’s colour temperature is different to that of the artificial light being projected onto the church. Therefore I used the brush tool in Adobe Camera RAW to desaturate the colour here and make it whiter.

Creative use of white balance

In this image I set the white balance to shady, which has in effect acted as a warm up filter and given the image a lovely warm hue. It’s also given the illusion of the supermoon being the sun or at least more like a strawberry moon. Here I didn’t doing any blending and left the moon without any detail.

All's well that ends well

While the photo of my back above may look quite nasty, it wasn’t as nasty as it appears. There was in actual fact no soreness or irritation and the bites had pretty much gone down by the next morning. So it was worth suffering the onslaught to get these great photos.

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View from Rantovše hill across to Sveti Tomaz nad Praprotnim (church of Saint Thomas) in the Skofja Loka hills, Slovenia.
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Subscribe and receive my regular newsletter to get the latest information about my workshops, new tutorials, videos, new photos and more.

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