There was a lot of excitement about the so-called “Super Full Moon” on Saturday, 19 March 2011. Lots of people photographed the event. I wonder how many of those folks looked at their photos and thought, “That’s not what I saw!” The fact of the matter is the camera doesn’t lie. The apparent diameter of the Moon (and Sun) is less than 0.5 degrees, or about 1/50 the width of most photos. Prove it to yourself: The apparent width of your thumb held at arm’s length is about one (1) degree; you can easily cover the disk of the Full Moon with your thumb! Photos of the Sun and Moon are disappointing unless you use a camera with a telephoto lens.
So why does the Moon seem to appear so big when you see it in the sky? There’s no consensus among experts, but I think it’s due to frame of reference: The Moon looks much bigger when you see it near the horizon and are able to compare its size to objects like buildings, trees, etc. In contrast, the Moon looks much smaller when it’s high in the sky.
And while we’re talking about photographing the Moon, it’s a good time to mention two noteworthy Apple iOS apps for planning photo shoots of the Sun and Moon: LightTrac ($4.99); and The Photographers Ephemeris ($8.99). In my opinion, you get what you pay for: The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is more robust than LightTrac. TPE for Desktop, a FREE equivalent of the TPE app, works on all computer operating systems including Apple OS X, Microsoft Windows, and Linux.
Posted from Arlington, Virginia, United States.