Shooting the supermoon
By Darrin Zammit Lupi
Having missed the opportunity to photograph the supermoon in July, I was determined not to do so again for the big celestial event on August 10. I spent a long time researching locations and angles to get a dramatic picture, and settled on the iconic cathedral in Mdina, Maltaâ€™s ancient capital city.
Using a newly-purchased iPhone app, I could work out precisely where and when the moon would appear between the church steeples and the best position to photograph the moment.Â Â
As the appointed time drew nearer, I began to feel nervous â€“ what if I hadnâ€™t used the app properly and messed up the calculations?Â I joked to a photographer friend, who had joined me for the evening, that if I got it wrong I might actually transform into a werewolf (part of my surname, Lupi, is the Italian word for wolves).
I heaved a huge and very audible sigh of relief as I spotted the rim of the moon appearing bang on cue and precisely where it was supposed to.Â Â
I took my pictures using a 400mm long lens and 1.4x extender mounted on a sturdy tripod and I shifted position slightly as the moon climbed higher. When it was too high to photograph, I packed my gear and headed back to the car. It had been a long, hot day and I wanted to grab a snack and drink while filing my pictures, so we headed towards Mdina, but couldnâ€™t find a parking spot.
I knew a good cafĂ© in a nearby town but we arrived to find it closed. Unwilling to delay any further, I parked outside the cafĂ© and quickly edited and filed what I thought were the best couple of images.
That done, I figured I should call it a day and drop my friend off home. I had a couple of route options and luckily, I chose the more complicated of the two. We drove past the town of Mosta, close to a field where villagers were launching fireworks to celebrate the local feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, which falls on August 15.Â
From a fleeting glance, it seemed nice, but I figured the firework displays would continue for the rest of the week so I could always come back the next day.
I kept my eyes on the road as the car shook from the blasts of the explosions. A second fleeting glance changed everything.Â â€śThe moon!â€ť I yelled to my friend over the cacophony of bangs; the fireworks were exploding directly in front of it.Â
We had a hurried discussion about whether to stop, but there didnâ€™t seem to be anywhere to park and traffic was building up.Â I headed down into an adjacent valley, looking for a good spot away from the crowds where Iâ€™d be able to set up and shoot.Â Â Â Â
That didnâ€™t work out, so we drove back up to the main road and parked at a bus stop. It was late, so hopefully there wouldnâ€™t be any buses. Carrying lots of heavy gear, we ran, panting, to a good spot from where we could photograph the moon behind the fireworks.
Viewing the moon through the 400mm lens surrounded by the fireworksâ€™ multitude of colours was unlike anything Iâ€™d ever seen before.Â
Knowing the exposure would be tricky, I shot the images in RAW format to give me a bit more flexibility, should I need it afterwards. I played with some different exposure combinations to see which gave the best results, and was instantly stunned by what I managed to capture. The images looked unreal.
I had been watching the 1970s TV show â€śSpace 1999â€ť as well as my â€śStar Warsâ€ť DVD set, and it was as if these pictures came right out of the television – exploding stars and planets, supernovas, the moon drifting through clouds of interplanetary cosmic dust and gas in space.
I was on a high. This was so radically different to the pictures I usually take that I couldnâ€™t get enough of it. We quickly forgot that we had been thirsty and famished.
Later that night, I stayed awake until early hours, editing. Looking back at the sequence of events, if Iâ€™d managed to find a parking spot outside Mdina, if the cafĂ© had been open or if Iâ€™d driven down one road and not the other, Iâ€™d have missed what has been my most enjoyable and successful shoot this year and Iâ€™d be none the wiser. Serendipity can be a beautiful thing when it works out well!