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Get “mooned” this weekend

© Samo Paušer | Dreamstime.com

© Samo Paušer | Dreamstime.com

This weekend, the moon will pass closer to the Earth than at any other time this year. The result will be what folks call a “Supermoon.” It’s one of the world’s great sights — and for this one, you don’t even have to leave town.

If it’s been awhile since you used your camera, you might want to make sure the battery is fully charged this weekend. Because this Sunday, for a few minutes, the moon is going to look “wider than a mile” in the evening sky.

The technical term for it is “perigee full moon.” Basically, it’s a lunar coincidence, a full moon on the one night of the year that the moon passes closest to the Earth. Folks have taken to calling this a “Supermoon.”

We have this penchant for attaching the “S-word” to anything we deem extraordinary — Super this, Super that. But if you’ve ever seen one of these moons, you know it earns the superlative.

The scientific types will tell you that, being so much closer than normal, a Supermoon looks 14 percent larger and 30 percent bright than a full moon at its most distant point, or apogee, from Earth.

All I know is that it’s one of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever see, and you can see it without leaving town.

I’ve seen one of these things maybe five times in my life. I never knew when it was coming, and every time I saw one, I was always in the same place — driving on the freeway. I just looked up from the wheel of my car and…WHOA!

It looked so enormous and seemed so close that you wondered if it might roll over the hills in the distance and rumble across town, flattening buildings and leaving a shallow dent in the horizon as it went.

And as it rose, it reflected the light of the dying day to take on this incredible glow, the color of burning gold.

In moments like that, your vocabulary is pretty much reduced to three words: “Oh, my God.”

There was something else that always happened when one of these moons showed up. In the time it took me to find a good spot, park the car, get my camera out of the car trunk and set up a shot, the moment came and went. The shot was gone. Every single time.

I used to imagine the “man in the moon” laughing his craters off: “Missed again, kid!” Sometimes, I wondered if this was how Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the other characters of his famed Peanuts cartoon series, came up with the idea for The Great Pumpkin.

Well, I won’t miss him this year. Thanks to Internet media, I already know the time, and I’ve already picked the place.

This time, when Supermoon shows up, I won’t be driving. I will be waiting, camera in hand, up on San Diego’s Mount Soledad.

Speaking of cameras, if you’ve never tried to take moon pics before, or you’ve tried and ended up with miserable little blobs of featureless white light (as I have), there are tricks to shooting the moon. A couple of things I have learned the hard way:

  1. BRACE YOURSELF
    If you have a real camera, use a tripod. The tiniest amount of camera shake has a good chance of rearing its ugly, blurry head when you’re trying to get good moon pics.
  2. THINK LIGHT, NOT NIGHT
    When amateurs like me try to get moon shots, we tend to get fixated on the night sky and forget a basic truth about moon: That sucker is bright! I mean, it’s reflecting sunlight, remember. But we get so caught up trying to compensate for that night sky that we almost always end up with a washed-out white ball that looks more like an automobile headlight. So set your exposure with the moon’s brightness in mind, not the dark sky around it.

    In fact, some photographers suggest forgetting the night entirely and taking your moon pics at dusk or twilight instead.

But there are a lot of people who know a lot more on this subject than I do. Check out some of these sites I found on the Web:

CAMERAS — or CELLPHONES w/SERIOUS CAMERA APPs
Six tips for better moon photos
Nine tips…including “cheating” with Photoshop.

iPHONES
Take moon pics with your iPhone+Exposure Lock
iPhone + telescope

With or without cameras, though, we’re in for a visual treat this weekend, all around the world. Check your local newspaper or new Web site for the best times and location ideas.

Enjoy the show!

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