How to photograph the Blue Moon, giant planets and the Milky Way this weekend

Are you ready to capture a rare “Blue Moon” with two giant planets, hence your home galaxy?

Both astrophotography and night landscape photography have exploded in recent years as camera sensors have become more sensitive and better at producing noise-free long exposure images using high ISOs. The pandemic has also caused a spike in interest in the night sky, with telescope sales skyrocketing.

There is something interesting to photograph in the sky every night, but the weekend of August 21-22, in particular, will have photographers on duty if the sky is clear. The next week or so appears to be the start of one of the best 10-night periods to also capture our own Milky Way galaxy traversing the sky.

Here’s everything you need to know about when and how to photograph a “Blue Moon” alone, along with Saturn and Jupiter, as well as the Milky Way in the coming nights and weeks.

Supermoon on the rise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. The rising of a “Blue Moon”

When: at sunset on Saturday 21 August and Sunday 22 August 2021

Where to look: southeast at sunset, southwest at sunrise

At 12:02 UTC on Sunday August 22 (which is 8:02 EDT / 13:02 BST / 22:02 AEST), the Moon will be fully illuminated by the Sun. There is a full moon every 29 days, but that means that, occasionally, there are four in the same season. This happens this summer, with the third (after the “Strawberry Moon” in June and the “Dollar Moon” in July) traditionally called the “Blue Moon”.

So, won’t it actually be blue? No! This would require a large volcano to have recently erupted and the atmosphere to be filled with fine ash … as in 1883 – but if you take it at just the right time, it will be a beautiful soft orange instead.

That moment is, of course, the moment of the rising of the moon, and this month there are two possibilities to catch it; sunset on Saturday 21 August and again on Sunday 22 August the exact moonrise times for your location, but it counts that it is just after sunset on Saturday and about half an hour after sunset on Sunday.

Get into position ahead of time and set up a tripod and camera in manual mode while wearing a 70-300mm telephoto lens. In this way, you will get the full moon rising in recovery behind, above or between trees, buildings or roofs. Watch out for the orange moonlight that becomes visible on the horizon just before it appears, or use the PhotoPills App‘s AR mode overlay to see exactly where it will arise in your environment.

Use ISO 200, an aperture of f / 5.6, and a shutter speed of 1/250 sec as a starting point. Focus manually, take a few test shots, then adjust the aperture and shutter speed to get the correct exposure. The next “Blue Moon” isn’t until August 19, 2024, but this weekend also has a nice bonus …

Photo of the Moon

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. A “Blue Moon” next to two giant planets

When: Friday 20 August and Saturday 21 August

Where to look: southeast, just above the “Blue Moon” .

Look southeast after dark at any time this month and you will see both Saturn and Jupiter shining brightly. Both planets are in “opposition” in August, when the Earth is between them and the Sun.

It is exactly the same situation as a full moon, except it only happens once a year for the planets. When a planet is close to the opposition it rises at dusk and sets at dawn, it is larger and brighter than at any other time of the year and its disk is fully illuminated.

At sunset on Friday, August 20, the nearly full “Blue Moon” will be visible at only four degrees below Saturn. Probably the most surprising – and most easily photographed – event will happen the next night, when the “Blue Moon” has moved only four degrees to the lower right of Jupiter. This is because Jupiter is about 10 times brighter than Saturn.

The best shots, however, will be taken on Saturday 21 August; zoom out slightly and you will be able to get a bright Jupiter next to the “Blue Moon”, although you may have to wait until the Moon has risen slightly above the horizon before the planet becomes easily visible.

A photo of the Milky Way behind Stonehenge

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. The best “window of the Milky Way” this year

When: 90 minutes after sunset

Where to look: South

While the Moon is bright enough to be photographed from anywhere on Earth, this is not true of the collective light of the 400 billion other stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Its bright center is easily seen only from May to October and most easily photographed during August and September when it is conveniently positioned just after sunset.

So, it’s “galaxy season” right now! Imaging the arc of our galaxy across the night sky isn’t technically difficult, but you’ll need to be under a dark sky away from light pollution, and that includes a full moon.

Wait until Tuesday 31st August and you’ll have dark, moonless night skies until midnight; the Moon will rise slightly later each night to make the following week even better.

How to photograph the super blood moon

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Jaboo2foto)

How to photograph the Milky Way

With a DSLR or mirrorless camera on a tripod, use a wide angle lens like the one you have (14mm or 16mm is ideal) and set up your camera to record RAW images. Focus the lens manually by aiming the dial towards infinity (∞) and pointing it south.

As a general rule, you want to use a high ISO value (ISO 800 for crop sensor cameras, ISO 3200 or higher for full frame), open the aperture as wide as possible (for example, f / 2.8 or as low as possible) . goes to the lens) and use a shutter speed of about 20-25 seconds. A shutter release cable is also very useful for reducing vibration and blur.

Don’t be surprised if you see practically nothing on the images previewed on your camera’s LCD screen, because the magic comes in post-processing when you tweak parameters like contrast, exposure, clarity and luminance to suddenly bring out the galactic center in brightness and color.

However, you can verify that your camera is at least detecting the Milky Way while you’re out by raising the ISO to a horrendously high number and taking a test shot (but remember to lower it later).