- Stephen Krieg Photography | Photographing Moonrise

Photographing Moonrise

February 10, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Moon Rising over La Sal MountainsMoon Rising over La Sal MountainsThe Full Moon begins peeking over the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah.

Photographing landscapes with the rising moon at Full Moon time requires some planning, as well as luck. Especially in regard to the weather.

Oh sure, you could just "Photoshop" a separate shot of the moon into any landscape image you have. But besides being cheating (unless you clearly label the composite image as a photo illustration), you would be robbing yourself of the thrill of the hunt. Your choice.

The things you need to know are when and where. The moon does not rise straight East any more than the Sun does. It swings further north or south according to the time of year (unless you are on the Equator, I suppose).

Besides that, the date on the calendar listed as "Full Moon" may not be the best evening for your shots. Often the evening before the calendar Full Moon is the best day of the month. You have to be ready on both dates. Think of it as twice the opportunity, twice the fun.

As to exactly when and where it will rise, there are plenty of sunrise/sunset websites where you can look up for that. On them, take note of how closely moonrise is to sunset on the day before Full Moon, and then the day of.

I look for when the moon will be just up and it's still light, or just after sunset. You want detail in your landscapes, and the moon rises approximately 45 minutes (that varies a bit, too) later each day.

An even better aid is the website The Photographer's Ephemeris (, which lists moonrise, sunset, and also moonset times. But even more helpful is the Azimuth that everything occurs at. Azimuth is the direction, in degrees, on the compass. Zero and 360 are North, 90 is East, 180 is South, and 270 is West. (There is also a think called magnetic Declination, look it up.) So if the moon is going to rise at, say, Azimuth 70 degrees, that's 20 degrees north of due East (90), and you'd better take that into account. It won't be the same each month, either.

Another factor is that the moon, like the sun, does not rise straight up into the sky. It arcs. And anything other being really flat--like being on the plains, or on the seashore--delays how long after official Moonrise it will appear above whatever landscape you have in mind. How long? Well you will have to get some experience in your area and for your subjects, but with mountain ranges here in the western U.S. it's often 20 minutes. Maybe a more depending on how close you are to the mountain or whatever is in front. And since it's arcing, it's going to be more to the right than if you had been on a flat plain.

In the first photo above, the moon is just peeking over the La Sal Mountain Range in southeast Utah. Official Moonrise had been a good 20 minutes before. Which means that it's already arcing to the right, toward the Southeast. We can plainly see that from the other photos in the series.

Moonrise, La Sal MountainsMoonrise, La Sal MountainsThe Full Moon rising over the La Sal Mountains in February 2015.

Why is the night before official Full Moon better sometimes, while at other times the next night is? It's because Full Moon is when the moon is 100% illuminated by the sun. If that moment occurs a second before Midnight, the calendar will show Full Moon as being on that day. But if the moment of 100% occurs a second after Midnight, it will show it as being on the next day. The moon is fully illuminated when it rises exactly opposite the sun. That could be when it's on the other side of the world from where you are, in the middle of the day.

Moon Rising at Dusk, La Sal MountainsMoon Rising at Dusk, La Sal MountainsThe full moon has risen over the La Sal Mountains as the twilight colors fade.

That's why a guide like The Photographer's Ephemeris is so helpful in planning when to be out there. Look at the day before Full Moon, and the day of. It's best to be out both evenings. Especially since the weather is going to shut you out at least several Full Moons of the year.

More importantly, watch that calendar for when Full Moon is, and be aware of what's going on for what you would like to include in the scene. And most of all: have fun!

Photo Location: San Juan County in southeast Utah, between Moab and Monticello.

© 2017 Stephen J. Krieg




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