Planning for the Moon


Today’s Question: When I have tried to plan a photo that includes the moon, I am always puzzled about selecting the best time for it. Do I photograph at dawn or dusk? And on the day of a full moon or the day before or the day after? Do you choose the time when the sun and moon will rise and set closest to each other? Or select some potential foregrounds and then decide based on the direction you will be facing and how high the effective horizon is?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When planning a photo that includes the moon you’ll often want to prioritize the position of the moon relative to a foreground subject. Secondary considerations that may cause you to alter your plan would include the impact of weather conditions, the convenience of timing, and of course possibly having more than one option in case things don’t go entirely to plan.

More Detail: I use (and highly recommend) the PhotoPills app for iOS and Android mobile devices for planning various aspects of photography, including planning photos that include the sun or moon.

Let’s assume, for example, you want to plan a photo that will include the full moon in the frame. You could photograph the full moon around moonrise or moonset, but each will provide different conditions.

For example, when the full moon is rising in the east and setting in the west, there’s a good chance that one or the other will provide a better foreground subject to include with the full moon. Having said that, it is also possible that you could find different subjects to photograph with the full moon for both moonrise and moonset.

In addition, weather can play a key role in the success of this type of photography. So, if moonrise and moonset are both a good option, I’d tend to try to photograph at both times just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate for one (or both) of those opportunities.

Finally, you may want to consider convenience. If the days are very long, such as in the summer at northern latitudes, the moonrise might be very late, and the moonset might be very early. That may create a challenge in terms of timing, especially if you’d like to get some sleep as well.

So, in general I recommend trying to plan for more than one potential opportunity. If the conditions seem nearly perfect for all options, then I’d favor the timing that is closest to the true full moon. But after weighing the various options, when in doubt I try to take advantage of more than one option in the hopes of getting the best combination of conditions to create a great photo.