Shooting The Full Moon At Moonrise – Photography Experiments

Moon at Moonrise ExperimentMoon At Moonrise

Today’s moonrise experiment is actually for you to try in a few days but I want to make sure you have time to read and prepare. I know there’s a lot of hype about the next full moon because it is also a lunar eclipse visible to North and South America, plus little bits of Africa and Europe.

But before that eclipse happens, the moon has to rise.

The key to a good moonrise photo is to get out the day before it is actually full. I prefer the day before because then the sun is higher in the sky and Golden Hour light is bathing the foreground while making the moon not too bright in comparison.

Moonrise Photo ExperimentFor instance, the next full moon is on January 20. In Seattle, the moon rises at 4:32pm that day. The sun sets at 4:52pm. That’s just 20 minutes for the moon to get up above the Cascade Mountains and into a nice position for photos before the foreground starts to dim appreciably. 

It’s better to go out shooting on Feb 19, when the moon rises at 3:23pm and the sun sets at 4:50pm. On that day you have practically a full moon in appearance and an hour and a half for the moon to get higher in the sky.

Some Resources For Planning

Moonrise Photo ExperimentLet me give you a couple of websites to find full moon dates and times in your area:

You can actually get all the info from the Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) but it’s good to have the other sources as well.

I like TPE because it has a free desktop version for PC and MAC, making planning at home/office easy. You can use TPE to plan your shot. Here is a good post on how it works and how to use it.

Here’s the experiment you can run:

Moonrise Photo Experiment
This shot was actually two days before a full moon.

1) If you are not familiar with shooting the moon, read my post here first. It has what you’ll need to know for this experiment.

2) Use the tools above to find out when the full moon is rising at your spot on the planet.

3) Plan to head out the day before the full moon to shoot. Use TPE to find a good location to shoot the moon and pick a place where you can find an interesting foreground. If you want some inspiration, take a gander at this post where I interviewed Michael Riffle about his wonderful Seattle moonrise photo. Luck works sometimes, but preparation gives you better odds.

4) Go out and shoot the moon!


Moonrise Photo ExperimentShooting the moon can be very fun and often frustrating. The best planning can be dashed by a badly placed cloud or fog layer. That’s another reason I propose people shoot the moon the day before the full moon; because if things don’t work out, they can still go back the next day (but note that the moonrise time changes by often more than an hour each day).

I also profess shooting the day before because in the Puget Sound, where I often shoot, we have mountains to the West that cover the sun before it actually sets on the horizon.

If your Western exposure is predominately flat, then you can have better luck shooting the day of the full moon. Plus, sometimes, the full moon is technically in the wee hours, such as 1:12am, which means the full moon rose the day before.

Things To Consider

  • Arrive early! I can’t stress this enough from my experience having to set up in a hurry. Give yourself at least an hour. You’ll enjoy it more if you’re relaxed.
  • Invite a friend, even if they don’t shoot.
  • Metering will not change rapidly while the sun is still up. The scene will be evenly lit, so meter before the moon comes up. This is a good time to use Manual Mode.
  • Make sure to not clip highlights because that’s what the moon is, one big highlight.
  • Lacking much else, use the Rule Of Thirds to align your shot.

Enjoy the moon and I hope you get to see the eclipse, which is a whole other ball of wax to shoot. Although, if you’ve been following the past weeks of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, you already have the knowledge you need to nail it.

Questions?  Pop ’em like Pez in the comments section below. or email me at

Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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