Photographing the Moonrise – Part 1 of 2

Author: Vern West


We’ve all seen photos of a seemingly full moon-rise with beautiful sunset colors on the surrounding landscape and the moon bright and full. Here is how it is done without trickery or Photoshop skills.

The day before the full moon, it rises before the sunsets and yet it is close enough to full that most observers won’t notice the difference. So the trick is to determine what time and at what azimuth the moon will rise.


Azimuth simply means what compass heading.  The moon is at it farthest South heading in mid-summer and farthest North heading in mid-winter. I typically use the  smartphone app, LunaSolCal to determine the azimuth. Remember the azimuth is based on true North so you will have to correct your compass for the declination in your area. Here in Central Arizona it is about minus 11 degrees. The smartphone app will also give you the time of the moon-rise at the true horizon. Hills, mountains or other obstructions will delay the actual moon-rise from the time given.  MoonriseImage-01

MoonriseImage-05Armed with the knowledge of time and azimuth you are ready to scout for locations to shoot the moon. Being primarily a landscape photographer, I like to get out of the city and find a mountain or some other natural landmark to capture the moonrise. This does require guess work as to when the moon will actually be visible and if it shows before the sunsets.  Remember we want the sun to still illuminate the landscape.

Tune in next Friday, May 29, 2015 for Part 2 on how to capture great moon photos.

Vern West is a nature photographer and trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.