The Moon in Landscape Photography

Photographing the moon, by itself, is pretty simple; all you need is a good telephoto lens, a tripod, and the desire to do so. Photographing the moon as it rises or sets, as part of a landscape, is a little more tricky. However, with the help of a free program called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris“, the task is much easier than it has ever been. The program allows you to determine exactly where and when the moon will rise on any day, and where the sun and moon will be at any time during that day.

I’ve explained the basics of using the program in the video above, but there are a couple of further considerations to keep in mind when photographing the moon.

There are a few advantages to photographing the moon, as part of a landscape, around sunrise or sunset. One of the obvious advantages is that those are the times when the light on the landscape is usually the most attractive. Slightly less obvious, though, is that there’s a much greater dynamic range between the moon and the landscape more than a half hour or so after sunset, and it becomes very difficult to hold any amount of detail in the moon (if you expose for the landscape) or the landscape (if you expose for the moon). During the day, the opposite issue is the problem; the moon simply isn’t very dramatic in the sky. Shooting around sunset is a good happy medium.

It’s also handy to keep in mind a couple of simple facts about the moon and it’s relationship to the sun. As a general rule, a full moon rises at sunset.  Similarly, a new moon (ie, no moon) rises at sunrise [in the real world, these events converge and diverge depending on geography and time of year, which is why it’s so helpful to have something like TPE to figure out the details]. If the moon is half-full (first quarter moon), the moon will rise about 6 hours after the sun, or if it’s half full but waning (3rd quarter moon), it rises about 6 hours after sunset. Since the moon has a 28 day cycle, and our days are 24 hours long, the rule of thumb is that the moon will rise about 1 hour later each day… so if the full moon rises at 6:00 PM, the next day, it will rise a little before 7:00 PM.

Get the Program Here:

The Photographer's Ephemeris - Crookneck Consulting LLC
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John Raggio

Hi Matt. Thanks so much for the video. It was very clear and will help me better use TPE for moonrise photos. Quick question, how can I use TPE to figure out when the moon will rise above a large city skyline, or be above or between two large buildings? I can’t see how using the gray pin would help given the altitude of the building is much higher than its base.


John Raggio

Thanks for the reply, Matt. I just had a three day email exchange with German, the developer of Photo Pills. He explained to me how this can be done, but it’s too much to type here. They are also thinking of ways to make it easier to do in the app. The guy was super cool to respond and spend so much time with me. He included sketches etc. in his mail to me. Be cool if they add it to their tutorials. It essentially involves using the Find feature of the planner to change the apparent height of the moon at a certain elevation. It is very similar to the Olympic rings tutorial they had.


Love this article, thank you!

I know nothing of astronomy. Do the sun and moon move in a V-pattern like the lines show in TPE, converging on the red pin?


No. Those lines simply lay out the azimuth from your location to the Sun or Moon, as the case may be. It tells you what compass direction you need to look to see the object. If you move the time slider, you will see the lines sweep out a full circle over the course of 24 (more or less) hours.

You may be trying to infer something about how the Sun (or Moon) rises up in the sky. The second coordinate needed to describe this is the “altitude” (measured in degrees) of the object. That is not graphically displayed in TPE, but you can read out the value of the altitude. When the object is visible, the altitude can range from -0 to +90 degrees, but the Sun can ever reach +90 unless you are in the tropics. (The Moon can do so between latitude + 28 and -28, due to its inclination.)

Jose Alonso

I am new to TPE and have a question about the times indicated for the Moon set. Am I correct in assuming that the time indicated in TPE for when the moon sets is actually not on the date we see it but really the next day? If that is correct then one needs to take into account that if you want to shoot the moon rising today for example January 25th 2012 which will rise at 16:56 in Spain where I am, and that you want to shoot the Moon set tomorrow morning the time of the Moon set on the 26th would be what is indicated on the 25th which is 06:57am

Somewhat confused here and need clarification, please.


Nobody seems to have answered your question, so I will. Based upon the times you specified, I surmise that you are somewhat East of Madrid, perhaps near Castellon de la Plana. (I cannot tell much about north or south of Madrid). When I set that location ad Jan 25, 2012, I show a moonrise of 16:56 and a moonset of of 06:46, which is close enough to your readings.

That is the moonset for Jan 25, the one that take place before the moonrise in question. To get the moonset on the 26th, you must switch to the proper calendar date, Jan 26, when it sets a 07:24.

Jim Henderson


Excellent video! I’ve been studying the Photographer’s Ephemeris Application and plan to use it on an upcoming shoot to the Great Smoky Mountains on the morning of a setting full moon. I have a number of favorite locations and am using this program to select the best location to capture the setting full moon. This video was exactly what I needed to bring all the pieces of Photographer’s Ephemeris together for me. With some luck from Mother Nature, I just might get a good shot!

Thanks again,



A correction to your description of when the full Moon rises. You say, “In the real world, the moon rises a little before sunset during the summer, and after sunset during the winter.” This is incorrect. Whether it rises before or after sunset is on your particular latitude and longitude. The geometry is complex, but perhaps an example will suffice to provide a feel for it.

On Aug 1, 2012 in Hawaii where I got a spectacular shot of the Moon rising behind a lighthouse, the Moon was full at 17:27. The Moon rose at 18:55 and the Sun set at 19:09. The Moon rose 14 minutes BEFORE the Sun set.

But if I had been shooting in southern Spain, the Moon would be considered as being full at 05:27 on August 2. (This is the result of time zones … it is the same Full Moon.) But the Sun set at 21:37 and the Moon rise was also at 21:37. They occurred AT THE SAME TIME.

If I were on a boat at the mid-Atlantic ridge, the Moon would rise a full 7 minutes AFTER the Sun set!

You can see the Moonrise at!i=2032600307&k=kmp4tj9

I chose this event so that the Moon would be high enough in the sky to be directly behind the lighthouse some 11 minutes after sunset while there was still enough twilight. For the equivalent Full Moon in 2013, the Moon will rise 8 minutes AFTER sunset in Hawaii. I would not be able to capture the same kind of picture as the cliff would no longer be illuminated by enough twilight.

Bill Minton

Watched this last night on the TV (gotta love XBMC + AirPlay), very cool.  I’d never heard of the app, and the explanation was definitely helpful.  Do you use it a lot for eclipse like events?

BTW, the beat to the music in the beginning reminded me of Toni Braxton’s Another Sad Love Song.  Did you notice the similarity?

Bill Minton

It definitely wasn’t streaming it in 1080p, but between Youtube, AirPlay, XBMC, and Comcast, I’m not sure exactly why.  I’ll do it again to test it out though.