Predict the moon for better photos

You do not have to be a magician to put the moon where you want it in your pictures.

Moonrise over the two Pillars of the Golden Gate

In this article, I am going to reveal how you can use software to predict the exact moonrise time, direction, angles and phases. You can use this information, in combination with a simple Google Earth trick, to enhance your composition with a celestial display de extraordinaire.

Selecting a viable subject

Step1: Find the angular range of Moon Rise or Moon Set

Moonrise over the Golden Gate

Software: Heavenly Opportunity (Shareware)

When I decided to photograph the moonrise over the Golden Gate Bridge some time ago, I already knew that it must be possible to have the full moon rise over the bridge. Skip to the next step if you are as confident about your location as I was.

Heavenly Opportunity

Heavenly Opportunity is a software package to predict sunrise, sunset, twilight, moonrise, moonset and the azimuth, directions and phases. You can download a trial version from their website.

Open the software and pick a location from the drop down menu. You need to enter GPS coordinates for locations outside the US.

Easily finding GPS coordinates of any location

A simple way to find the coordinates is through Google maps. Simply browse to your desired location in Google maps, click the link button in the upper right corner and copy the address. It should look something like this:

Find GPS Coordinates with Google Earth 

Copy the link and paste it in a text editor.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=machu+picchu,+peru&
sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=50.51141,76.464844&ie=UTF8&ll=-13.163496,-72.545911
&spn=0.003824,0.004667&t=h&z=18

The latitude and longitude are the two numbers behind ll (not sll). I have marked them with bold characters. The first number is the latitude of your location. The second number is your longitude. In my example the two numbers are -13.163496 and -72.545911. Verify the numbers by entering them in the Google Maps search field.

Find the Azimuth range:

Heavenly Opportunity Software 

Now you need to go to the date setting in Heavenly Opportunity and use the right arrow to skip through the next couple of months. Jot down the minimum Azimuth and the maximum Azimuth for the moonrise and for the moonset.

Step2: Decide what angle you need

Next you need to determine the exact angle you require for your shot.

I highly recommend Google Earth to every photographer. I often use it to research a photo location, determine shadows, calculate distances, best times to photograph and other things. This time we will use it to determine the Azimuth of the moon. 

Google Earth Ruler

Zoom to your location (or use the GPS coordinates from Step 1). Now click on the ruler icon in the toolbar and set your ruler start point to the exact location you will be standing during the shot. Drag the ruler across your subject. The heading indicated in the ruler window is your Azimuth. If the Azimuth falls between the min/max angles previously determined for either moonrise or moon set, you should be able to get the photograph.

Finding a date and time for your adventure

Now you need to determine a time where the moon aligns for you. Go back to Heavenly Opportunity and start skipping days until you find a day that closest matches your angle, has a nearly full moon and has the moonrise time after the sunset so that it is dark enough.

In the example above, I determined that May 8th, 2009 would be a good time to photograph the moon from the Marin Headlands viewpoint. HO predicted the moonrise to occur 5 minutes after sunset and the angle is the exact angle I indicated in the screen capture of Google Earth.

Daily Details View 

Golden Gate Moonrise one PillarYou can also print out the exact altitude angle vs. time for the sun and the moon. This can be very useful if you need the moon in a certain position, like above a skyscraper or underneath a natural arch.

Unexplained Deviations

I shot the first picture from a different location further down the hill. The viewpoint area closes down after dark and I had to leave.

When I stood at the exact spot, I chose on Google Earth, I expected the moon to rise somewhere close to the left pillar of the Golden Gate Bridge. Compare the screen shot of Google Earth above for reference with the angle predicted by HO.

The second picture in this article shows the view I had from the same spot. The moon rose much closer to the right pillar. Currently I have no explanation for the discrepancy. I know that the images in Google Earth are just stitched Bitmap files and since the Earth is round need to be warped. This can cause some distortions, but I have no indication that this is what threw off my calculation.

As John, the author of HO, kindly pointed out, this deviation was basically just user error (see comments below). Unchecking "Adjust for magnetic declination" will make the result correspond better with Google Earth. This option is really useful if you have the luxury to be able to scout your location far ahead of time with a compass in your hand. Travel Photographers often have to rely on intelligence gathering sessions with Google instead. Thanks John and good luck to all of you moon photographers.

 

Amazing

I come to this website often but I still get surprised by the quality of your articles and your ideas.

Nicely described, but all

Nicely described, but all that calculation and it was still off in the end :-( It no use having 1/10th degree accuracy in the software predictions if the angles you need are so affected by less-than-accurate online maps, your position on the ground and height above sea level.

Stellarium will give you a similar end result and for free. Entry of your location is easier (none of this messing around with lat/long) and you get to see the position of the moon as if you were standing there.

"Unexplained Deviations"

Thanks for writing about H-O. I really appreciate it.

Though I am not personally familier with Google Earth's Ruler tool, I suspect that it provides 'heading' angles with respect to true North. In contrast, by default Heavenly-Opportunity provides axmuth angles with respect to magnetic north so that it is easy to work with a compass at your chosen location. I strongly suspect that if you turn off H-O's "Adjust for magnetic declination" option, you will find that it will better match your experience with Google Earth.

I'd appreciate it if you let me know if this assumption is correct.

Cheers and best wishes on your photos!

jb

Wow

Thanks John,

Although something like this slipped my mind while I was on the hill, I forgot that again and never really noticed that option before. I really appreciate that you took the time to clear this up. It sounds logical at least. Turning off the magnetic declination gives me an angle of 118.2 degrees, which could be exactly what I photographed. Awesome!

Fantastisch

Die Brücke ganz oben ist wirlich herrlich aufgenommen, da passt einfach alles.

Lg,
Rewolve44

FindTheMoon web app

Hello,

There is also a free web application that allows you find when the moon will appear in a certain position in the sky. You just navigate around in a Google Earth plugin in your web browser and put a target in the sky and it tells you when the moon will be in the target. It's at www.findthemoon.com. You need to be connected to the internet to use it but you don't require a compass.

Russ

Question for all

I'm trying to learn how to predict the moon and sun for photography purposes; what would be the problem of using a site like this http://bit.ly/aXRBye to find the moon's azimuth on a certain day (full moon) plus the ruler feature on google earth? Is there anything else I need to know?
Thanks!

That works too

That website gets the job done. The software has more options and places, but essentially the website also does the same thing. It's easier to see the sunset and moonrise on one page, since you are looking for a day when the moon rises a certain time after sunset for optimum light. Otherwise I don't see much difference for this purpose.

Hi Russ, FindTheMoon was a

Hi Russ,
FindTheMoon was a nice tool - but only for a short period of time. Since months the site seems to be dead.
Jens

Sun and Moon's locations

May I recommend The Photographer's Ephemeris: http://photoephemeris.com/

Agree!

Great program, the desktop version is free and they have an iPhone/iPad app too. Super easy to use.

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I think that it would totally be amazing if you can predict the moon by just using this software that I also want to try. I've never thought of wanting to predict the moon before for photography purposes. But with this kind of software, it's now possible to take shots of a beautiful moon scenery because you know when exactly the moon rises and sets down.

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Android users may also use the free augmented reality application http://MoonPath.sylde.net/

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how to find the setting sun between the towers of the GGB

Now that you can plot the moon, here is free help on finding a spot to photograph the setting sun between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge any time of the year.

Go to http://www.sunsetsundial.org

The maps were created by Ben Burress, Experience Content Developer/Staff Astronomer, of the Chabot Space & Science Center and they are free of charge.

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