The Photographer’s Ephemeris

I think just about every landscape photographer likes to shoot the moon, I certainly do. I want to use the full moon as a feature in a landscape picture, so I’m always checking the full moon rise and set times to see when they coincide with either sunset or sunrise. The window of opportunity is very narrow because you don’t want so much light in the sky that the moon is not even visible, and you don’t want it to get so dark that it’s impossible to capture any detail in the landscape without overexposing the moon. And then of course you also need a good spot for taking that picture so that you have an open view towards the horizon while keeping the landscape interesting. That’s a lot of criteria to fill in and in the past it’s been a little bit hit and miss – check the direction of the moon, check the map, check the compass and then hope for the best.

The Photographer's Ephemeris
The Photographer’s Ephemeris

But there is a way to make it easier. You can take out the guesswork and use The Photographer’s Ephemeris to provide the exact information of the time and direction and overlay this information on the map, so can do your scouting on the computer or smartphone and the only thing you need to hope for is for a cloudless sky.

I installed the app on my first smartphone but it turned out that the display was too small which made the app very fiddly to use and I gave up pretty quickly. But recently I discovered that The Photographer’s Ephemeris is available for desktop as well, and that’s when the fun started – the large computer display allows you to see the big picture for very detailed planning, and then I just use the smartphone app for some last minute checks on location.

Last night I put this whole thing to test. It’s extremely difficult to find a good location for either moonrise or moonset because this region is so hilly and forested. If you don’t have a hill blocking your view, then you have forest instead. That is assuming that you find a good viewpoint in the first place.

So started checking all potential locations and found that one my favourite spots would work for last night’s moonrise. The weird part is that the location is by the river which is normally lined by high embankments so you couldn’t possibly see the moon until it’s high on the sky, except that right here, towards the moonrise, there was a valley that gave an almost free view in precisely one direction  – the moonrise. The only thing that I couldn’t calculate with Ephemeris was how much the trees would affect the view, but I estimated that I would see the moon at 17:53. The first moon picture here is taken at 17:54!

The moon is rising
The moon is rising

I’m not going to explain how The Photographer’s Ephemeris works, you should check out the excellent tutorials instead (sunrise and moonrise), but I will briefly explain the screenshot. My location is the large red pin, and I used the small grey pin to mark the highest point along my line of sight to the moon. Since there was some elevation difference to my disadvantage, I saw that I needed to wait until 17:53 before the moon’s altitude was higher than the apparent altitude caused by the elevation, with some reservation for the trees. And like I said, the information turned out to be very accurate!

Getting too dark
Getting too dark

The last picture is taken at 18:01, which is 31 minutes after sunset. It wasn’t that dark for the naked eye, but it was too much for the camera to handle, so this is a simple HDR (combination of two exposures, one for sky and one for foreground). It is better if the moonrise is 15-30 minutes before sunset, so now I just wait for the next opportunity… when it happens, I have just the right tool to find me the best spot!

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