Under a Full Moon

Moonrise from Glacier Point, Yosemite, Saturday evening

Moonrise from Glacier Point, Yosemite, Saturday evening

In a post last Thursday I mentioned that there might be a good opportunity to photograph the moonrise from Glacier Point in Yosemite on Saturday evening. So Claudia and I went to Glacier Point that night, where we met lots of photographers. It was nice to see familiar faces, and meet some online acquaintances in person. Thanks to all of you who came up to me and said hello!

Of course in between socializing we all photographed the moon rising behind Half Dome. My favorite image from this evening is the panorama above (stitched together from five separate frames). If you were there, I’d love to see the images you made, so please post a link in the comments. And if you photographed the moon somewhere else, I’d like to see those images too!

On Sunday I knew the moon would be rising later, just as the sun was setting, so we looked for a spot with a low horizon to the east, and decided to head to the Mariposa County foothills. I’d been to this location before—in fact you may recognize one of these oak trees from my lunar eclipse image made in December. This time I looked east and photographed the moon rising over the hills and mountains.

Tuesday morning we rose early and headed down to Merced National Wildlife Refuge. We discovered thousands of sandhill cranes in a pond on the west side of the tour route, and photographed some of them juxtaposed with the setting moon as they flew out to feed.

I guess I can’t get enough of the moon! It always adds something to a photograph—perhaps a sense of mystery, or timelessness.

Photographs that capture the “moon above the landscape” are best taken near sunrise or sunset, a day or two before or after a full moon. When the moon is full it rises at sunset, so by the time it clears any mountains or hills to the east the landscape will be completely dark, making it impossible to expose both the moon and the landscape properly—unless, that is, you’re looking at a low, unobstructed horizon. At sunrise the moon will be setting just as the sun rises, and the moon may sink below the horizon before there’s enough light on the landscape.

But since the moon rises (and sets) approximately 50 minutes later each day, the day before it’s full the moon rises about 50 minutes before sunset, and two days before full it rises approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes before sunset. This gives the moon enough time to clear hills or even the rim of Yosemite valley before the the light fades, providing even illumination on both the moon and the landscape. And on the mornings following the full moon it will linger in the sky past sunrise, again allowing you to balance the light between the moon and your earthly surroundings.

New applications have made it easy to calculate the position of the moon, and predict exactly when it will clear the horizon from any given spot. I’ve mentioned the best of these programs here before, The Photographer’s Ephemeris. This piece of software has become an indispensable tool for me.

—Michael Frye

Moonrise, Sierra foothills, Sunday evening

Moonrise, Sierra foothills, Sunday evening

Sandhill cranes and setting moon, Merced NWR, Tuesday morning

Sandhill cranes and setting moon, Merced NWR, Tuesday morning

Related Posts: A Strange Winter Brings Unusual Opportunities; Eclipse

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

In the Moment: Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Web Site Blog Workshops Newsletter Blog Subscription Twitter Facebook