Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anticipating Sun and Moon Alignments

Originally posted in 2010, I occasionally bump this forward in my blog to tell people that they can plan to take an amazing sunrise moonset or sunset moonrise shot on an upcoming date.  As I update this on September 17, 3013, here on the California/Nevada border the moon will rise at 5:50 pm tonight and be about 12 degrees up in the eastern sky at 7 pm sunset.  Somewhere with something tall to place the moon next to should work well, like Yosemite Valley.

Tomorrow the moon will rise around 6:25 then be about 5.8 degrees up in the sky at sunset (close to 7 pm).  That will work best somewhere with a relatively low horizon.  These times will vary by your specific location on the globe, and the application described below can correct the times for your position.
I used to line up moon shots the old-fashioned way... looking up the full moon rise, arriving and seeing where the moon was emerging, predicting where it was going, and changing my position several times to try to be in just the right place at just the right time.

Fortunately there's an application that takes a lot of the guesswork out of lining up the sun and moon with natural or man-made objects to take stunning photos. The application The Photographer's Ephemeris allows you to plan a shooting location for a fairly exact alignment with particular landmarks: Free Download for PC or Mac

It runs on Google Earth satellite photos, so you can easily see your planned shooting position, it shows you the azimuth angle (compass direction) of the sun and moon at any give time from there, and you can read the elevation angle as well.  If the lineup isn't just right as the sun or moon is coming over the horizon, you can adjust your shooting position (at various times and stages in the sun or moon rise) to get just the alignment you want.

View the tutorials for some examples of the capabilities of, and applications for, this program.
Tutorials: stephentrainor.com/tools#tutorials  You'll be surprised at just how easy and intuitive it is.

Below are my results from researching on TPE a much more subtle event: anticipating and planning for the position of a crescent moon. I identified two positions a couple of blocks apart for two different times, then adjusted my position a few yards onsite to place the moon beside or behind the same courthouse, while avoiding trees or power lines.

So fire up TPE and go give this a try in your area on the next full moon rise (and set), or whenever!  Let me know how it goes.

 Remember to pick a target reasonably far away (say 1/2 mile to several miles) to put the moon alongside, so you can use a long zoom lens and capture the moon appearing really large beside it.