Full Moon Rising – August 30 Photo Op


Weather permitting – always a consideration in Half Moon Bay – I am inviting camera folk to join me in photographing the near full moon rising behind the Johnston House on Thursday, August 30. I plan to be setup by 7:00pm and expect the moon to appear by 7:25 and the sun setting at 7:40.


The Photographer’s Ephemeris tells me to be near the intersection of Main Street and Higgins Canyon Road looking east toward the house.

Camera Tips

The moon is no larger on the horizon than it is when directly overhead. In order to increase the perceived size of the moon, you photograph it along side a landmark, from a distance and with a long lens, zooming in as much as you can to frame the picture. I have a 70-300mm lens but will be using my 70-200mm instead. It is a higher quality lens that gives me sharper pictures. More megapixels in your camera helps when cropping to retain a high resolution photograph. I use a Nikon D7000 with 16MP but have taken decent photos with the 10MP D80.


Exposure is a bit tricky. You might think that an evening shot would require a wider aperture or a slower shutter speed, but the moon can be very bright in a dark sky and to retain crater detail, an under exposed picture (according to the camera’s light meter) might be best.

The picture below was taken with the D80 and the 70-300mm lens at 100 ISO, f/8.0 aperture and 1/50 shutter speed. The original picture was both under exposed for the house and hills and a bit overexposed for the moon and the sky. I then, using Lightroom,  lightened the bottom half and darkened the sky which brought out details in both. Bracketing your exposure and layering via HDR should improve that process.

moon rise over the Johnston House
A near full moon rising behind the Johnston House, Half Moon Bay, CA

Some folks suggest starting at f/16 with a shutter speed equal to your ISO setting. Those are fast shutter speeds, but use a tripod anyway. And be ready to manually adjust your settings, as the moon rises quickly. In the bay area, the earth is spinning around 818 mph which give you only a few minutes to catch a shot like this.

But the Full Moon is on Friday

It sure is. Those pesky mountains block our view of the horizon and, in this case, the moon doesn’t appear until 26 minutes after the actual rise. Since the sun sets as the moon rises, by the time we see it, the sun is long gone. By shooting the day before the fullness, you can get some of that golden hour sunset light on the Johnston House and less extreme contrast in your exposure.

Update: Local SF and nocturnal photographer Phil McGrew suggests the “Lunar 11” rule. Start with an f stop of 11 and a shutter speed the same as your ISO setting, similar to the “Sunny 16” rule which is to start with f/16 and shutter speed the same as your ISO when in a very sunny environment.

Update 2: Despite perfectly clear evenings the previous 2 nights, the marine layer blanketed the coast with low lying clouds and we saw neither the blue moon rise or the sun set. Next month is another story when, on September 29, full moon rises 24 minutes before the sunsets and may be the best photo op here in Half Moon Bay.