Moonrise over Washington, DC

When you are trying for the classic moonrise over the city of Washington, DC, everything has to go perfectly.  Several of us made the effort on October 26th, knowing the weather would be bad on the following night, the night of the full moon.

We also knew before we arrived that conditions would not be perfect because the moon was coming up 15 minutes before sunset and it likely would be too high in the sky by the time the twilight blue was at its peak and the illumination of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and US Capitol were in balance with the ambient light still in the sky.  We also knew that the clouds could pose problems.

But, when we arrived, there was an additional problem.  The Marine Corps Marathon had been held on the previous day and our chosen location (near the Marine Corps Memorial) was also the location of the finish line for the race.  A massive disassembly effort was underway.

Moonrise 01

Unexpected Obstructions, 20 Minutes before Moonrise

Moonrise 02Another Surprise

Moonrise 03A

Passing Truck, 4 Minutes after Moonrise (not visible yet)

But, aside from the occasional passing vehicle, there was nothing that was directly obstructing the view.   By 6:15, the official time for the sunset, the moon was already pretty high and it was still too bright to see the illumination on any of the buildings below us.

Moonrise 04

Clouds obscuring the moon at Sunset (6:15 PM)

At 6:30, the twilight was a nice blue color, the clouds had abated, but the moon was too high.

Moonrise 05

Ideal Twilight, 15 Minutes after Sunset (6:30 PM)

So the only solution was to back off the focal length, and take the full scene and then do some post processing cheating.  The image above was taken with the telephoto zoom extended to 200 mm and the moon in its actuual location at the time.  The image below, taken a few seconds later with a 145 mm focal length, shows the moon in a decent location.  But it was just “moved” down during the postproceesing from where it was at the time the image was taken.  Not a bad result, but not something I will post on my website or offer for sale.

Oct 26 Moon

“Manufactured” Moonrise over Washington

Lessons Learned:

  1. If one wants to capture an image of the moon rising over the “Big Three” (Lincoln, Washington, and US Capitol), the specific location is right in front of the Netherlands Carillon a short distance south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
  2. Using the well-known app “The Photographer’s Ephemeris,” the moon should be rising at an Azimuth reading of about 85 degrees.
  3. For ideal twilight conditions along with the lighting of the “Big Three,” the moonrise time should be about 15 minutes after sunset.

Keep Shooting….

16 thoughts on “Moonrise over Washington, DC

  1. Super post Robin! I don’t think non-photogs realize the challenges of great landscape photography let alone photographing the night sky and moon. I always like to photograph the night before the full moon when there is still a little light left to the scene from the setting sun, making the scene less of a high dynamic range situation. The moon looks full the night before. When it is already very dark the moon either gets blown out or the scene is too dark to see detail. It also works well when the moon is behind clouds illuminating them. Of course in this case the monuments are well lit so it helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Denise. Yes, when one is shooting a pure landscape, the night before tactic is a good one because nothing on the ground is illuminated by articifical lights. And your point is well demonstrated by the 4th photo from the top. It was taken at sunset when there was still a good bit of ambient light for earthbound objects and the moon would have been quite bright and dramatic had there been a better situation with the clouds.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Laura. Not sure I understand what you mean by military time vs PST. Are you referring to the 24 hour clock used by the military or the GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), also known as UTC which is based on the time at Greenwich, U.K.? If the latter, there is an app for the iPhone called the World Clock app for iOS.


      • You’re welcome. I know what you’re saying but I just wish there were a button right on TPE that you could select the time display you would like so that the website did it for you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think you can do that with theSettings tool (little cog wheel icon in upper right corner). The drop down display has a time zone feature that may allow you to accomplish what you want with the time display. I haven’t used it, however, since the default setting fits what I need.


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