How do I find the best times to view the next full moon?

Many users of TPE are keen followers of the moon and the various photographic opportunities it provides. First and foremost amongst these is full moon.

To start, let's unpack the question a little.

Unlike a new moon (for which there is a quasi-quantitative definition of 'best time'), there is no such defined best time to observe the full moon. Other than to observe, perhaps that full moon is only an instant in time - the moon waxes, is full for an instant, then begins to wane. You might never in fact have even seen a moon at the instant it is truly full.

Of course, most people accept that what is meant by a full moon is a moon which is pretty much entirely illuminated by the sun on its earth-facing side. That might typically be thought of as when the moon is 98% or more illuminated - a number you can check in all versions of TPE.


Figure: The moon waxing to the instant of Full Moon, then beginning to wane once again (view in TPE)

What do you want to see?

In determining the best time, it's important to consider what your objective is. For example:

  • Do you want to view the moon through a telescope? If so, it's best that it's higher in the sky during the hours of darkness
  • Do you want to photograph the moon against the landscape or next to a city skyline? Then you need it to be low in the sky so you can juxtapose it against the surroundings
  • Do you hate early mornings? Then the best time is probably moonrise, which always occurs in a easterly direction around the time of sunset. (Full moonsets occur in the mornings in a westerly direction.)
  • Do you need the landscape to have natural light on it in order to manage contrast? Then you need the moon low on the horizon before sunset/after sunrise or during the early stages of Civil twilight

How do you find the best times?

Firstly, decide on your objective in viewing or photographing the moon. Then, use the event controls in TPE to find the next full moon. Set your desired observing location.

Check the evening before full moon - this is usually best for shooting a moonrise against the landscape in favourable light.

Check the day of full moon, both moonrise and moonset - you'll find that the times vary with respect to sunrise/sunset, providing different lighting conditions at different times of year.

Check moonset the day after full moon (you see far, far fewer full moonset shots - people enjoy their sleep - but the potential compositions are completely different than for moonrise).

Need the moon in a specific alignment? You can use Visual Search in TPE for iOS to find potential dates.

All the concepts and features mentioned above are covered in articles on this site, so be sure to search for whatever captures your interest.

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