January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

Moonrise‚ Iceland, June 2002

Photographed with a Hasselblad XPan and 90mm f/4 lens on Fuji Provia 100F
Moon position calculation by Palm Planetarium

As an outdoor photographer you are no doubt usually aware of when the sun rises and sets. You should be since light is one of the key components of landscape photography. The moon can also be a vital element in your compositions and so knowing what its phase is at any time, and when it will rise or set, is something that you likely check regularly, and certainly before planning a major shoot. In fact I usually try to have my shooting trips coincide with a full moon. All other things being equal‚ why not?

Such was the case with my late-June, 2002 trip to Iceland. I was there for the summer solstice and 21 hour-long Arctic shooting days, but I knew beforehand that there would also be a full moon that week. It turned out to play a role in a number of my more successful images from that week.


There are any number of print almanacs, ephemeris programs and web sites that will give you this basic astronomical data. A search on the Net will quickly turn up several.

I’ve written a couple of time before about programs for PDAs that allow you to calculate sunrise and sunset and moonrise and moonset. There’s one page covering this forPalm computersand another forPocket PCs. The advantage though of PDA software Vs. something on the Net is that you can have it with you in the field and access it any any time.

Palm Planetarium

I have now discovered what may well be the most useful program that an outdoor and landscape photographer can have. It’s for the Palm operating system, which means that it will run on any Palm, HandEra, HandSpring or Sony Cliƒ†.

I now use aSony CliĠ, which I wrote about in another vein in my recent (Summer 2002) article onPervasive Photography. In setting it up with practical applications I did a search on the Net and came acrossPlanetarium.

Let’s cut to the chase. This is the best program available for a PDA that I’ve ever seen for calculating sun and moon data. Below is the main screen. There is a wealth of information on this one small screen. Depending on how it’s set here is what can be seen at a glance. All you need do first is set the location (from a list of dozens of locations around the world) or by entering the desired longitude and latitude, as well as the time and date; eithernow, or any date and time in the present or past.

Phase of the moon

Compass direction of the sun or moon

Altitude above the horizon of either the sun or the moon

In addition there are Rise, Transit and Set times for the sun, moon and major planets. Phases of the moon for the coming month are shown as well as rise and set times for the next 3 days. You can set the time increment desired and view graphically how the sun and moon rise and set as time passes, as well as how their position changes over time.

There’s more, much more, including a complete planetarium capability with up to 9,000 stars. Just the thing to keep you busy and entertained when camping at night after a great sunset.

On a Cliff-Top Overlook the North Atlantic in Iceland

How does all this work in the real world? Here’s an example from my June, 2002 trip to Iceland. The trip had been planned to coincide with the summer solstice and a full moon, which happened the same week. On our last evening’s shoot the weather was lovely and a beautiful sunset was shaping up. A glance atPlanetariumshowed that a 95% waning moon would bejustabove the horizon a bit before sunrise (3am). Clearly, to be able to properly see it we would need to be overlooking water.

We weren’t far from the ocean and so I asked Icelandic nature photographerDaniel Bergmann, whom we were traveling and shooting with, if he could suggest a good location. He did, and we found ourselves a couple of hours later on a lovely meadow near a lighthouse, overlooking the ocean.

Now the question was, exactly where would the moon rise? The answer, according toPlanetarium(properly corrected for Iceland’s magnetic declination) was 192.6 degrees, just East of South. A glance at my compass and I was able to set my tripod up so the moon would rise just to the left of the building on the cliff. Sure enough the moon rose out of the sea just where we expected it to. You can see this in the video still frame immediately above taken from a segment of theVideo Journal, which will appear inIssue #7in October, 2002.

If you look at the photograph at the top of this page you’ll see the moon setting on the other side of the building not too long afterwards. Such are celestial phenomena in the Arctic in mid-summer. WithoutPlanetariumI likely wouldn’t have gotten this shot, or at least not with as little effort.


The program is Shareware, which means that you can download it and try it in demo mode before paying. When you do pay (and you will) the price is a very reasonable $24. The program is available in English, German and French versions.

In my opinion this program is so worthwhile for nature and landscape photographers that it’s almost worth buying a Palm compatible PDA just to be able to usePlanetarium. My highest recommendation.

Michael Reichmann

Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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