Moonset and AlpenGlow over the Colorado Rocky Mountains

In September/2008, I captured some nifty pictures of the full moon setting over the Colorado Rockies. These were taken through a window, so I've been wanting to reshoot from a better vantage point with a longer lens. Fortunately, a full moon happens monthly, and with my kids at a sleepover, I had another opportunity in January/2009. Official Moonset time on 1/11/2009 was 7:55 (azimuth 298°) ... but it obviously drops below the mountains before then. Sunrise time was 7:22 so there would be some ambient light to balance the bright moon.

So after a double feature (Star Wars I/II) at a neighbors with the kids, I packed all my gear (including a 300mm/F4 from my friend Carol - thanks!), and set the alarm for 6:45. It was pretty dim outside, but I could see a solid bank of clouds and no Moon visible to the West - DARN! However, there was a faint line of sky above the mountains, so I headed out for the 10 minute drive to an overlook on Arapahoe just West of 75th Street.

It's a challenge taking pictures at this time as the light is changing very fast. Plus your eye is better able to capture the broad dynamic range of light and saturated colors better than the camera, so some post-processing is needed to reflect what it really looked like. I had an intervalometer attached to the Canon 50D and planned to take a picture every 2 seconds as the moon touched the mountains, and then set ... which takes less than 3 minutes.

7:05 - looking West 17 minutes before sunrise - cloud layer just above the mountains now visible - darn!

2009_01_11 moonset 1

7:14 - 8 minutes before sunrise as clouds light up with some pretty amazing colors
Mouse-Over Image for Labels

2009_01_11 moonset 2

7:15 - fairly flat horizon to the East and the Sun will pop up in 7 minutes

2009_01_11 moonset 3

7:21 - AlpenGlow (reflected sunlight just before sunrise) on Mount Meeker and Longs Peak
Mouse-Over Image for Daytime Shot 3 days earlier


7:24 - Moon pops out from the upper layer of clouds ... but about to enter the lower layer - darn!

2009_01_11 moonset 5

The first three pictures were taken using a Canon 40D and Canon 10-22 wide angle lens. The last two pictures were taken with a Canon 50D and 300mm/F4 lens. All tripod mounted except the mini-van which is slightly fuzzy/noisy due to the hand-held 1/20 second and ISO 1600 exposure.

The Clouds made for some cool pictures, but due to the lower layer over the mountains, I wasn't able to capture a sequence of the moon setting. In addition, it was cloudy to the East, so shortly after rising, the Sun was then obscured, which reduced the ambient light and the Moon still has about 5 minutes to "touch" the mountains. The moonshot above is a full-frame crop taken at 1/125s, F/5, and ISO 400 - the moon is a bit blown out, so I'd probably shoot around 1/250s next time. Plus while the 300/F4 provided more reach than my 55-250 lens, I'd love to get tighter since even with the 15 megapixel 1.6x 50D, the moon is only ~650 pixels in diameter.

Sun and Moon times can be found at the US Naval Observatory and azimuth can be found here.