What Time Is the Harvest Moon? When to Watch and Tips for Photographing the Full Moon

The Harvest Moon, a full moon typically occurring around late September every year, takes place on September 20 in 2021 in the U.S.

It is one of 12 full moons (three for each of the four seasons) that occur in a tropical year, which is marked from one winter solstice (usually around December 20), to the next.

The Harvest Moon and other full moons in a tropical year are named after an activity appropriate for that time of year.

The event is associated with several festivals across parts of Asia. These include harvest festivals in China and the Korean peninsula as well as moon-viewing festivals in Japan, while other festivals take place in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

What Is the Harvest Moon?

The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, which is one of two times in a year that sees the Earth's axis tilted neither toward nor away from the sun, This creates nearly the same amount of daylight and darkness at all latitudes.

Every once in a while a tropical year contains 13 full moons, instead of the typical 12, so one season has four full moons instead of three. This extra full moon is referred to as the "blue moon," which is where the expression "once in a blue moon" is thought to have stemmed from.

What Time Is the Harvest Moon?

The Harvest Moon will take place at 7:55 p.m. ET on Monday, September 20, 2021.

According to NASA, the moon will appear full for around three days around the same time, from Sunday evening through Wednesday morning.

On average, the full moon rises about 50 minutes later each night, but around the Harvest Moon, the moon rises nearly at the same time—just 25 to 30 minutes later across the northern U.S. and 10 to 20 minutes later farther north in Canada and Europe.

The full moon will be on September 20 from Iceland, Liberia and Senegal westward across the Americas to the International Date Line.

The International Date Line is a demarcation line separating two successive calendar dates. It passes through the mid-region of the Pacific Ocean and roughly follows a 180 degrees longitude north-south line on the Earth.

The Harvest Moon will be on Tuesday, September 21, for the rest of Africa and Europe eastward across Asia and Australia to the International Date Line.

The Harvest Moon in Washington, D.C.
The Harvest Moon seen over the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol building and the Washington Monument on September 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Tips for Photographing the Moon

Capturing an image of the moon is challenging because of its great distance from the camera and because night photography is difficult in itself.

Bruce Wunderlich, a photographer from Marietta, Ohio who won the Photographer's Choice award at the 2014 Shoot the Hills Photography Competition, says: "The full moon is very popular and photogenic, but it's also the brightest and the most difficult to expose correctly."

However, there are some tricks to maximize the quality of the photos when capturing the moon, even if only shooting it with your camera phone.

Use a Photography App

Picture editor Carly Earl recommends downloading an app and shooting the moon via the app instead of directly from the camera on your phone, as some apps allow users to capture images in low light settings by letting them increase the sensitivity rating.

The quality of your image will depend on the type of equipment you use. To capture the best images, Earl says a professional camera with a telephoto or zoom lens (the longer the better) is required.

...And a Tripod with a Delayed Shutter Time

Earl also recommends placing the camera on a tripod and using a cable release or a two-second delay timer to release the shutter when shooting. Doing so will prevent the camera from shaking when hitting the shutter button.

It also allows the user to increase the size of the moon within the frame and retain all its details while keeping the image as sharp as possible.

Shoot Around Sunset or Sunrise

Ohio photographer Wunderlich adds the best time to shoot the moon is just after it rises or just before it sets, when it's low in the sky. This is important because when the moon is closer to the horizon, it will appear larger in your photos.

He explains: "As the full moon rises, the sun will be setting, and as the full moon sets, the sun will be rising. This can give you great lighting to accentuate foreground objects."

Be Careful With Foregrounds

Earl also suggests having another element in the image, such as capturing the moon as it goes past a scenic bridge or a mountain, to give viewers a better understanding of the size of the moon.

Nikon, the camera and photography equipment retailer, notes that capturing the moon against a foreground can be tricky due to its wide dynamic range, with a danger of either overexposing the moon and causing the foreground to appear too dark.

The Nikon website advises: "In this case the optimum solution may be to create a multiple exposure or composite. If you're using a wide-angle lens and the moon is a small element, it likely won't cause the overall image to suffer if the moon is blown out with no visible details."

Underexpose the Shot to Capture Detail

Users may want to underexpose the image to ensure the details of the moon's surface aren't blown out of the shot. Using spot metering will also help users get the correct exposure for the moon, which will be the brightest part of the photo, the Nikon website says.

"Use a shutter speed of at least 1/15 second or faster since the moon actually moves pretty fast across the sky. Set the focus to infinity and if your choice of ISO [the camera's "light gathering" ability] allows it, set the aperture to f/11 or f/16."

The aperture refers to the opening of a camera lens' diaphragm through which light passes.

The Harvest Moon near the California-Mexico border.
The Harvest Moon seen above the remote desert mountains along the twin border cities of Calexico, California and Mexicali, Mexico in 2006. David McNew/Getty Images