Saturday, May 8, 2010

Great Free Software For Planning Your Outdoor Photography

One of the keys to taking photos outdoors is sunlight.  Some feel the light is the most important factor.  First find great light, then find something to shoot in the great light.   We can't control the weather and have to live with cloudy days and bright sunny days.  We can plan around the sunlight and even moonlight.   Local weather forecasts often list the local sunrise and sunset times which helps.   Planning a photo outing for a place you've never been to can be difficult because you don't know the direction of the sun or moon.

There is a free piece of software that not only tells you the sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset time, but it also shows you what direction they will rise and set on a map, for anywhere in the world, or at least anywhere Google maps knows about.

The software is The Photographer's Ephemeris or TPE.   It's available for Mac's, PC's and Linux computers (free).  They recently launched a version for the iPhone ($8.99).   Start TPE and enter the location you are interested in and TPE will show you a map and

- Time and direction of sunrise and sunset
- Time and direction of moonrise and moonset
- Phase of the moon and % illumination
- Times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilight
- Graphical display on a map
- Save any location you want - no fixed lists
- Automatic time zone detection for any location on earth
- Determines elevation above sea level
- View azimuth and altitude of sun/moon for any time of day/night
- Distance, bearing and elevation angle between any two points
- Find when the sun/moon will appear from behind a hill
- Compensation for atmospheric refraction
- Compensation for elevation above the horizon

I am planning to get up and shoot a small pasture filled with yellow flowers in the morning and needed to know about the time and direction of the sunrise.  I entered and address close to the location (it's a pasture - no street address) then moved the pointer to the location I am interested in.  I was able to zoom out and in to get the resolution I need to plan my shoot.   I can see that standing on the road shoot the field the sun will be over my right shoulder.  Not the best position, but it will work.

I've also thought about hiking up to the top of Devil's Backbone in Warrior's Path State Park and taking sunset or sunrise photos.   The trail takes you up to a high point looking out over the lake, campground, Duck Island and most of the park.  It would be great to capture sunset or sunrise from up there, but to get those photos I will have to hike a pretty steep trail in the dark.   I used TPE to map that location and discovered that right now neither sunrise or sunset will work from there.   The sun will rise back over the golf course and set where the trees will block my view.  No need to bother trying, atleast at this time of year.   I ran the date up and discovered I may be able to get some sunset photos from there in the winter.

TPE is a valuable tool for anyone doing outdoor photography.  You can download the software from their website at


  1. Oh this is so neat! (This is Tara, Holly's roommate) I think it will take a little while for me to get used to it, but its pretty cool! I've been looking at this website a bit, and that has helped me. But this tool seems really cool!

  2. Here are some for Pocket PC:

    Ephemeris 1.0 is a program that computes the phase of the moon and the times and azimuths of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset for any location and date. It can also display a table of sun and moon positions for a given day at 15 minute intervals.

    DOF 1.0 is a program for photographers that computes depth of field of lens given its focal length, f stop, resolution and focus distance. It reports the near and far focus limits and the hyperfocal distance (the minimum distance you can focus at and still keep infinity in focus).

    Expose 1.0 is an automated exposure guide for photographers that computes recommended exposures given film speed, filter being used, type of subject, and illumination level. It can operate in either aperture or shutter priority mode and it incorporates a knowledge of the proper exposure for many different lighting situations and scenes.