A lot of people will know the photographer’s ephemeris, it’s a very well known and powerful app for assessing the best time of the year to visit specific landscape locations and get shots with the sun in exactly the right position in relation to the landscape.  It takes all of the guess work from shooting on location and increases the chance for success.  The example to the left is one of the shots that I took with the data from TPE, I was able to calculate the exact day in the year that the sun would rise between the pilons of the M48 bridge crossing the river Severn. As luck would have it, that day had an amazing fog bank that kept rolling in and out throughout the shoot, really adding effect to the shot.

Anyway, what does it do?  Well rather than rewriting what has already been written by Steven Trainor (the developer and a fantastic landscape photographer) here’s a copy and paste from his site

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is a tool to help with the planning of all types of outdoor photography, but particularly landscape and urban scenes.
It is a map-centric sun and moon calculator: see how the light will fall on the land.
TPE’s map-based approach means you are not limited to a predefined list of locations, which often don’t include the places many photographers go. Instead, search for any place name on the planet or position the map pin exactly where you want it.
Advanced features including automatic time zone and elevation detection, correction for atmospheric refraction and height above the horizon, ensuring that you have the best possible information for planning your shoot.
You can even determine when the sun or moon will be visible behind nearby hills and mountains.
Key features of TPE for iOS:
– 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
– Does not require network connection for rise/set times and azimuths. (Note: maps and elevation do require a data connection)

The UI as you can see is driven by Google Maps, but with a nice overlay showing the direction of sun rise/set, moon rise/set  and the times relative to the positon of the marker you place.  The times of the daily events are relative to location and your height from the horizon, so when at sea level you get the time of the sun rise, which would be different to if you were at the top of a mountain at the side of that beach that was 4000ft above sea level. You can save all of your favourite locations in the application and pre plan for maximising your on the shoot. I can’t say enough how much I love this app, how easy it has made choosing shooting locations and having the guess work removed really does improve on your day, night, morning. If you want more detail on how to use TPE, make sure you head over to Stephen’s site and check out the instructions and videos, I really don’t like repeating what other people have said and done as well as I would done it or more than likely better… 🙂  This link is for the Adobe Air version of the product for all you desk toppers, but the information is pretty much the same. 

Working with Weather Applications: Combining this with the weather apps I recommended that include satellite data, you can take this information and use it to maximum effect. As a few people commented, you can never really trust weather applications, a lot of the time they are guess work at worst, but with up to date satellite information you can make the call for yourself.  I will generally start with the Weather Pro HD and identify the locations that are under cloud cover, whether it looks like it will be interesting cloud cover or just a flat grey day.  On the satellite view, I normally scroll the cloud patterns backwards and forwards to really get a feel for how the clouds are moving, the general direction of the clouds and where they may be when you get out to shoot.  This doesn’t mean I always try to avoid clouds, you can get some beautiful formations, the edges of storm cells and these can be used to great effect, but in the UK, we have far too much flat grey light… it kills me at times… having said that, when the sun does shine, I love the UK, go team!

Once I’ve established the best choice of locations, I’ll start to take this apart using TPE, identifying from my list of prospective shooting spots, the ease of access, time to travel to the location and when or if the weather is going to encroach upon the shoot. 

One example of how I used TPE was for a planned shoot down at Durdle Dor as pictured here from much earlier in 2010. I really wanted to get the sun setting through the archway, with the shot reframed to the right slightly… I pre planned this trip and saw that the best time was 3 months in the future… So I set my reminder in the calendar and waited, well actually didn’t wait, I just got on with life, then my iPhone when ding 2 months and 29 days later.  I did my usual checking on the web for the weather forecast, it looked good with a little bit of cloud, some nice texture in the sky hopefully.  I flipped over to WeatherPro HD so I could roll the clouds back and forth to see their direction and movement, where as the weather forecast was fairly similar, the looking at the satellite imagery it was telling a darker tale.  Because of the direction of the cloud coming in, which was directly in line with the sunset, to me it looked like the cloud was going to be far to close to the horizon for the sun to shine through the arch. I made the 2.5 hour drive to the location and as I got to the cliffs that look down on Durdle Dor, my fears were confirmed, there was no sun… ahhhh, noooo…. this was a lesson for me, that if TPE says yes, but the satellite imagery says no, it’s a no… Not really a wasted journey, but not the shots  I wanted from the shoot.  But, this is where TPE is worth it’s weight in gold, you can ask for a list of dates where the sun is going to be in that exact location again… and so I have a reminder set again… 

Is TPE really that good? What about other options?
I’ve downloaded a few of the other apps that perform a similar task, but I have to say that there is a reason that TPE is often on the front page of the Apple App Store and that is because it is the best app I’ve used in this category and many would agree.  If I could ask for one improvement, that would be to bring satellite imagery into TPE as an overlay.  This would make the best app, the absolute best app… 

I’ll be following this article up with some of my researching tools I use for choosing locations…

Paul Stoakes
Main Site: www.eyeforimages.com

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