Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: The Photographer's Ephemeris

Link to Photo Ephemeris
For virtually every outdoor photoshoot we want to know where the sun will be at any given moment. Whether it's the blue hour, golden hour, sunrise or sunset, we are bound by the sun and if it's a night shoot, we want to know the phase of the moon and where it will be. And we don't just want to know it for today, we want to know it days, weeks or months in advance anywhere in the world. And as if that isn't demanding enough, we want this info to be simple to understand and visual. Photographers want to see a depiction of these astronomical facts, not stare at a list of numbers followed by headache-inducing mental contortions. Fortunately, there exists a free computer program that does all of this and more.

The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) comes in Windows, Mac, Linux versions. All use the Adobe Air engine and there are paid versions for Android ($4.99) and iOS ($8.99). I have the Windows and Android versions on my laptop and smartphone and Android tablet, and I have to say that once you see it at work, it is nothing short of miraculous.

The program allows you to choose any location in the world and save it for later reference. You then designate the dates you want to see plotted.
Screen Shot from Tutorial
The desktop program displays azimuths on Google maps, using its satellite, terrain, road map, and hybrid options. This is especially invaluable if you want to know where the sun and shadow will be in hilly or mountainous terrain. Want to know when the sun will come up behind that mountain and illuminate the fall foliage in front of you next Thursday? TPE will tell you. Trying to figure out when the back side of that mountain will be out of shadow? TPE will show you that as well, and to the minute. You can move your marker anywhere you want so that within an area you can easily plot and replot the paths of the rising and setting sun and moon.

The Android version is extraordinarily useful, since I don't ordinarily carry a laptop or tablet in the field. One feature I would like to see in the desktop version is the ability to print the terrain map and accompanying ephemeris (the panel on the right), but if you have the mobile version that isn't really necessary. Another feature I'd like to see and would pay for is the ability to sync the desktop and mobile versions.
If you are a photographer and ever take photos outdoors, this program is well worth the few minutes it takes to download, install, and learn. The web site also has links to very useful tutorials on YouTube, which really demonstrate the program's power.

The Android version is in the Android Market and resembles the desktop version except there is no terrain view. The iOS version also lacks a terrain view. This view would be nice to have but apparently there are some legal/licensing issues that are currently an obstacle. We can all hope for this feature and the site indicates they are exploring alternative map providers. In the meantime, this is a must-have photographer's app for your PC and smartphone.