Photo Tip: A must download – The Photographer’s Ephemeris

One of the most important things one needs to know in photography are the details surrounding the ‘golden hours’.  You know, those special hours near sunset and sunrise when the light is special and all of your subjects have that special flow.  To take advantage of this light, one needs to know exactly where the sun will be.  To really take advantage of this light, you may want to know where the light will be relative to major background settings.  If you plan to shoot stars, star trails or the moon, you will want to know the phase of the moon and where and when it will rise and set.

I am really excited about a new program I’ve found.  It was developed by Stephen Trainor and is called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris”.  What is this great tool?  It is basically the elegant amalgamation of several pieces of information I currently search out when I travel all rolled into a simple tool with an excellent interface.  With The Photographer’s Ephemeris, you will be able to have at your fingertips the exact time of sunrise and sunset and moonrise and moonset.  Just as importantly, you will have a visual display of exactly what the compass vectors are when these events occur.  All of this information is neatly overlaid onto Google Maps, which has zoom capability.  Further, you can program in and save favorite locations.  As an example, below is a screen shot of one of my favorite locations within Chobe to shoot sunset.

One more really important feature:  The tool is FREE.  Stephen accepts donations at the site and I encourage you to consider it, but … bottom line, the tool is free.

One of the best computer tools we have found for photographers.

Zoomed in on Sunrise/sunset as well as moonrise/moonset vectors along the Chobe River between Kasane and Serondela for July 29, 2010

Now, long before sunset, I can select the foreground or distant background tree I wish to have in my composition when the time arrives.  Want to catch an image of a full moon rising over a baobab?  No problem, this little tool will tell you exactly when to expect the full moon and where in the sky it will appear and/or set and the time of this event.

The directions for using this tool are clearly written at Stephen’s web site, but the tool is so intuitive that you may not need to read beyond the download instructions.  The following is Stephen’s introduction (from the web site):

Landscape photographers typically wish to plan their shoots around the times of sunrise/sunset or twilight, or alternatively when the moon is in a particular place in a particular phase.

While times of sunrise etc. are readily available on various sites on the internet (direction of sunrise etc. less so, but still readily found), there are fewer programs available which combine such information with a topographical map allowing the photographer to match the astronomical to the location.

A typical use might be to determine when the sun will set along the axis of a mountain valley, or when a full moon rise will rise across a lake.

The application uses Google Maps providing users the ability to select a location and determine the time and azimuth of sunrise or sunset for a given date or dates.

So what’s new about this?

Not a huge amount – there are other programs out there that calculate the same data and more.

What I haven’t seen before is the combination of the key data together with a topographical map, courtesy of Google, in one program for either Windows or Mac.

If you’re already on location, this isn’t probably going to help. If you’re planning a trip, then perhaps this is the program for you.

Here is the link to this powerful free tool.  Make sure you load this onto your laptop before you hit the road on your next trip.

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