Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Shot Planning With The Photographer's Ephemeris

I started writing this post yesterday with the nebulous idea that through the medium of screengrabs I could demonstrate how I plan a shoot using Google Earth, an OS map and a bit of local knowledge. During the course of a bit of research I stumbled on to a piece of software that shows that the world has presumably moved on a bit while I was either asleep or at work...

The software in question is called The Photographer's Ephemeris. I have no idea how I found it, but it's here: http://photoephemeris.com/. Beneath the visual quirks it's a very useful and useable piece of software (and no, this isn't a sponsored post or anything. I grabbed it, used it, and was blown away).

The principle is simple. Take the times of sunrise/set and moonrise/set, plus a widget that works out where the sun will be at a given time of day, and overlay a visual representation of those on a Google terrain map. Put it in a pretty 1920s style frame and set the default location to Timbuktu (an utterly useless touch, but very funny if you're British!) and that's pretty much it. Of course, this is all information that you could probably work out for yourself with a lot of Googling, some brainpower and a name change to Patrick Moore, but the workflow implications of having all this in a point-and-click interface are pretty massive.

Here it is:

The orange line is the direction of sunset for yesterday, Jun 4th 2012. Yellow is sunrise; light blue is moonrise and dark blue is moonset. Not visible on here is the actual ephemeris table, which allows you to select the date and time and overlays a fifth line representing sun direction at that time. I was quite pleased that the sun direction is shown even for pre-dawn and post-sunset times, so you can even work out where the airglow will be if you're after pre-dawn silhouettes or suchlike.

In the example above, the map was centred on a little road by the River Trent that would, apparently, be directly aligned with the setting sun. There's not a lot to photograph in this neck of the woods for a big landscape photographer, so sky- and river-scapes are pretty much the only way to go. It was a bit cloudy last night but I decided to take a chance on a bit of evening clearance. A quick check on Bing maps showed that the road is public (this is, as far as I'm concerned, the only useful feature of Bing - the Ordnance Survey overlay on the maps is a godsend) so off I went - The Photographer's Ephemeris told me to be there by 9:23 so I was. I think it was worth it:

Just a quick edit from the 70-odd photos taken, but it throws up a couple of interesting points. One is that The Photographers Ephemeris was, of course, spot on and the sun is setting right along the line of the river. The other is that there are things the software can't show you - the sun actually set right behind the trees just to the right of centre in the shot above. The potential for a huge photo was there, I could envision the orb of the sun right in the gap in the clouds on the horizon with a massive reflection stretching towards the front of the photo. Because of the trees that didn't happen. So the golden rule is: Use the software, but find several locations and give yourself enough time to change locations if necessary. Of course this was just a test and you should never completely rely on software to do your thinking anyway.

All in all a worthwhile download and because of it, a worthwhile evening's photography. Get it and use it!

There's also an Android version - you have to pay for that, but given the amount of work that's gone into this software and how useful it already is, I'm going to quite happily do that in the very near future and I'll review that version as well.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ed - glad you caught the Timbuktu reference. It seems lost on most people! Hope you enjoy using TPE.