For virtually every landscape 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 asking too much, 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. The original version used the Adobe Air engine; the current web-based version no longer requires it. There are paid versions for Android ($4.99) and iOS ($8.99). I have the Windows versions on my laptop, and as a beta tester for the iOS version, it’s on my iPad as well. Typically, there are no cell or data signals where I am shooting, so I get the info I need before I go out.
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. One feature I would like to see is a dedicated print option. It is possible to print the page from your browser or do a screen capture, but a cleaner option would be nice.
The web 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. This is a huge advantage when you don’t have an opportunity to scout a location.
If you are a photographer and take photos outdoors, this program is well worth the few minutes it takes to learn. There is an e-book by Bruce Percy that demonstrates the power of the program. At current exchange rates it costs about $15 and is well worth the price.
Bottom line: you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying TPE. If you like it, a donation to the authors or purchasing the smartphone app helps insure its future.