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A new 3D light planning tool for outdoor photographers

Launching worldwide on Tue June 27

Available now in Ireland and New Zealand.

The Photographer's Ephemeris 3D (TPE 3D) is a new app for iOS. Following on from the original TPE, we hope it’s a big step forward in letting outdoor photographers see how the light will fall on the land, day or night.

What is TPE 3D?

The Photographer's Ephemeris 3D (TPE 3D) is a unique natural light visualization tool for outdoor and landscape photographers. It’s a 3D map-centric Sun, Moon and Milky Way calculator: see how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on earth.

Watch a sunrise from the future in a rich simulation of sunlight, moonlight and starlight set against the actual topography of your planned shooting location.

Need to see when the arch of the Milky Way will rise between two mountain peaks? Need to see what time in the afternoon the valley will lose direct light in September?

Watch the light unfold under clear skies hours, days, weeks or years before you’re actually there in person.

Availability

We plan to soft launch TPE 3D in select markets (including Ireland and New Zealand) on Tuesday, June 20 2017.

We expect to make the app available worldwide on Tuesday, June 27.

TPE 3D requires iOS 10. It runs on all devices that support iOS 10, but more modern devices benefit from higher detail in the 3D topography and higher resolution shadows and stars.

Why did we build TPE 3D?

Technology has evolved significantly since TPE was first released in 2009. Mobile devices today offer amazing power to process and present data in new ways. Coupled with the availability of digital elevation models for topography and 3D toolkits for graphical presentation, the opportunity was there to advance the way we presented data about the sun, moon and stars.

A couple of years ago two significant events occurred. Support for 3D graphics applications in iOS was significantly improved – a pre-requisite for building an app like this. Secondly, we received an email from a trusted user of TPE and professional landscape photographer saying, “wouldn’t it be great if…” – the challenge was accepted!

Technical challenges

Most mapping apps don’t allow the user to look to the horizon. You can tilt a little way, but only so far: that’s because when you can look to the horizon, you need to load more map tiles. In some 3D mapping apps, the curvature of the earth is greatly exaggerated, precisely so that less terrain needs to be loaded at any one time.

Most 3D mapping apps don’t attempt to simulate lighting: again, that allows less terrain to be loaded. If you don’t promise to show accurate shadows, it doesn’t matter if the mountain that casts the shadow isn’t loaded in the model.

TPE 3D pushes the limits of what can be achieved currently with simulated lighting, due in part to the sheer scale of the model that we need to illuminate. The shadow of a large mountain extends for a great many miles around the time of sunrise and sunset, and so the lighting and shadow algorithms are stretched in this app.

We’ve worked hard to find the right approach to solve these challenges, and have spent many hours working to find the right compromise between how much terrain we load, at what level of detail and what different devices can happily support. We hope we’ve found a good formula for this first release of TPE 3D, but we expect to keep refining things into the future.

Key Benefits for Photographers

3D mapping tools are not new – many photographers have used at least one well known program for years. Additionally, a good number of night sky apps present a 3D view of the stars, but against generic landscape or topography. We think TPE 3D offers a unique combination of benefits for photographers:

  • Sun, moon and stars are shown against a 3D model of the actual landscape: you can see if the moon is next to a specific mountain peak
  • Controls for date, time of day and camera position are designed with photographers in mind: it’s easy to check the light for just the time you need
  • Seeing the light against a topographic map makes it easy to interpret: satellite map images often have shadows ‘baked in’
  • In enhanced mode, you can control the focal length of camera, making TPE 3D useful as a guide to composition and lens selection

Functionality

Key features includes:

- 3D topographic maps with simple navigation options
- Sun, moon and galactic centre continuous timeline showing key rise, set and transit events
- Full search capability to find your location (or enter decimal or DMS coordinates directly)
- Automated playback to watch a realtime or faster-than-realtime simulation of the light
- Flying mode for quick movement around a scene
- Enhanced mode for maximum topography and shadow detail
- Direct elevation control for the 3D model camera
- Camera pitch and bearing indicators
- Moon phases are rendered accurately in the 3D scene
- Zoom in/out to equivalent 35mm focal length in enhanced mode
- Daily and annual events lists
- Shared location database with TPE
- Navigation and Artificial Highlights lighting modes
- Support for multiple map pins
- User settings for controlling scene complexity

Note:

- This app is CPU and graphics intensive: modern device models provide the best user experience
- Requires an internet connection
- Does not currently provide simulation of lighting during solar and lunar eclipses
- Satellite maps are not included
- Topographic data is available only between 83°N and 83°S: data may contain artifacts and errors
- Availability of map types is subject to change, due to 3rd party map service availability, terms or conditions

Background

TPE was first launched in 2009 as a free desktop application for outdoor photographers. It was conceived and developed by husband and wife team Stephen Trainor and Alison Craig following a landscape photography workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado in 2008, shortly after moving to the USA from London, England.

TPE has been used by hundreds of thousands of photographers across the world to plan and execute some spectacular shots. It has been covered in National Geographic, Outdoor Photography, the New York Times, USA Today and the BBC.

TPE for iOS was launched in 2010 followed by an Android version in late 2011. The original TPE desktop app was re-written from the ground up in 2014 as a free browser-based web app with a new UI design. Skyfire™, a service for forecasting sunrise and sunset color, was integrated exclusively with TPE in 2015, and is available as a subscription.

Pricing

We plan to launch TPE 3D as a paid app, selling individually for $19.99 in the US ($30.99, Australia, 21,99 € Eurozone, £19.99 UK, based on current Apple pricing tiers).

A bundle will be available making TPE 3D available to users who already own TPE and/or The Photographer' Transit at reduced price. The bundle will launch at $24.99 in the US, for all three apps.

That means that if you have already paid $8.99 for TPE, you can purchase the bundle to add TPE 3D and TPT for $16.00. If you already own both TPE and TPT, you can complete your bundle for $12.00, representing a 40% discount off full price for TPE 3D.

We expect to offer a pro subscription for future enhancements such as satellite maps and full offline support.

(All pricing is subject to change.)

Resources

If you’d like, here are some screenshots and videos – feel free to use them on your own sites!


File size 11.29MB | Last modified Sun Jun 18, 2017 at 18:39 | Download count 89


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File size 10.74MB | Last modified Sun Jun 18, 2017 at 18:43 | Download count 19

The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D – Preview
TPE 3D – App Preview on iPad Pro
TPE 3D – App Preview on iPhone 7+

TPE 3D – Flying Mode Tutorial
TPE 3D – Enhanced Mode Tutorial
TPE 3D – Map Pin Basics
TPE 3D – Timeline Basics
TPE 3D – See the Stars
TPE 3D – Track the Sun

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We’re pleased to announce extended coverage for Skyfire! In addition to the lower 48 and southern Canada, we now offer coverage for all of Europe, from Iceland to southern Spain in the west, and arctic Finland to Azerbaijan in the east:

Skyfire coverage map

If you’re an current subscriber, the new coverage is available to you as soon as you update to TPE 3.11 for iOS.

Skyfire for Android is currently in private beta – let us know via email if you’d like to try it out!

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Fred Weymouth runs the Lens and Landscape podcast, and I was honoured to be asked to record an episode recently.

We covered much of the history and background to TPE, so if you’re interested in how it all got started and some of our experiences along the way you can listen here:

There’s also an excellent episode with Glenn Randall, who provided the inspiration for TPE – highly recommended listening!

Thanks to Fred for the opportunity to join him on the podcast!

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Version 3.8 of TPE for iOS brings some handy new features, which I’ll briefly explain here:

Handoff

We’ve added support for Handoff. Handoff is an iOS technology introduced in iOS 8 that allows you to ‘handoff’ a task from one device to another, making it easy to continue working without interruption.

It works like this: if you’re using TPE to plan a shot on your iPad, for example, you can pick up your iPhone. At the bottom left of the lock screen, you’ll see a small TPE icon. Swipe upwards on the icon (just as you would to activate the camera using the icon at the bottom right), unlock the screen if required, and TPE will start on your iPhone and will open to the same shot plan as you had on your iPad.

Additionally, a double press on the home button will bring up the app switching screen, and again, if you have just been actively using TPE on your iPad, there’ll be a Handoff banner at the bottom of the screen, which you can tap to continue on your iPhone.

Handoff with TPE

In addition, you can Handoff from iPad or iPhone to you Mac OS X. If you’re working in the TPE app, when using the app switcher (Command-Tab) on OS X, at the left hand side, you’ll see a Safari icon with a mobile ‘badge’. Select this, and your shot plan from the iOS app will open in the Desktop web app in your browser.

(It should also work the other way around, i.e. from Desktop web app to iOS app, but so far, I haven’t been able to get things playing nicely – work in progress…)

For more on how to use Handoff on iOS: How to setup and use Handoff on your iPhone and iPad

Universal links

Universal links were introduced in iOS 9, so you’ll need to be up to date to benefit from this one. In essence, Universal Links allows iOS apps to use regular URLs (i.e. web page links) to open an iOS app instead of opening in Safari.

3.8 adds support for opening links to the TPE Desktop Web App directly in TPE for iOS. If you have 3.8 (or later) installed, and you’re reading this on your iOS device, try clicking this link – it should open in TPE for iOS:

Yosemite Valley before Sunset

You can choose to view this in Mobile Safari instead, by tapping the link at the top right of the screen:

Universal links - open in Safari

Additionally, if the link opens in Mobile Safari, you can open the same shot in TPE for iOS by pulling down on the top of the page and clicking the link displayed:

Spotlight search results

If you’re running iOS 9 or higher, there’s another new trick that TPE has learned: celestial events including lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and other special events (e.g. this year’s Transit of Mercury) will now appear in search results on your device:

Celestial Events in Spotlight

Tap the result and TPE will open directly on the event you selected, making shot planning around these events a seamless experience.

No more zooming in/out

A small change, but one that will really help users of Skyfire and the light pollution map overlays, when using Google Maps: the map overlays are now visible at all zoom levels, which means no more zooming out to see the overlay and back in again to see the map detail:

Light Pollution at all zoom levels

Hope you enjoy these updates – let us know what else you’d like to see!

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Skyfire screenshot - landscape

The new 3.6 update to TPE for iOS adds a 12-month subscription option for Skyfire, offering a saving of around 25% over the 3-month option for both basic and Plus offerings.

There’s also a 12-month upgrade option.

Upgrades work like this: if you subscribe to the basic product, and then decide at a later point that you’d like to upgrade, then you can purchase one of the upgrade products (which one depends on the duration of your active subscription). We’ll upgrade you to Plus for the rest of the subscription and then extend that subscription pro rate to give you credit for any of the time you’d already used in your basic sub.

If you’re already a subscriber you’ll be able to renew your subscription during the last month of its validity. At that time you’ll be able to select either a 3- or 12-month renewal period. The 12-month upgrade is available to active subscribers with 4-12 months remaining, so you won’t see that option until you’ve renewed with one of the 12-month subscription packages.

Skyfire Plus extends the forecast window from +2 to +4 days and adds the ability to configure push notifications so you are alerted whenever a great sunrise or sunset is forecast at any of favorite locations. This setting is entirely customizable so you only get notified for the locations you care about within a timeframe that you set (e.g. +1, +2 or +3 days).

Got any questions on Skyfire? You can tweet us (@photoEphemeris) or drop an email to support@photoephemeris.com

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