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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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Last Dollar Mountain

The fall photography season here in Colorado is possibly at its peak today. Famous for the golden yellow of the aspen groves set in front of snow-capped peaks (no snow yet this season, sadly), Colorado fall photography captures the essence of the West for many.

In this post I wanted to offer a few simple tips on photographing aspen trees at their best. This post will assume that you’ve timed your shoot for the best colour and leaf conditions. Remember that the precise timing of peak colour and condition does vary from year to year (although perhaps not by as much as some of the early fall colour reports might lead you to think).

A few things do tend to hold true though:

  • The sequence in which various areas (and even individual aspen groves) turn tends to be the same from year to year. More northerly locations turn before those to the south. Higher elevation groves turn before those at lower elevation. Even at individual locations, e.g. the Maroon Bells, certain groves will tend to turn before others.
  • Aspen that display red and orange colours are likely to do the same from year to year (although not always to the same degree – it depends on weather conditions through the year)
  • Wind will blow the turning leaves off the trees (no surprise there)

So why is today possibly the peak for the 2015 aspen photography season? Photographers have been chasing the leaves south westwards across the state from Rocky Mountain National Park, through Aspen and Crested Butte, down to the San Juan mountains around Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton and Telluride (where I’m writing this from).

Today the wind has been gusting reportedly at up to 40mph, with leaves blowing all around. It’s a bright, blustery, beautiful autumn day.

To make the most of what’s left of aspen shooting for this year, you should consider (as always :) ) the angle of light and how it interacts with the trees. Aspen trees photograph well in a wide variety of conditions, given their vivid colours, rich textures and attractive patterns.

However, there are a couple of scenarios in which they won’t look their best: front lit by direct light, or under clear blue skies (unless backlit – see below).

Top Tips

Aspen light angles

Here are some key things to consider when photographing aspen:

  • Avoid direct front-light: the trees will probably look flat and dull (the “bad” angles shown above)
  • Avoid shooting in the shade under clear skies: the reflected blue light will result in disappointing colours in your shot
  • Backlighting is great!
  • So is side-lighting!
  • It’s easier to get back or side-lighting when you’re shooting to the south (at least here in Colorado)
  • You can still get backlighting with the sun high in the sky – you don’t need to wait for sunrise or sunset light
  • …although sunrise/sunset light through aspen trees can look great!
  • If you can put a dark background behind your backlit aspen, they’ll pop even more
  • A cloudy day is often a good day to shoot aspen

Here are some examples of various photographs in different lighting conditions to give you a flavour of what works well (and what does not):

Backlit

Autumn Gold

Approximate shot plan: http://ephemer.is/1FLzLWp (red pin is shooting location)

These trees are backlit by the mid-morning sun on the western side of Independence Pass. The leaves glow bright gold when backlit, particularly when they’re at peak colour.

Frontlit

Kebler Dyke

Approximate shot plan: http://ephemer.is/1P9UAwy (red pin is aspen grove location)

The Dyke on Kebler Pass is famous for its groves of red aspen. However, the front lighting seen in this photo does not really show them at their best: front-lighting makes the colours appear matte and gives a dull impression overall. It would be better to have cloud cover to diffuse the sunlight, or to shoot at a different time of day that side-lights the trees.

In Shade

Monarch Candy

Shot plan: http://ephemer.is/1JKFsyE (red pin is shooting location, grey pin shows the sun is below ridge)

These trees on Monarch Pass are in shade, the sun having dropped behind the ridge to the north west. In these conditions, you really want a cloudy sky to avoid blue light being reflected down onto the trees, which can make the colours appear a little sour on camera (they may still look great to the eye in the field).

Overcast

Aspen Study

This shot was taken on Last Dollar Road near Telluride on a completely overcast day. The “softbox” effect of the clouds provides diffuse light in which the aspen look great – particularly if you can capture the delicate shading effects on the silver tree trunks.

Direct sidelight

You don’t need direct back-lighting to make aspen trees glow:

Dallas Divide - Last Light

Shot plan: http://ephemer.is/1hgqHwG (red pin is shooting location, grey pin shows direction of shot)

This shot, on the Dallas Divide, shows the aspen side lit by the low sun (around 10° above the horizon). They glow beautifully!

Diffuse sidelight

Even when the sun drops below the higher ground to the west, the aspen trees retain a beautiful glow, caused by the effect of diffuse side light from the brightest part of the sky. The cloud cover helps soften the light further: it’s a different effect, but still very attractive:

Dallas Divide - After Last Light

High-angle backlighting with a dark background

Side-lit Aspen

Shot plan: http://ephemer.is/1LoAKOy (red pin is shooting location, grey pin shows direction of shot)

The sun was high in the sky at +35° when this photo was taken this morning – not your typical ideal light. But a stand of yellow aspen will still glow even when backlit by high angle sunlight. If you can shoot them against a darker background, they’ll stand out even more, as shown here:

Aspen high angle backlight

I hope you enjoy what’s left of the aspen season for 2015!

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You’ve done your homework, scouted your location, checked the timing of the various eclipse phases, and understood the position and movement of the sun during the event. Your camera bag is packed, sensor cleaned, batteries charged. What could possibly go wrong?

In this post, I’d like to cover just some of the key aspects of planning that you might want to double check to avoid disappointment during the “supermoon” total eclipse on Sunday/Monday. After all, the next “super eclipse” is not until 2033, so it’s going to be critical to get things right on the night!

In planning your shot, you may have made use of The Photographer’s Ephemeris to check the moonrise times and directions. While the information the app produces is very accurate, it’s important to make sure you’re asking the right questions. Here are a few potential gotchas.

The moon didn’t rise where you said it would! (Part 1)

One of the most common mistakes is to take the time and direction of moonrise (or sunrise, sunset, moonset etc.) and plan around that when you don’t have an unobstructed view of the horizon. If there’s a building, a hill, a ridge or forest in the way, then you can’t see the horizon and the moon won’t appear at the given moonrise time.

If there’s a building, a hill, a ridge or forest in the way, then you can’t see the horizon and the moon won’t appear at the given moonrise time.

Rise and set times and directions are always calculated relative to an unobstructed horizon. When you hear the TV weather person say the sun will rise at 6:42am in London, they’re meaning that’s when the top of the sun will peek over the ideal horizon. You don’t hear different sunrise times for people living west of Primrose Hill vs. those in Wapping. That’s because the sunrise time assumes an unobstructed horizon.

Therefore, if your shot depends on the moon appearing from behind Mt. Baker on cue, you can’t simply use moonrise time with the red pin dropped on the mountain.

So what should you do? Use TPE’s Geodetics function to determine the angle from your shooting location to the top of the obstruction, and then find when the moon is at the same or higher altitude. Here are some tutorials on how to do it:

The moon didn’t rise where you said it would! (Part 2)

So, you have an unobstructed view of the horizon. You’re in position at the appointed time, and looking in the right direction, determined using a high quality field compass.

The moon appears at the right time, but off by several degrees to the right or left. Why?

Chances are there’s a mix up between magnetic north and true north. In TPE for Desktop and TPE for Android, all azimuths and bearings are relative to true north. Your field compass will indicate bearings relative to local magnetic north, which can be several degrees different, depending on your location.

Magnetic declination difference

TPE for iOS allows you to choose between true north and magnetic north in settings: make sure you have the right setting selected based on how you’re planning on sighting your shot in the field!

Knowing the local magnetic declination (difference between magnetic and true north) is essential when using a field compass, and allows you to convert freely between azimuths relative to either pole.

The moon didn’t rise where you said it would! (Part 3)

You’ve checked the horizon, geodetics and ensured that you have the right azimuth. Moonrise comes and goes, but you still can’t see it. Why?

At full moon, the moon is rising near the time of sunset, and typically the skies are still bright. Combined with haze, pollution or cloud on the horizon, this can often make it difficult to see the moon at the moment of moonrise. (And remember, moonrise is the moment when the top of the moon is at the visible horizon – i.e. most of it is below the horizon.)

So, it’s perfectly normal not the see the moon for a few minutes after moonrise as it clears the layer of haze and the skies darken.

If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the locations where the moon rises or sets during the total eclipse, it may be doubly hard to see as it approaches the horizon. A totally eclipsed moon is much much darker than normal. You’ll see big differences in exposure settings between partial and total eclipse phases. There’s even a special scale to measure the darkness of a totally eclipsed moon: the Danjon number.

There’s even a special scale to measure the darkness of a totally eclipsed moon: the Danjon number.

To be sure of capturing the totally eclipsed moon as it rises or sets, try to plan to shoot it during the early part of dawn or the later part of dusk (i.e. civil twilight), when the sun is below -4° Above that attitude, and the combination of brightness in the sky and atmospheric conditions might make it tough to see.

There are too many people! I can’t get to my spot

I suspect that the Sep 2015 Blood Supermoon will likely be the most watched moon event ever. The level of press coverage is off the chart. Additionally, there are more well-informed photographers than at any point in human history.

Chances are you won’t be alone at your planned location, so be sure to get there early. And if things get over-crowded, just try to soak up the spectacle and avoid any photography stress!

Why isn’t the moon eclipsed? It should be!

Time zone. This is the most likely reason why the moon isn’t appearing as you expect it. NASA gives the times of the eclipse in UT (Universal Time). So, if you’re translating to your local time zone, be sure to allow for correct difference from UT and also for any daylight saving time adjustment.

Of course, there are easier ways:

  • The moment of greatest eclipse occurs 3 minutes before full moon, so, if you know the moment of full moon, you’re pretty much on the money for the eclipse too. Given that the eclipse lasts 1 hour and 12 minutes, you should plan on being ready at least 45 minutes before full moon to capture all of totality
  • This link will open the TPE web app right at the moment of greatest eclipse: http://ephemer.is/1OzXsDx. You can change the location to find the local time in your area (the moment of greatest eclipse doesn’t vary with your location on Earth).

The detail in the moon is blown out in my shot

The first factor that might cause this is variation in lunar brightness. As mentioned already, the brightness levels of the moon vary wildly during a total eclipse event. You’re going to need to adjust your exposure as you go to compensate for the amount of sunlight reaching the moon.

Secondly, it’s not always going to be possible to expose for both the moon and a foreground in your shot. If you’re shooting the partially eclipsed moon rising over a city skyline, you’ll probably be fine for the first 10 minutes or so after sunset. However, once the skies darken (e.g. when the sun is more than 3° or 4° below the horizon, the partially eclipsed moon will be very bright relative to the cityscape. Chances are your camera won’t have sufficient dynamic range to capture both.

In this case, you can combine multiple exposures one for the moon, one for the foreground (but please – don’t cheat and paste the moon in where it “looks good” ;) ).

Alternatively, find an object to silhouette against the darkening sky and expose just once for the moon. I like this approach as it keeps things real and avoids messing about combining exposures in post-production (although many people enjoy that, I know!).


There’s still time for a practice run at your planned location this evening here in the US – if you can, head out to scout things out on the ground. Tomorrow, be sure to devote some time to a mental rehearsal of the shots you want to capture. And of course, double check the points in this post!

Wishing you all a spectacular “Blood Supermoon”!

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