The Photographer's Transit screenshots

Shortly before the new iPhone and iOS7 launches, a new app quietly slipped out the door: The Photographer’s Transit.

Photo Transit (its abbreviated name – we like our long, twisty app names here on photoephemeris.com :) ), is a digital shot planning tool for outdoor photographers. If you like to plan your shots with TPE, we think you’ll love doing so with Photo Transit.

The app allows you to set up your own virtual kit bag of camera bodies and lenses and then visualize, using Google Maps™ and Google Street View™, both the horizontal and vertical field of view for your shot. With the ability to set camera and subject positions and heights, camera pitch, orientation, and directly control focal length, you can get a great sense of the right lens to use in a particular location.

The vertical field of view and elevation profile tools build on TPE’s geodetics function to allow you plot the visible terrain between camera and subject, so you can determine what will be in view. The vertical field of view is overlaid on the apparent altitude chart, so you can see how much of a mountainside, or building can be accommodated in the shot.

The app supports three different elevation data sources: Google Elevation, SRTM3 and AsterGDEM, allowing you to choose the best source for your location. SRTM3 and AsterGDEM data is automatically stored for offline use.

In addition, the app offers Open Street View and Open Cycle Map Topographic maps, both of which are available offline.

Once you have your shot planned, Photo Transit allows you to save the entire setup into a project. You can share individual shot plans or entire projects with friends via email. A KML file is included so you can load the data into Google Earth&trade or your favourite GPS app.

We have a shot sharing web-site available so you can share shot setups with friends and colleagues whether or not they have the app. You can check it out now: share.phototransit.com

You can open TPE directly from within Photo Transit today, and with the next TPE for iOS update, you can go in the reverse direction, making it easy to move back and forth between the two tools. We’re going to be adding further Photo Transit integration features to TPE in the coming weeks also.

An example

Aspen at Daniel's Pass

As an example, here’s a photo taken earlier today while driving from Salt Lake City, Utah to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We drove along route US40, out of Heber City and discovered some aspen stands in great condition.

While most aspen trees turn yellow in autumn, some groups display more intense oranges and reds, as seen above, and they tend to do so consistently year after year. From what we saw this morning, it looks like this is a very good group indeed.

I can use Photo Transit to record the shot details and share them with friends

Photo Transit Screenshot

The shot plan includes the location, direction of the subject, camera, lens and focal length choices.

I can even use Google StreetView to get a sense of the shot itself, plus any alternative views that look promising that I’d like to plan for the next visit:

Photo Transit Screenshot

And, with the shot planned, you can share it with your friends and followers:

Find out more

Photo Transit is available today for iPad. You can find out more at phototransit.com


Any photographer who has visited the American Southwest will very likely have photographed one of the locations mentioned in this post.

While some will argue that other locations deserve a place in this list, I think these could reasonably be said to represent five of the most popular photo locations/events of the region. I say “events” because some of these shots are time specific: autumn (fall), to be precise.

Why “ritual” photo shoots? Others would call them ‘icons’. You might even call them ‘photographic circuses’. Whatever you call them, one thing is for sure – you won’t have the place to yourself. I think of these as “rituals”: you show up, often more than once, year after year, usually following the same routine (time of day, journey, parking location, hike) to see a sight you’ve probably seen before, and which thousands upon thousands have previously photographed.

Many writers ask aloud why anyone bothers when any images you shoot only reproduce what has been shot so frequently before.

I don’t see it that way.

For one, these locations are famous for a reason. They represent some of the most stunning views and scenery anywhere on the planet. At the right time of year and in the right conditions, the light can be breathtaking. Every lover of the outdoors will appreciate the chance to see them first hand. Like the student pianist who aspires to play a piece by Chopin, every photographer aspires to capture their own take on these scenes. (And every professional photographer can be sure to sell prints of their photographs too.)

Sure, if your time for photography and travel is unconstrained, and freshness and creativity are paramount, then look elsewhere. But for the rest of us, set your guilt aside and enjoy some photographic rituals!

Elbows at dawn: Mesa Arch

Sharpen your elbows for this one! Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah is a dawn shot in front of a spectacular sandstone arch. The light of the rising sun bounces up the wall beneath the arch, under-lighting it spectacularly as it frames the La Sal mountains to the east. This is pretty much a year round location, although you won’t get the best of the light when the sun is rising behind the La Sal’s. When there’s snow on the ground in winter, things look at their very best.

There is room for only around 15-20 photographers in front of the arch (and even that is a squeeze), so this one is a case of get there early and play nice with your neighbours!

The Amphitheatre: Delicate Arch

As you can see from the photo at the top of the page, there is a natural amphitheatre in front of Delicate Arch that comfortably seats over 100 photographers (there were at least that many there the day we visited).

The same La Sal mountains as seen from Mesa Arch can be framed by Delicate Arch at sunset, but you’ll need to get there early to get one of the few places that line up for that particular angle. The sun is probably best aligned with the arch around March/April or September. Too far into the summer and the sun is setting behind higher ground, so you lose the light earlier, plus you’ll roast in the desert sun while you wait.

Limited Parking: Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend, on the Snake River just south of Yellowstone National Park, lies right off the main road, Route 89. There’s a turnout with limited parking available. This view is beautiful year round, but is particularly popular in late September when the leaves are turning. Best to shoot here in the morning with the light directed at Mount Moran.

Safe Working Load: The Watchman

Where the Zion Scenic Road crosses the Virgin River, there is a bridge. I doubt the designers of this bridge ever envisaged it supporting such a high load of pedestrian traffic on the south side. Nonetheless, at sunset, the crowds of photographers gather, particularly around late October and early November, to try to capture the last light on dramatic formation called The Watchman.

A Migration to Aspen: The Maroon Bells

As surely as the wildebeest cross the Serengeti, photographers gather in herds at Maroon Lake in late September to capture Colorado’s most famous view. While the view is familiar, the conditions – and the success of a photograph – vary significantly. Finding the perfect combination of turning leaves, clouds, light and some snow on the peaks, and, mostly importantly, a calm lake, is tricky and far from assured. That’s one of the reasons I’ve gone back for the past few years.

In addition, you’re assured a sociable morning with many other photographers visiting from all parts of the US and overseas.

There’s room for many, so don’t hesitate to visit, but get there early for parking!

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I’m currently back in the UK, in the north of England to be more precise, visiting family and friends. I brought a camera along, of course, given that Newcastle is close to so many world-class landscapes (Northumberland National Park and Coastline, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors National Park, the North Pennines – the list goes on and on; oh, and Scotland too :) ).

As you may have read, the UK has been blasted by unseasonably cold weather over the past few days, with eastern winds (“from Russia with love”) blowing snow across much of the country. Newcastle was spared the worst of the weather, although snowflakes have fallen every day since I arrived. However, I went for a drive out last Sunday along what is known locally as the military road, which tracks alongside south of the Hadrian’s Wall through some of Northumberland’s finest scenery. There was plenty of snow on the higher ground, so I decided to return for sunset the following day with the camera.

If you asked the average person in the street, they would probably say that Hadrian’s Wall runs east-west. Approximately speaking, that would be correct. However, using TPE, we can see that in fact, by late March, it is possible to get late afternoon light directly on the north side of the wall in the vicinity of Steel Rigg to Crag Lough:

Screenshot of TPE for Steel Rigg

At this location Hadrian’s Wall runs atop a line of spectacular crags that are oriented slightly to the southwest, allowing the late sun to reach the northern aspect from mid-March onwards.

Believe me, you don’t want to sit out on top of the wall only the light not to appear. It can be brutally cold. I tried it:

Crag Lough Snow

This was on Monday March 25th. While there were a few breaks in the cloud, I didn’t get lucky with the light. At least I knew in principle, the shot was possible (having checked in TPE).

Yesterday looked more promising so I set out from Newcastle mid-afternoon to drive back out to Steel Rigg car park. By the time I walked over to the wall just west of Milecastle 39, the clouds were coming back in from the northeast and things weren’t looking too hopeful. However, luck prevailed, and the handful of us who had ventured out enjoyed around three minutes of gap light around 20 minutes before sunset:

Crag Lough Sun

Here’s the moment when the sun was just emerging, showing a wider view that includes the Milecastle itself (and a couple of visitors from Italy):

Milecastle 39

One point to note: if you look at the ice on the water, you’ll see it is all piled up at the west end of the lake, reflecting the prevailing winds of the past week. Normally, the wind blows from the west, so these are somewhat unusual conditions.

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I’ve had a couple of questions over the past month or so about using TPE to plan for the “Diamond Mt. Fuji” shot.

This is commonly described as being a photograph of the sun “setting” directly behind Mt. Fuji. That language (“setting”) is probably what causes the most confusion – in fact the sun is not setting at that time, at least not according to the conventional definition, and the one which TPE and other rise/set apps, web-sites, and tables around the world use.

Here’s a quick walk-through on how to plan your own Diamond Mt. Fuji:


TPE for Android 1.1 screenshot

Today, we’re releasing TPE for Android 1.1.

This is a significant update that adds some great new map features. We’ve made use of Google’s Android Maps API v2, which has allowed us to add a bunch of new features, including:

  • Terrain maps – long awaited!
  • Map rotation – twist with two fingers to rotate, tap the compass needle to return to north
  • Map tilt – push up on the map with two fingers to tilt it, pull down again to restore to an overhead view

In addition, the new maps are vector-based, meaning all map captions rotate to stay aligned with the viewer – no more hard to read upside map labels.

We’ve also worked the compass function in this release. Instead of the tap on/tap off compass that was formerly shown at the top left of the map, you can now tap the current location button a second time to enable auto-rotation. With this mode enabled, the map will automatically adjust to stay aligned to true north as you rotate your device.

This makes alignment planning when you’re out and about on shoot much easier. (That said, if you want to do it like the pros, use a field compass and align using the numbers! The built-in compasses in mobile phones and tablets can’t begin to compete with the accuracy of a quality instrument.)

Google Play Services and Google Maps

Now that TPE is using the Android Map API v2, we have a couple of new dependencies in the app: Google Play Services and Google Maps.

Google Play Services is what allows the new maps API to function.

Google Maps is the trusty built-in maps app that we know and love. At the moment, it seems that you must have Maps installed in order for the Android Maps API to function properly.

If you’re running an older Android device, it’s just possible that you didn’t get updated to Google Play from the old Android Market app. In that case, and if you don’t have Google Play Services already installed on your device, you might have trouble getting it installed.

That was the case on one of my test devices – an old HTC Desire that I had upgraded from 2.2.2 to a developer build of 2.3.3. Getting this sorted out was a bit of trouble. In the end, I sucked a copy of Google Play Services off one device (an even older original Droid running 2.2) and pushed it onto the Desire manually via USB (using the Android SDK). Once that was done, all was well.

If you have any similar trouble, drop us a line (see the support page for contact details), and we’ll try to get you up and running.

New Version

We hope you like the updates in TPE for Android 1.1. The new maps are a great a improvement, we hope – especially the addition of Terrain maps, which are so useful for landscape photographers.

(A quick aside: I spent a significant chunk of time last year trying to make Open Street Map tile overlays work in the Android app, which would have allowed us to include a topographic map. Sadly, it never ended up stable enough to ship – we constantly had “out of memory” issues, which was something many people saw with OSMDroid at the time.)

This is a pretty significant update for TPE under the hood. Moreover, the Google Maps for Android API v2 is relatively new and there are a few issues with that technology still being worked out (at least one of which was discovered while doing the TPE update). However, the upside of the new API seems to far outweigh any minor problems. And our pre-release testing (for which a big thank you to our beta test group) has not revealed any major (or minor) remaining problems.

That said, the Android universe of devices is a big one and we can’t test on every device (very far from it), so, if you do run into any issues, please let us know – we’ll be straight on it.

If you have any problems, comments or questions on the new version – please do get in touch via email, Twitter, FB, G+ etc.

Happy Photographing!

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