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Tips for Better Pictures

Today's e-tip:

Tools help you to be at the
Right Place at the
Right Time

Tools help you to be at the Right Place at the Right Time
If you want to take great pictures, you have to have a good understanding of how your camera sees and understand how the various settings affect the final image. But, it’s also about planning: being at the right place at the right time.

Some images appear to be "lucky" shots – the photographer just happened to be at the right place at the right time. This is rarely the case. Those "lucky" shots had to be planned – the photographer had to know where to be and when to get that "lucky" shot. Knowing where to be and when to be there is critical in ANY kind of photography.

This eTip is primarily about planning for landscape shots, especially sunset or sunrise pictures. Planning used to be a lot harder, but several free tools have made it a lot easier.
Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

Let's take a trip
Let’s say you’ve decided on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park (one of my favorite photography destinations in the US!). You will want to know where to take great pictures there. You can use the tools below to decide on the places you visit and WHEN to visit them.

Google Earth and Google Maps

Google Earth and Google Maps are tools that have made it unbelievably simple to go almost anywhere on our planet Earth to see what a location will look like. Google Earth is a tool that the landscape photographer can’t do without! With Google Earth, you can go anywhere, tilt the view so you can see what it looks like from ground level and "light up" the landscape with a reasonably accurate sunlit view.

Here’s a view from Google Earth along with a photograph I took at the same location (Keys View, Joshua Tree NP). On the left is the photograph - on the right is the Google Earth view.

Google Earth doesn’t provide you with a "photograph", but a computer-rendered image of what the terrain looks like. How you take it (telephoto, wide angle, etc.) will change the perspective, but it provides the ability to go anywhere on Earth and look in any direction from ground-level. And, not only that, but Google Earth can emulate the light on any given day at any time!

Google Earth has a toolbar, and one of the tools lets you emulate sunlight on the terrain.

When you click it, you are presented with some options at the top-left of the display – if you hover over them with your mouse you’ll see this:

Click on the wrench to set the date and use the arrows on either end of the blue timeline to set the time of day.

Here’s that same view set for about 10 minutes after dawn.

You can easily see what the early light looks like on the terrain.

You can get Google Earth is available for free for PC, Mac or Linus from here: http://www.google.com/earth/download/
Google Earth Tutorials are available here: https://support.google.com/earth

Google Earth is also available for free on most mobile devices.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)

The title is a bit obscure if you’re not into astronomy – but it’s quite simple really. TPE helps you plan outdoor photography shoots in natural light, particularly landscape and urban scenes. It lets you see how the light will fall on the terrain, on any day or night, for any location on earth.

Here’s a view of the same location as we saw with Google Earth (above) in TPE. As you can see, it shows the Sunrise, Moonrise, Sunset, Moonset and many other events and the times that they will occur (before you get to this point, you have to tell TPE the location and date you want to view).

The date I entered was October 15, 2015. On this day, you can see that Sunrise is at 6:50am and will rise from 99.8 degrees on the horizon. (Note: you need to be aware of Daylight Savings Time - when looking at sunrise/sunset times, some apps take into account DST, while others don't. Complicating matters is the fact that the date sometimes changes.)

If you look at the bottom of the screen shot, you can see that sunrise has a yellow bar above the word "Sunrise". That corresponds to the yellow line emanating from the pushpin on the map (see the blue-arrow I placed on the screenshot below. (Note the black arrow indicates the direction the Google Earth image and terrain above was viewed from.)

Each event is color-coded, so you can physically see the direction the event will be occurring at. That yellow line shows where 99.8 degrees on the horizon is, so when you’re at the location, you can have your camera aimed at the exact spot where the sun will be rising from. The other lines (green, red, etc.) indicate the direction of the other events.

Likewise, you’ll always know where the moon will rise, what time sunset is, etc., etc.

It’s very helpful to have TPE installed on your mobile phone along with a compass app.

You can get The Photographers Ephemeris for the desktop (runs in a browser), Android or iOS from here: http://photoephemeris.com/ - there are also some great tutorials there.

In Summary...
These two tools provide you with amazing abilities to choose your time and place carefully before you get to the location. They make planning a simple task. Be sure to plan well ahead of your trip, and you'll just find that people will start to think that you're a very "lucky" photographer!

Related products to help you take better pictures:

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