The Photographer’s Ephemeris

tpe_expanded_500x500The Photographer’s Ephemeris (from now on TPE) is one of those apps that will help us to plan our sessions better. It is rather similar to Exsate Golden Hour, but it includes some differences that help to make TPE complementary, instead of an alternative. This program shows a map of the desired place, and overlaps a circular graphic showing the position of the moon and sun for an specific period of time. This way you can use it to plan a session knowing where will the sun be at the golden hour, or at what time the moon will be in an specific position to photograph it.

Compared to Exsate Golden Hour (EGH) it has advantages and disadvantages.

Pros:

-As with EGH, there is an app for Android and iOS, so you can look at it anywhere. It requires a data connection in order to access the map. But it also has a desktop app, that you can access from your computer for free. For decisions made on the spot it is usually enough the mobile app, but for a good planning the big screen of a PC and the precise use of a mouse is an advantage.

-It takes into consideration the shape and altitude of the horizon (the terrain, in general), which is the best and most useful advantage of TPE over EGH. One of the problems that normal calculations have is that they consider the horizon to be flat. Many programs can tell you that an object will be visible just because it’s 10 degrees over the horizon. But if it happens that you have a mountain in front of you, that covers 15 degrees high in altitude, it will cover the object and the program won’t know about it. Also, sunset is achieved before the expected time when there are mountains around, and happens later if you are in the top of an elevation and the horizon is flat. TPE has all of this into account. Apart of the main point, that you set in your camera position, you have an auxiliary marker that you can set in different points of the map, and it will calculate the relative elevation of the point respect the main marker. The difference of altitudes, given in meters and degrees, allows simple calculations of the exact time for an event.

-Based on the altitude of the main marker, it can estimate the position of the real horizon. This way you can estimate which part of the scenario will be visible in your landscape, or in which range can be annoying a present object that might interfere with the expected picture. Everything outside of the horizon mark can be ignored most of the times.

TPE example
This example is settled in Byparken, a park in the center of Bergen. The city is surrounded by mountains. In this example, the annoying one is the one on the right: Fløyen. The predicted point of sunrise in the example is marked by the yellow line on the right, but this assumes a flat horizon. As the grey marker of the right states, the mountain at that point is 417 meters higher than the main marker (the red pin in the center). As the information bar states, that supposes an elevation of 8.37 degrees. The thin orange line on the right shows the point when the sun will be over the real horizon. The official sunrise happens at 05:24, but the real one happens at 06:51, almost one and a half hour afterwards. The exact point where the sun will rise was calculated by trial and error, but it took a couple of minutes: Set the marker on the highest point and calculate the time the sun will be there. If the sun is higher than the point, move the sun until its altitude equals the grey marker. Now move the marker to that position, if the sun is now lower, repeat the procedure until there is no variation.

Cons:

– Although both programs include information about sunrise, sunset and twilight, EGH adds more information, like the exact range of time that the blue hour lasts, or the time of the golden hour.

– TPE lacks of predictive behavior. You cannot set some rules and predict when will be a good moment to take the picture. In TPE you have to look at the data manually and predict the desired conditions, time and place moving the dials.

-TPE doesn’t include meteorological forecast. The predictions in EGH adapt to weather conditions like clouds, rain or clear skies. In TPE you have to take care of this parameter on your own.

So, after seeing all of this, the question is which one is the better to use. My decision is clear: both of them. They are free and they act as a complement of each other. I usually use TPE when I have to plan for a new place. It allows me to know the terrain, and to take care of what I really want to do. Once I have chosen the place and the time, I use EGH to refine the moment, to set a condition for the weather or repeating times when the event will happen. In a sentence: I use TPE to discover new places and find where and when I want to place my camera, and I use EGH to remind me of every time my desired conditions are met, and to refine them to include additional parameters.

Do you know any other programs or apps that are similar? Just tell us in the comments section!

Ease of use: 4.5 / 5 (The higher the better)

Specificity: 4 / 5 (Higher doesn’t mean better)

Applicability: 4.0 / 5 (Higher tends to be better)

Name: The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Producer: Crookneck Consulting LLC

Platform: Android, iOS, Desktop.

Price: Free

Download: The official page (Links to every platform) , Direct access to the desktop app

The Photographer’s Eye (1st Ed.)

eyeOn the beginning it was the camera. And the novel photographer, willing to learn, has to understand how it works. But once the photographer already knows the fundamentals of photography, and knows how the camera works, a new doubt arises: How can I make better pictures? One of the topics related with making great pictures is composition. Many photographers have seen along their learning process the rule of the thirds, for example, but very few will have acquired a true knowledge on the rules behind composing.

The Photographer’s Eye is the contribution of Michael Freeman to this field. Freeman, a professional photographer famous for his reportages, is also a widely recognized writer and teacher. With this book he provides a complete course about composition, from the most basic rules to the advanced relationships between them. After reading it, the photographer is no more an empty carcass just waiting for a scene to happen, or just photographing whatever happens in front of his eyes in an automatic manner. Instead, you will start viewing the scenes decomposed in planes, lines and contrasts. You will find subtle figures and start changing your position to fit them in a creative way. You will spend time thinking if the color combinations are good or what is the best place to take the picture, foreseeing what is likely to happen in the next minutes.

The book starts analyzing framing, and the different possibilities and implications it has: filling it, aligning objects to the borders, etc. After that, a study of the different elements of expression in photography is performed, starting with the simpler ones as points and lines, and advancing to shapes, closures and other subtle elements. The bases of design are also studied, like how to create tension in a picture, how to play with equilibrium and how to play with our subjects, backgrounds or the rhythm to make our picture say what we want. Finally, subjective elements are described, showing how they can alter the perception and impressions of the viewer about our pictures. Some of these elements are the surprise factor, exploration, anticipation, etc.

In general, it is a very complete book in the topic. If you are looking for more advanced material you would need to find specialized books in art or phycology, but for the average photographer (even the average professional photographer) this book is more than enough to improve the composition techniques to a new level. The book is very well written, with an entertaining writing style and enough fluid to not getting stuck in the middle of it.

Finally, the book is well populated with many photographs taken by the author, where the studied concepts can be seen. Also, some of those pictures are decomposed and analyzed in some cases, as more detailed examples. Sometimes more compositions about the same picture can be seen, and the process that implied creating them and choosing amongst them is considered.

As a summary, it is a really good recommendation for any photographer wishing to improve the quality of their work. Even for photographers with their own stablished style; it will allow opening the mind to new composition formulas and different approaches.

Clearness: 5 / 5. (The higher the better).

Specificity: 4.5/5. (Higher doesn’t mean better).

Applicability: 4/5. (Higher tends to be better).

Graphical content: 4.5/5 (The higher, the better).

Title: The Photographer’s Eye.

Author: Michael Freeman.

ISBN: 978-1-905-81404-6 (paperback).

Pages: 192.

Available on: Amazon.com (English, Preview available). Amazon.co.uk (English, Preview available). Amazon.es (English, Preview available). Amazon.es (Spanish, No preview).

Exsate Golden Hour

exsate-golden-hour-d9fcda-w240It will be no surprise for any visitor that planning is one of the success elements for any photographic session. Sometimes you’re carrying your camera in the right moment and you get a wonderful picture, but most of the times the “magic” doesn’t simply appear in front of us, but we have to make it happen. Studying the place, the weather and many other factors help to make the session a success.

Exsate Golden Hour is a free Android App that allows us to plan any exterior photographic session. It gives us information such as sunrise and sunset times, position of the moon, time range of the golden hour, blue hour, etc. With all that information we will be able to know, for example, which is the best moment to achieve a portrait session with the magic glow of the sunset light, or when will be the moon rising or setting in an astrophotography session. The app provides all of this information on a summary view for easy lookup.

Diagram
Diagram shows for a set time the sun and moon position, and some events like golden hour and blue hour.

In order to have a more graphic representation of all the information, the app provides a diagram where the sun and moon altitudes are depicted versus the time of the day. All calculations are made for the current location of the photographer, but it can be changed for any position we desire. This way is easy to compare what will be the position of the moon for a specific position of the sun, or to easily check when the two bodies will maintain an specific relationship (e.g. a night without moon, a sunset with a moon under 30 degrees or a sunrise with the moon on its zenith). Also, below the graph, a bar representation shows information about specific events that can happen, like the golden hour, the blue hour, sunsets with expressive skies due to the presence of clouds or clear days with no wind, suitable for drone photography. All those events can be also checked in the summary list, for more information about them.

map
The map allows, in the example, to know the correct time to take a picture with the sun just above the church.

Apart of the times, the program provides a map where the location can be set. The map overlaps an azimuthal scale around the selected point and draws overlaid the position of the sun and moon. This allows us to see a projection in the ground of the position the two bodies maintain in the sky, in case we want to plan a photograph where any of them is in a specific position. It also shows the position where the sun and moon raised and set that day, and if they are above or below the horizon on that moment. Although this function is interesting for planning pictures that require to control the position of the bodies against some static objects (for example, buildings), it lacks of some advanced controls that other applications have. For example, it is impossible to measure the relative altitude between the selected position and some other point, so it might happen that although the sun is still above the horizon as planned we cannot achieve our desired picture because it is behind a mountain or building. Also, sunset times are relative to 0 degrees altitude, but if the horizon has elevations the real sunset time will be earlier than predicted, or if we are in the elevation the sunset time will be later; the app doesn’t allow having those cases into consideration.

condition
When the set conditions are met, the app will notify us the event.

But the true strength of this application comes in the form of prediction. The events described previously are selected by the application by defect, but it is also possible to make our own events. For example, we want to photograph a sunset where the sun is just at the side of the bell tower of a church, and we know approximately what altitude the sun must be and also the azimuth respect to our desired camera position (this second parameter can be easily calculated in the “map” view). In this case what we can do is to create an event for the sun to be in this region, add some “spice” if desired, as requesting the weather to be clear or the moon to be in another specific position, and finally confirm the event. From that moment on the app will notify us of the next time the conditions will be met and also will overly a bar in the diagram, so we can easily see how long it will last or if it overlaps with another event, like a golden hour. One drawback of this mode is that it requires some practice to achieve good results, as there are many tunable parameters that are not always completely explained. It’s a powerful option but not as intuitive as it could be.

So, in summary, Exsate Golden Hour allows us to plan any exterior session with precision, for any geographical point and program alert so we get noticed when some desired conditions are met. In the geographical aspect it’s a little bit limited, but might get more powerful in future versions. Also, it doesn’t require an internet connection, although some functionality might not be fully usable (like map).

summary
Conditions and event information for any chosen day.

Ease of use: 3.5 / 5 (The higher the better)

Specificity: 3 / 5 (Higher doesn’t mean better)

Applicability: 4.5 / 5 (Higher tends to be better)

Name: Exsate Golden Hour

Producer: Exsate Multimedia Solutions

Platform: Android

Price: Free

Size: 2.6 MB (apk); around 7 MB (storage); about 25 MB (cache).

Download: Google Play, Exsate official website.

Light. Science & Magic (5th Ed.)

kgdbhugbp70001If there was one, and only one, book I had to recommend to any photographer who is serious about taking pictures of good quality, this would be the chosen one. Photography is considered the art of capturing light into a paper (nowadays, you can change the paper for any surface able to emit light, but it’s still the same), and the way to achieve this in the best possible way is by understanding light, how it works and its relationship with the environment.

Some objects are simple to photograph by their own nature, like plastic or wood. But in the moment we start adding other factors, like varnish (that reflects light) or metallic pieces, obtaining the right exposition is only one part of the problem: We want not only to illuminate our target in a way that allows us to photograph it but we also want that the light does not interfere with the reflective parts of the object. Portraiture adds a more complex definition on lightning as we are not only concerned about exposure and reflections but the final result must be appealing for the photographer and the model. Not all possible illuminations behave well with a certain kind of face, expression or pose.

The book is well structured. It begins with a presentation of light, how it moves and behaves in the environment, and how it interacts with the surfaces that reaches. A clear description of soft and hard lights is made, and also of the type of reflections that can appear and how to deal with them. Tricks to increase or eliminate them are suggested depending on the final desired effect (a reflection in a photograph of a painting can be annoying and unpleasant while the same reflection on a wooden statue can increase its depth or emphasize the varnish used to cover it).

After the introduction, a presentation of different situations and their related procedures is made. Wood, metal and glass are deeply explained, with all the different options to correctly illuminate them and achieve different effects. Glass, being by definition transparent, is one of the hardest challenges a photographer can confront, and the book is exhaustive in the correct way to deal with it.

Finally, a few chapters are dedicated to real world applications or special situations. One chapter is dedicated to portraiture, and how light interacts with the face. It shows different kinds of lightning and the patters to work with them. Although it is a little bit superficial on this topic it is exhaustive enough to understand how fashion photography works and to start taking better portraits. It lacks on information about posing, lightning ratios and light dynamics, so the use of another specialized book is recommended to get a good understanding of the topic, if desired. Also, a chapter about photographing white subjects on a white background, or the opposite black on black variant, is included.

It is important to notice that the book is not focused in recipes on “how to” do anything, like apertures, exposition or strict composition patterns. Instead, it provides an understanding of why things work the way they do and suggest adaptable patterns that can be reused or modified as the different situation require. Once this knowledge is learnt by the reader it will be easy to depict the picture you want in your mind and recreate those conditions on the real world.

As a summary, it is a very complete book for understanding light and how we can use it in photography to create the pictures we see in other media or in our minds. It is not a recipe book, neither an insight book about every kind of lightning for every situation. Is a book for understanding the principles and kinds of lightning and creating our own patters depending on the situation. A book useful not only as a source for consulting but also for thinking and reflecting about reflections. Although its limitations, some photographers consider it “the bible of illumination”.

Clearness: 4.5 / 5. (The higher the better).

Specificity: 3.5 / 5. (Higher doesn’t mean better).

Applicability: 5 / 5. (Higher tends to be better).

Graphical content: 4 / 5 (The higher, the better).

Title: Light. Science and magic.

Author: Fil Hunter; Steven Biver; Paul Fuqua.

ISBN: 978-0-415-71940-7 (paperback); 978-0-415-71941-4 (hardcover).

Pages: 382.

Available on: Amazon.com (English, Preview available). Amazon.co.uk (English, Preview available). Amazon.es (English, Preview available). Amazon.es (Spanish, No preview).

Have you read it? Do you have an opinion you want to share? Go ahead! Comments are open for you.