A Must Have App for Outdoor Photographers

I shoot a lot of interiors and architecture. When I’m shooting the front of homes and pools, I need the sun to be just right. For exteriors, I prefer the sun to hit the front of the house. This not only makes it brighter, but it makes the sky behind it bluer.

front of home

North and south facing homes are the toughest to shoot because the front never gets direct sun.

For pools, I want the sun to be overheard, though an angle where it lights a covered lanai is helpful too. North or south facing pools are not a problem. But if a pool faces east or west, then I have to wait for the right time of day to shoot it.

Pool Deck

Sometimes I’m shooting at twilight and need to know when and where the sun sets to get the best colors in the sky.

Pool at twilight

Well, there’s an app for that. It’s called LightTrac.

LighTrac App on IPad

LightTrac is an app that lets you calculate the position and angle of the sun at any given time for any day of the year. It does the same for the moon as well as giving you the moon phases, sunset and twilight times. In the screenshot above, the yellow line represents the angle of the sun at sunrise. The blue line is sunset and the red line is whatever time you select by using the slider at the bottom.

This is extremely helpful to me because while I can usually tell which way is east and west, I don’t always know where the sun will be in the sky for any given time of year. This app can be useful to just about any kind of outdoor photography. Landscape? Speaks for itself. Portrait? Maybe you want the sun as a hair/kicker light. Wedding? You have one hour for portraits beginning at 5pm. Will the sun be in the bride and groom’s eyes?

There’s just one thing I don’t like about the app and it’s very minor. When I search for a new location it finds the location; but to calculate the sun angle, you have to save it to your locations. You then have to select your saved location and go to the home screen. I wish it would calculate the information after it finds the location without me having to save it. Saving should be an option for my favorite or most visited locations. Like I said, very minor.

The app is $4.99, which is the most I’ve ever spent for any one item on ITunes, but well worth it.

How would you use the app?


Before and After Real Estate Photos

I shot a home a few months ago and today came across an older realty listing for the same home. I thought it served as a perfect example of how hiring a professional photographer can make a world of difference. The home is listed for $1.9 million. If my assumptions and calculations are correct, the realtor stands to make about $57-thousand from the commission of the sale. For a little more than half-of-one percent of that, they could have gotten quality images from me. See for yourself and ask, “If I had 1.9-million lying around, which pictures would get me to go see that house?”.

(Note: clicking on my images will open a larger image in a new window. To see the full gallery click here.)

Home Exterior

Living Area

Master Bath

Upstairs Balcony

Office Den

Television for Photographers

Wild Photo Adventures Screen Shot
Not too long ago, I blogged about a new television show on the Weather Channel featuring landscape photographer Peter Lik. I was excited that someone decided to make a TV show about photography. So imagine my surprise when I found another one! I was flipping through the channels last weekend and came across something on the PBS station called “Wild Photo Adventures”.

This particular episode featured the host teamed up with a storm chaser. They were chasing tornadoes and trying to get pictures of one. At one point in the show they photographed a lightning storm. What I really liked about the show (aside from the fact that there is even a TV show for photographers!) is that the host talked about his settings and thought process. When he wasn’t on a tripod, he boosted his ISO to get a faster shutter speed. When shooting lightning, he walks through the “how-to” process and explains the use of “bulb” mode.

Incidentally, on the same day I was able to catch an episode of “From the Edge” and I wasn’t thrilled. Maybe it’s the fact that Peter Lik is shooting with a $30,000 medium format camera (I’m guessing on the price) which the majority of us do not have; or the fact that he was trying to get through very narrow slot canyons while carrying his tripod legs fully extended over his shoulder. But it was probably that he never really talked about exposure or composition. Granted, I’m judging based on only one episode.

I was intrigued by Wild Photo Adventures and wondered how regularly it airs on TV. Luckily, the episodes are available online. Since the host, Doug Gardner, is a wildlife photographer, most of the episodes deal with nature (hence the name). There’s even an episode on photographing flowers and two episodes shot in the Florida Everglades.

Check it out…

The More You Know…About Lighting

The More You Know

I’ve often told other photographers that they can learn a lot about lighting from watching TV. Pay attention to the color of the light and lighting patterns used on actors. In news magazine shows (60 Minutes, Dateline) they might cut-away to a shot of the interviewer and the subject. In this shot you can usually see the lights, flags and modifiers being used to light the person and often, the background.

I saw a great example on TV last night in one of those “The More You Know” PSAs on NBC. It featured Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Community) talking about saving electricity. ¬†When he turns off all the lights except for one light bulb he says you can look “dashing and mysterious”. This emphasizes the importance of shadows in portrait photography and how it can affect the mood of your image. I once heard a photographer ask, “when is it OK to have shadows in your pictures?”. The answer is: ALWAYS!

Another photography point emphasized by the PSA is what you can do with just one light…especially up close. A light bulb is a pretty harsh light source because it’s so small, but that can work for a male subject. When it’s up close, the rapid fall off creates dramatic shadows.

Click the image to see the video.

(Note: I had some trouble with the link sending me to the right video. If that happens, look under the video player for a list of videos in the “environment” category and navigate to the very last one.)