Apps to Track the Sun

If you’re a photographer and you shoot outdoors then you know how important it is to shoot when the light is just right. For me, I have to time the angle of the sun to shoot the front of houses and pools. So you’ll understand if I’m a little obsessed with tracking the sun.

I’ve previously written about the Sun Seeker app in the “Must Have Apps for Photographers” and the LightTrac app in “A Must Have App for Outdoor Photographers“. I’ve run across two more apps that track the sun, but first I want to review the LightTrac app since it’s what I use the most.

Sreengrab of LightTrac app

I have a couple of complaints about the app. First, it works differently on the iPhone than on the iPad. On the iPad, if you want to search for a location, just hit the “location” button and type in the address. On the iPhone, however, when you type in an address, you first have to save the location before you can see the angle of the sun. My second qualm about the iPhone version is that I often get that “Compass Interference” message. I know that’s an issue with the phone and not the app, but it’s annoying nonetheless. To be fair, I get the interference when using the Sun Seeker app as well.

The next two issues I have are with the maps in the iPad version. I shoot houses, so I need to pinpoint a location. Sometimes, when I enter an address, the marker is on a street or a nearby house. So I usually use Google maps to pinpoint the house and then compare it to the map on LightTrac to make sure I have the right location.

Secondly, when you zoom in all the way, the streets do not follow the map. Let me explain: Imagine the base map as a layer in Photoshop. The streets are “drawn” onto a layer on top of the map. When you zoom in all the way, the street lines do not line up with the street on the map. You can see in the iPad screen grab above how Archfeld Blvd. does not line up with the road on the map. All in all, my complaints are not enough to render the app unusable and I still rely on it for almost every shoot I do.

Alright… on to the new apps! The first is called “Magic Hour“. This app simply lets you plan to shoot during that magic hour a half hour before and after sunset when the sky displays those beautiful colors. Photographers usually call this the “golden hour”.

Magic Hour App

As you can see, you enter your location and the app tells you when magic hour begins and ends and even displays a countdown timer. Simple, but useful.

The next app is called “Sol” and I really love the graphical presentation.

Sol App

Your location at present time is placed on top of a sphere. You use your finger to rotate the times of day around your location. So, for example, in the screen grab above, if I were to rotate “Golden Hour” above my location, the clock would tell me what time it would be. You can then transition to the phases of twilight until you get to nighttime and eventually back to the phases of twilight in the morning.

I think this is an excellent way to visualize the phases of twilight, understand there are two times of the day that mirror each other in terms of light and see how long each one lasts. If you want to learn more about shooting in twilight check out my “Twilight Photography” post.

There you have it; four apps to track the sun and figure out the best time of day to shoot. I linked to the apps in the iTunes store, but I believe most of them work on Android devices as well.


Review: Get in Motion Tour

The Get in Motion Tour is coming to a city near you. It’s for anyone interested in making films with your DSLR. I shouldn’t say “making films” because you can also include wedding and event videos. I’m going to get ahead of myself here and say one of the things the presenters talked about was the fact that photographers already have existing relationships with clients. You might be a senior photographer, or a portrait photographer, or a baby photographer; you get the idea. Well, video is just one more service you can offer.

Okay, on to the review. I attended the workshop last night in Orlando. A bit late on a school night, but overall I thought it was worth it and for 49-bucks a great value. I have to say that I didn’t learn a lot of new things, but that has more to do with my experience and is no reflection on the instructors. My first job out of college was as a news videographer; that’s where I learned the principles of photography (lighting, composition, white balance, etc.). I also know about the 180-rule and not “breaking the plane”.

The first part of the workshops is spent talking about “storytelling”; why it’s so important to draw a viewer in and how to do it by shooting sequences. How those sequences are edited together is part of the story telling process.  Even though I already knew this, it was a good reminder. When I worked in TV news, I knew the best way to tell a story was to personalize it. If I told you about a guy who was murdered or that the housing market was bad, you might not care. But if you heard from the dead guy’s pregnant wife or the mother of three who is about to become homeless, you might care a little more. In other words, I want to tell you their story. It’s not enough to just string together some beautiful clips.

The site claims you will learn how to make videos for events, birth announcements and weddings. You don’t, per se, learn the nuts and bolts of how to do it, but they do show examples which can give you inspiration. In fact, most of the course consisted of showing examples. In a couple of cases, you see the same video clip shot or edited differently to contrast technique.

Then the course goes into gear, specifically lens selection and what kind of look and feel it gives. They also talked about monopods, microphones and recorders. The course wrapped up with some editing techniques in Adobe Premiere.

I wish they had talked about a few things that some beginners may not know. Someone in the audience asked about frame rate; and while the instructor answered the question, he didn’t address how this affects your shutter speed. As a general rule, your shutter should be at twice your frame rate. So at 24fps, you should be at 1/50th of a second. There was also only a passing mention of focusing at narrow apertures. It might be helpful to know that following focus is very difficult (if not impossible) when shooting at f/1.2 or 1.8. There was also no mention on lighting or lighting gear (they did have a couple of hot lights with reflective umbrellas for a live shoot but there was no mention of them). I think it’s assumed that photographers have this knowledge but most of us use flash and not continuous lighting.

Again, I can’t say I learned a whole lot, but it was good refresher. It was also inspirational and I did pick up some tips on syncing audio and doing some post processing on video clips. If you’re just getting your feet wet or haven’t even dipped your toes into  DSLR video, then I would definitely recommend going. If you’re an intermediate, then it’s 50/50. I would say if you have the time, $50 is not much for a 4 1/2 hour workshop. You at least get some food for thought.

Note: If you want to go and need the discount code, David Ziser sent one out. It’s: DPTBLG.