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.

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Must Have Apps for Photographers


There is no shortage of apps for photographers. While most of them focus on actually taking pictures, editing or adding effects with your phone I want to point out a few that are more utilitarian.

sunseeker app

In a previous blog post, I told you about the LightTrac app. I’ve since discovered a similar app that allows you to track the direction and angle of the sun. It’s called Sun Seeker (the lite version is free).  It works similar to the compass on the Iphone. Just hold it up in the direction you want to shoot and you’ll see where the sun is going to be. Now, I don’t like it as much as LightTrac, because just like the compass tool, it’s prone to interference and you’re prompted to wave your phone in a figure eight pattern. Granted, this has happened before with LightTrac, but  it’s more often with Sun Seeker and I also don’t trust the compass 100%; I’ve found the direction can change depending on how I’m holding the phone. The one cool thing about the full version ($4.99) of Sun Seeker is the “augmented reality” feature. Using your phone’s camera, you get a display of the sun’s path.

Sun Seeker augmented reality

Contract Maker Elite is a little pricey at $19.99; but if you’re an on-the-go photographer, you can create and edit contracts right from your phone or tablet. You can then have a client sign it on your device and email it to them as a .pdf, JPEG or both. The app comes with starter templates, including a sales receipt.

Contract Maker Elite App

Easy Release is another time and paper saving app for the on-the-go photographer. If you need a model or property release, this $9.99 app lets you collect all the information you need on your device. You can even take a snapshot of your client and add embed it into the release.  Like Contract Maker, you can also email a .pdf or JPEG of the release.

Easy Release App

Do you know of any other useful apps for photographers? Let me know…

Photographing 113 Homes in 9 Days


Collage of 110 Homes

I’ve been a little busy the past couple of weeks. I was given 10 shooting days to shoot the exteriors of 113 homes. If you’re counting, the image above only shows 110; I needed an even number to make the collage work. Click on it to see it bigger.

The first step was plotting the homes on map and figuring out the best time of day to shoot them. The LighTrac app I blogged about recently was indispensable. I was able to figure out, down to the minute, when the sun would hit each home at the best angle. Unfortunately, I was at the mercy of the weather. In Florida, afternoon thunderstorms are a regular occurrence  which made shooting the west-facing homes a challenge. Sometimes, it would be too cloudy. Sometimes, I’d have good sun, but dark clouds behind the house. Other times, I’d have a good sky behind the home but a huge cloud obscuring the sun. As it was, I usually had to wait for a cloud to move. There I would be, camera on a tripod and me standing next to it looking up at the sky.

I do want to share one tip which I mentioned in a previous blog regarding shooting exteriors. Absent of a tilt-shift lens, you have to make sure your verticals stay vertical. Most people have the inclination to stand in front of a house and tilt the camera up. This makes the house look like it’s falling over. So I set up across the street on a tripod. I dial in my exposure manually, raise the tripod as high as it goes and use a cable release to take the shot.

In the end, I got it done in nine days. It would’ve been sooner if it wasn’t for the darned weather!

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?