Wouldn’t it be nice if every day we could all shoot in the most interesting venues in the world like Venice or Yellowstone or Hawaii and display a continuous stream of gorgeous photos on our flickr or G+ pages? This is where I think a lot of us would love to be, either shooting professionally, or simply indulging our love of photography while traveling the world in our free time.
Alas, most of us have “day jobs” that have little to do with photography and free time is difficult to come by unless we happen to be retired. But if we expect to capture our own gorgeous photos in our travels, or are to achieve the dream of becoming some sort of paid photographer, we need to practice this art. To do this, we need to find times and locations that fit the reality of our schedules where we can get out and just shoot.
I don’t know about everyone else but even though I have lived where I now do for most of my life, it’s still difficult to think of interesting locations to shoot. On top of that, by the time you leave work, maybe spend some time at the gym, get home, make dinner, eat dinner, etc. there is, if its summer time, maybe an hour or so to go grab some time behind the camera. Which means, if you are to catch the evening golden hour, or a sunset, you need to shoot at a location near home. And since we have lived “near home” all our lives, we see nothing worth shooting “near home”. So we sit home and scroll thru the online stream of gorgeous photos, the likes of which we wish we could capture, but can’t because we are stuck “near home”.
This is the frustration I have felt lately, at least during the work week, when it comes to finding interesting, nearby subjects as I work to improve my photographic skills. But last week I broke through this frustration and found a bit of inspiration. How? Well, in a couple ways, one personal, and one technical.
On a personal level, or maybe more appropriately, a mental one, I needed to stop thinking I had to be in some amazingly picturesque location to make photos that satisfied what I was trying to accomplish. I needed to see those “near home” locations not from the perspective of a local resident, but from that of someone visiting. Put simply, I just needed to open, or reopen, my eyes.
Since the time many of us have available to shoot is somewhat limited, we need to make good use of that time. Now that we have (re)opened our eyes to the photo opportunities “near home”, we now need to find the best light and shooting angles to take advantage of that light quickly and efficiently. For that, I turn to technology. Namely, Google Maps and a piece of software called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE).
TPE basically uses Google maps for its display but I find Google’s interface and available full screen map a bit easier to use to locate an area to shoot. I start with the map centered on my house and at a zoom level that covers the maximum distance I want to travel. I used the 1 mile scale, seen at the bottom left of Google Maps. I also start with the map view instead of satellite view. This helps find the points of interest quickly, like parks, creeks, railroads, etc. See the below screenshot.
Note the scale in the lower left at 1 Mile. Also, the green areas are parks or recreation areas, blue is streams or creeks, and the Rochester Airport is even shown in the upper right corner. All present decent photo ops and all are within about a 6 mile radius of home!
Now, since we don’t have a lot of time to drive or walk around whatever location we choose, we want to get an idea of how the light will be falling on our subjects before we get there. This is where The Photographer’s Ephemeris comes in.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is a free app for desktops, and a paid app for iOS. Unfortunately, it is not available for Android yet, but they say they are working on it.
I remembered canoeing in Black Creek from Churchville park a few years ago and thought it would make for a decent nearby photo location. See the standard Google Map below.
Great, we have a park with easy drive up access to a creek within a ten minute drive from home! Hmmm. Now, where will the light be coming from when I get there and what time does the sun actually set? Find the answer with TPE…
Well look at that! The sun will set directly down the length of the creek when standing at the shore twenty feet from the edge of the road! That could make for a nice shot! Not shown above are the rise and set times for both sun and moon. TPE will calculate and display this info for any date.
I learned one more thing after arriving at this location and thinking the sun was not where it was supposed to be. So when I got back home I took a look at the satellite view in TPE…
Near the upper right corner of the above screenshot, you see a parking lot, which was where I was thinking the orange marker was positioned. So when we got to the lot things didn’t look right. So my lesson learned here is to zoom in tight on the satellite view to make sure you get right to the point you mapped out. I also could have saved the point in Google Maps on my smartphone and it should have gotten me there with the GPS. I’ll have to test that out next time…
So after all this, did I get any decent shots? A few. Here’s one…
The HDR processing didn’t come out as I had hoped but that is just another thing I need to perfect. What I did successfully accomplish was getting some seat time with the camera during the week when I was usually uninspired due to my perceived lack of subjects “near home”.
This post was not intended to be a lesson in using The Photographer’s Ephemeris but more a lesson to myself and maybe others that may be having difficulty working photography in to today’s busy lifestyles. Reopen your eyes to the “near home” subjects and use technology to help locate and plan your shots before getting on location.
I will be using TPE to plan future shots, “near home” as well as not so near to home and I plan on sharing everything else I learn while using this tool.
How about you? Have you tried TPE? Have you found any fun and interesting ways of using this photographic tool?
To learn more about The Photographer’s Ephemeris check out their web site.