A Great Tool for Outdoor Photographers, 2

This is a follow-on the earlier article on The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE). The previous article discussed using TPE for making sun/moon rise/set images. However, it serves other uses as well.There are several questions that can arise in planning for a “mid-day” (not sunrise/set) shoot. These include knowing the sun’s direction for –

  • Effective use of a polarizer
  • Water reflections
  • Incorporation (or not) of shadows into an image

There may be others but these serve to illustrate TPE’s usefulness during mid-day photography.

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Effective use of a polarizer – A polarizer is fully effective when the sun is at right angles to the line of sight to your focal point. Conversely, it has no effect when it is shining parallel to your line of sight (say, at your back). If you are planning a shoot where you want the polarizer to deepen a blue sky in order to “pop” clouds and to saturate plant colors, it will help to know where the sun is (angle wise) all during the day. TPE can tell you this.

Here’s what TPE shows as the situation at the time of the images shown below (red symbol is location of tripod)

  1. Date
  2. Time
  3. Direction of sun (nearly at right angle to line of sight)
  4. Oak tree
  5. Small birch tree in foreground
  6. Shadow length (relative to unit height object – e.g., if this was 5 then a 1 foot tall object would cast a 5 foot long shadow)
  7. Sun’s altitude

The top image is without a polarizer and the bottom is with a polarizer. You can see by the shadow of the far tree that the angle of the sun is pretty much at right angle to the direction I was shooting. These two images demonstrate the value of a polarizer for landscapes. The sky is better defined and the landscape colors are brighter and more vivid. TPE played no vital role in this case because of my familiarity with the locale, but it can.

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Water reflections – The best reflections occur when the subject is in direct sunlight and the water is in the shade. This usually occurs during early morning or late afternoon (after sunrise & before sunset) with the sun at your back. TPE can provide exactly the information needed when combined with its map overlay.

Here’s the TPE display for the image below.

  1. Date
  2. Time
  3. Direction of sun (at my back)
  4. Bellagio Hotel
  5. Dancing Water display pool
  6. Shadow length (relative to unit height object – e.g., if this was 5 then a 1 foot tall object would cast a 5 foot long shadow)
  7. Sun’s altitude (very low – hotel in direct sunlight and pool in shade)

Vegas at sunrise abstract. Hotel Bellagio reflected in the water dance pool in front of the hotel. This scene exists for a short time each morning and then is gone for the rest of the day. I am using TPE to plan for some Smoky Mountain stream reflections during my trip next week.

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Incorporation (or not) of shadows into an image – You often want to control shadows in your images – either to eliminate (or minimize) them or to incorporate them into an image (a leading line?). TPE can tell you not only the direction the shadow will fall (based on the angle of the sun) but how long a shadow will be.

Here’s the TPE display for the image below.

  1. Date
  2. Time
  3. Direction of sun (at my right)
  4. Loblolly pine grove with embankment to the left
  5. Shadow length (7 in this case, making the shadows 7 times longer than the objects; if you wanted to minimize shadows, you would use TPE to tell you what time the shadows are shortest – or go out on a cloudy day 🙂 )
  6. Sun’s altitude ( low)

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Great Smokies Planning

This illustrates using TPE to find some good stream reflection sites next week in the Great Smokies. Recall that we want a sunlit subject and shaded water.

Here’s a spot in the Greenbrier area of the park. TPE shows my tripod on the west bank of the Pigeon River, a short distance from the (gravel at this point) Greenbrier Road.

  • In the middle of next week TPE shows that sunset in this area is around 8:20. Times between 5 & 7 PM should be pretty good for what I want to do.
  • Using TPE I first looked for a stream with a generally north/south flow and an accessible west bank (in order to shoot with the sun at my back, stream in the shade and sunlight  on the far bank).
    • I used TPE’s Terrain view for this in order to clearly see streams & the “lay of the land”.
    • If you look at my tripod’s location (red symbol), when I’m looking east, shooting across the river (#4) , the sun (#3) is at my back – just where I want it. Further,
    • the area directly behind me is fairly level for about 100 yards before starting up a 200′ or so hill. I’m hoping this will allow sun to get to the foliage on the river bank (#5 – there should be dogwoods in bloom plus fresh green budding trees) while keeping the river in shade.
  • For perspective, the Pigeon River at this point is no wider than Little Bull Run as it passes through Heritage Hunt (I’m guessing – from past trips to the area).
  • Actually, this is possibly all academic at this point since next week is forecast to be pretty rainy in the Smokies. But that’s OK, too. Rainy, foggy, moody is my middle name when it comes to photography.
    • One advantage of a clear day would be that the water will be reflecting blue sky in addition to the sunlit subject. A touch of blue in the water is a plus.
    • Tune in in about two weeks to see what comes of this.

The opening slide (right after the title) from this 2009 Photo Retrospective by Tony Sweet is an example of what I’m expecting to find.