Michael Speed | Planning for Photography

Resources for Photographers

PLANNING FOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Planning, how boring is that?  We photographers are supposed to fly by seat of our pants and just go with it!  We can't be held down by schedules and itineraries... right?  WRONG!  Sure photography can be spontaneous and fun, and it always seems to be, once we get out there.  But planning for your next photo outing will help greatly in the 'previsualization' phase. As in, have at least a decent idea of where you are going and what you are going to be looking at.

There are many aspects to a planning a successful photography outing.  Knowing when and where the sun and moon are going to set and rise are crucial for 'chasing the light'.  If you plan accordingly and show up early, you won't have to do as much 'chasing' and you'll get to do more 'shooting the light'.  Here I have compiled some of my go-to resources for planning a successful outing.  

 

The When and Where:

The Photographer's Ephemeris (Free for Windows, Only a few bucks for Android and iOS)

The Photographer's Ephemeris(TPE) is one of my most used applications on my phone. Its Google Maps interface makes it feel very familiar, and its swipe tools on the bottom of the screen make it easy to swipe from one measurement to the next.   And the great part is, once you buy it, it will work on any device you have signed into your Gmail(Android) or Apple ID(iOS).  It works great on tablets too!

 

A couple examples of how I have used it in the past are below, first from my recent trip to Whitetop Mountain near Damascus Virginia.

The Photographer's Ephemeris.

The orange line represents where the sun sets on the given day.  And since our solar system and earth's rotation have been well documented, you can plan as far ahead into the future as you want!

Below is the sunset that was taken by planning with TPE:

Crepuscular Rays over Whitetop Mountain

TPE can be used for planning the moon as well.  I can browse ahead and see when the next full or crescent moon is going to be.  I often use this to plan photo outings around vacations, or plan vacations around full/new/cresent moons:)

Using TPE I was able to plan for a super-thin crescent setting over the Shenandoah Mountains.  The moon came into view a little while after sunset, and after everyone had left the overlook.

The Ephemeris from Shenandoah

Which allowed for me to take a shot like this...

Very thin crescent moon setting over shenandoah national park.Very thin crescent moon setting over shenandoah national park.

Kevin Adams' Night Photography Newsletter (free for anyone with an email address)

When I got to the Southeast a few years ago the first thing I did was seek out info from other photographers about the area.  I am sure glad to have stumbled upon Kevin's website.  His newsletter arrives around mid-month, with information for the following month in PDF format.  

November 2012, I got the Night Photography Newsletter in my inbox, which gave me the information about the coming Geminid Meteor Shower and how it, if the weather was clear, was gonna be awesome because the moon wasn't in play.  I set out around 2am and was full of excitement on the drive out to my spot near the Blue Ridge Music Center because meteors were falling everywhere!  I used an intervalometer to shoot continuously for a few hours while the meteors fell.  Then, it was a simple layer combination process in the gimp once I got home.

Geminid Meteor Shower over a tent on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Trails.com(Free 14 day Trail, $49.95 per year after that)

Trails.com is my go-to resource for planning my hikes.  I used it a bunch back in Montana, and I have used it a TON here in VA.  Nothing helps you learn the landscape like going hiking.  In this website are literally thousands of hikes that you can browse using a Google Maps interface.  It show all different kinds of activities: Hiking, Biking, Scenic Drives, Waterfalls, even off-roading!

The site has printable trail guides that come from reputable hiking books.  

These are easily the three most influential tools in my photography planning.  

 Some notable things to have on your smartphone would be a good weather app, with up-to-date radar.  I use Accuweather because I can save and easily switch between many locations, also because of the current weather maps.  

Another good app to have is the Pocket Ranger.  This will help you find a State Park near you no matter where you are.  You can search by activity or just by cruising the map.

I hope you found this to be useful.  Should you have any questions about planning for your upcoming photo journey, feel free to contact me via the link on the top of this page!  See you out there!