Capturing the Sun and Moon: The Photographer’s Ephemeris

What if you want to be sure to get a shot of the sunset over a mountain range or the full moon with the Eiffel Tower? The Photographer’s Ephemeris helps with that.

The Photographer's Ephemeris Screen Shot
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Want to factor in the sun or moon into your shot. Maybe you want to include the holden sun on the horizon along with a silhouette of a landmark. Or maybe you wan to make sure that the full moon is in the right spot for your all-night time lapse in the desert. What if you want to frame a particular shot with the sun or moon in the frame for tonight, next week, or next year? Or what if you want to make sure that a particular side of a building, mountain, or tree is catching direct sun or in shadow?

There are now apps for that, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris is one of the originals and still one of the best.

Photographer’s Ephemeris (or, in the developer’s shorthand, TPE), shows you on a Google map where what direction the sun and moon will be relative to any given point. It includes handy information on moon phases, rising and setting times, and a host of other related information like compensating for atmospheric refraction.

Photographer's Ephemeris Screenshot

It comes in two flavors. There used to be a desktop version, but it has been replaced by a web-based version.

But it’s the smartphone app that really shows the application’s power. That’s because it factors in precisely where you are using your phone’s built-in GPS tracking.

The Photographer's Ephemeris iPhone app screenshot
iPhone version

So if you’re looking for that perfect shot of the full moon lined up with the Washington Monuments right at dusk, you can find out when that occurs (answer: Harvest Moon in September). Or if you want to know the precise moment when Manhattan Henge occurs when the setting sign is perfectly lined up with Manhattan’s grid streets (see also DC Henge), when the best chance of catching the sunbeam in Grand Central Station is, or want to know where to position yourself to catch the sunset and the Eiffel Tower in the same frame, or if you want to get a sunrise at just the right spot over a mountain range, it’ll help you find the perfect angle and position to set up for your pre-dawn stakeout. It really is a very handy piece of software. And the iPhone app means you can also find out on the go, although you’ll have to be getting bars on your phone since it relies on being able to access Google Maps on the fly for map and elevation data (a version that used locally saved maps would be great). The Photographer’s Ephemeris works great along, but using it alongside Magic Hour and Helios Sun Position Calculator gives you a lot of flexibility.

Now, if only it could do something about pesky clouds spoiling the fun. . .

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

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