Tuesday, June 1, 2010
My New Best Friend
Ever since I became serious about landscape photography, moon cycles have been an important part of my inspiration. Including a rising or setting full moon, or the thinnest wisp of a crescent moon, can add that little extra something to an image.
At first, I'd just note when the full moon was each month on whatever calendar happened to be hanging on the wall (before I was publishing my own, of course!), and figured I could shoot it rising a day or two before that date, or setting a day or two after. When timing became more critical, I started using the NOAA Web site to calculate rise/set times, moon phases and even positions. That worked well for years, even if it was a bit unwieldy.
All that recently went out the window, thanks to another photographer, and a real man of genius ("Here's to you, Mr. I'm-Gonna-Develop-a-Program-that-can-Make-Any-Idiot-Photographer-Look-Like-a-Pro!"), named Stephen Trainor. Stephen put together a computer program called The Photographer's Ephemeris that combines a calendar with mapping software. With TPE, I can pick any vantage point in the world, and it will draw one line each for sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset for any given day, past, present or future, along with an almanac detailing times and the point on the compass where these events occur. Wow! If a few local weathermen are my secret weapons, TPE is my new best friend.
The attached photo (click to enlarge) is an example of a nearly perfect program operated by a less-than-perfect photographer. In my very first post I included a photo of the moon setting directly behind Pikes Peak. That was a TPE success story. This photo, taken the day before, is what happens when I have a crazy notion that a difference of only 15 minutes between sunrise and moonset will still allow me to catch the moon setting behind a 14,110-foot-tall mountain. Um, no. On this day the moon set behind Pikes Peak before the sun came up, so I had to race to a spot where I could see to a lower, more distant horizon to see the moon dip below Earth. Some clouds blocked the sun's rays as it came up, but just at the right moment it peeked through enough to paint these lovely ponderosa pines with subtle alpenglow light. It was the following day that I returned to catch moonset behind Pikes Peak.
I have lots of cool things planned for TPE. Check back from time to time to see how successful I am at realizing them. And if you're curious about TPE, whether or not you're a photographer, look it up on Google. Due to some lapse in judgment, Stephen offers the program for free for your desktop, although you should leave him a tip via his donation link. He also has a version for the iPhone or iPod Touch for a very reasonable price at the iTunes store. Could an iPad version be far behind?