The obvious landscape photography tools are the tripod, cable-release and filters. In addition, however, The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is one tool that every serious landscape photographer cannot do without. It was created by Stephen Trainor who is a nature photographer himself.
Most landscape photographs have the sun or moon in them and I can remember many times missing great shots because the moon suddenly appeared in the sky and I was not set up to take a photo.
I can also remember racing around the parks trying to find a good position to photograph the sun rising behind a baobab tree but getting there too late or trying to guess where I should be when the sun sets. Not anymore!
I now use TPE before even making my booking at the national parks. We can see exactly where and at what time the sun will rise or set on a given day and the same with the moon. I can therefore plan which camp to visit and where to position myself and then simply wait for the sun or moon to rise or set.
The program is easy to operate and uses Google Maps to pinpoint your exact location. TPE displays the direction of the sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset as yellow or blue lines for every day of the year.
In the screenshot below for July 2011, you can see Olifants camp in the Kruger National Park and the marker is on bungalow number nine. The camp bungalows face south and I can see that I may not be able to see either the sunrise (the yellow line) or the sunset (the orange line) but I will see the moon rising and setting.
In this screenshot for the same camp and bungalow but in December 2011, I will be able to see both the sunrise and sunset as well as the moon rising and setting...
If I want to photograph the setting and rising sun in the summer months from my favorite Olifants bungalow there is no problem but during the winter months it will be a problem. For the winter months I then need to decide to choose a bungalow on the western or eastern sides of the camp or find a vantage point in between other people's bungalows, which is not ideal.
There are other websites and programs such as Sun Seeker, LightTrac, and Stellarium that can provide similar information but none do it as well as TPE in our opinion. Maybe that's because they were not designed by a photographer for photographers!
In case you were wondering how Stephen came up with the strange name of 'ephemeris' for his tool, ephemeris is simply a table of values that gives the positions of the asteroids, moon, planets and the stars in the sky at a given day and time. I used to download these tables from the US Naval observatory or the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa and then try and interpret them and apply the information to a map. It was laborious but now with TPE it's a pleasure to do.
A big plus is that The Photographer's Ephemeris uses Google Maps and provides users with satellite, map, terrain or hybrid choices for plotting locations.
Most landscape photography tools will cost you money but the desktop version of TPE is free.
There is also a universal App available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod for a few dollars.
We now use TPE whenever we visit the Kruger, Etosha, Pilanesberg, Kgalagadi, Madikwe or other African national parks. We use it to plan our safaris and we take our laptop along and use the program while in the park.
In terms of landscape photography tools TPE is a 'must' that can be accessed by clicking here or on the icon below and see just how useful it can be for you on your next African landscape safari!
"It's 764 pages of the most amazing information. It consists of, well, everything really. Photography info...area info...hidden roads..special places....what they have seen almost road by road. Where to stay just outside the Park...camp information. It takes quite a lot to impress me but I really feel that this book, which was 7 years in the making, is exceptional." - Janey Coetzee, South Africa
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-Don Stilton, Florida, USA
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-Alastair Stewart, BC, Canada
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- Tobie Oosthuizen, Pretoria, South Africa