The Holy Trinity Of Free Sunrise/Sunset Planning Tools For A Photographer

Great photographs involving the moon and the sun can be made by sheer coincidence, but they usually don’t. It took photographer Luke MacGregor three nights and the aid of an iPhone app to nail that wonderful Moon Through Olympic Rings photograph.

Holy Trinity of free sunrise/sunset planning tools for a photographer

Andy (A.K.A Stargazer95050 on Flickr), an experienced astronomical photographer,shares his holy trinity of free tools to assist in finding the perfect location relative to the sun and moon for taking a perfect photograph.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

TPE gives you tools to align the sun/moon with your local landmarks — for this use, I recommend the PC/MAC desktop version since you will need a lot of spaces on your desktop / monitor. And it is often best to have two or all three tools side by side. Copy & Paste is a no-brainer on a desktop.

Google Earth

Google Earth, especially the 3D VIEW, helps to check if hills are blocking the view. Some 3D buildings are in there as well. But you still can run into obstructions like trees. While Google Earth simulates the path of the sun (+ shadows) it does not calculate the Moon’s position. And no ZOOM-function, so you cannot mimic the narrower FOV view through your camera’s lens :-((

Google Earth, in its satellite view, even calculates the sun’s shadow created by surrounding terrain. If you are down in Yosemite Valley, that is a really helpful feature.


Stallarium pick up where Google Earth drops of — simulating the entire sky, day & night. And unlike Google Earth, Stellarium can zoom in & out so you can mimic the FOV of your camera.

It takes some practice to get them all play together — first and foremost you cannot easily copy & past the location among the tools. With TPE & Google Earth you get similar satellite views, so syncing the locations is not that difficult. For Stellarium you need to manually enter the GPS coordinates :-((

While they all are free, two of them don’t function without a (fast) network connection. So plan ahead and maybe even store some screenshots before you head out into the field with no reception.

Holy Trinity of free sunrise/sunset planning tools for a photographer [Stargazer95050]