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TPE was inspired by a number of events during 2008: (i) a winter weekend workshop photographing at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park which opened my eyes to how to plan landscape shoots using topographic maps, compass, protractor and calculator; (ii) going to shoot Dream Lake again a few months later, and realizing I hadn’t planned properly and (iii) heading up to Loch Vale, a much higher lake in RMNP, for a shoot that was a total bust.
After all that hiking (and not a lot of photos to show for it), I realized the importance of proper planning. I reasoned too that I would rather plan at my computer than purchase maps for every location I intended to visit in the world. Finding no tools that combined all the right data or which worked on a Mac, TPE was born.
Prefer a video tutorial?
You can watch a 20-minute video walk through instead:
Want an even more in-depth introduction? Watch a replay of our "Getting Started" Webinar.
The screen layout
Let’s start by taking a look at the basics of the screen layout.
The most important thing of all is the primary position marker: the red pin. You can drag this freely to exactly the point you need. All information generated within TPE is taken from the position of the red pin.
At the top left, the current selected date is shown along with the time zone of the current red pin position and difference from UTC(universal coordinated time – effectively the same as GMT). You can change the selected date using the date selector; use today in the calendar to set the date to that of your computer. Alternatively, use the previous and next day buttons to change the date one day at a time. Use the now button to move to your computer’s current time displayed in the time zone of the red pin position.
Top right above the map is where the elevation above sea level and latitude/longitude of the current red pin position is displayed.
Under the map the events timeline shows the day’s events: times and directions of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset (where they occur) twilight times, moon phase, lunar perigee and apogee, new moon visibility information (read more about moon events). On small screens you can scroll across the events timeline to view all of the day’s events.
At the very bottom of the screen the chart shows 24 hour sun and moon altitudes in graphic form. You can Drag the time slider to adjust the time and see the azimuth and altitude information displayed numerically in the legend.
- Primary (red) pin
- Current selected time and time zone
- Date selector
- Previous day, Now and Next day buttons
- Elevation and latitude/longitude information
- Altitude chart, time slider and legend
Radiating out from the red pin on the map you can see the azimuths (relative to true north) of sunrise (yellow line), sunset (orange line), moonrise (light blue) and moonset (dark blue). Using the previous and next day buttons you can see the azimuth of an event change over time.
The thinner coloured lines radiating out from the red pin correspond to the azimuth of the sun or moon at the time selected on the time slider at the bottom of the chart. Click and drag the time slider to see the azimuth and altitudes of the sun and moon change over the day.
Finding a different location
I’m guessing you’re probably not planning a shoot in Timbuktu, so let’s find somewhere else.
- Click the search button above the map to display the Search window. Type the name of the place you're searching for
We will recreate the trip I took in 2008 but for a date in 2021. Start by typing into the location text field the name of the closest town: Estes Park
Press enter to begin the search, or click the search button adjacent to the text box. (If you're a PRO subscriber, you'll see results as you type.) The app will display matching results. Click the Go button for the first result to reposition red pin to this location on the map.
You may wish to specify a county, state or province as well as the town name, in order to get the result you want. After all, there’s Paris and there’s Paris, Texas.
The new location
OK. Now we’re in Estes Park, Colorado, USA near the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. There are few things to note:
- The elevation and lat/long have updated reflecting the new location
- The red pin lies over the town of Estes Park
- The time zone has changed to ‘America/Denver’. TPE will automatically determine both time zone and daylight saving rule for any place and date you select
- Elevation and latitude/longitude of the primary (red) map pin
- Primary pin
- Time zone of the primary pin location
Moving into the park
Let’s assume we’re going to shoot sunrise at Dream Lake. You can manually pan around the map, zoom in and out and drag the red pin to a precise position.
I’ve moved the red pin to the eastern shore of the lake, from where a photograph of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain may be composed.
Where will the light fall?
The yellow sunrise line terminates at the red pin position, but our subject lies to the west. As you drag the time slider the sun and moon +6° shadow circle will appear (you can find out more about that feature here - but it's fine to leave it for later too).
I’ve set the date for Monday 19 July 2021. Look in the timeline and you can see the sunrise is at 05:49. Clicking on this event in the timeline sets the selected time of day to that moment. Use the time slider to advance the time a couple of minutes (or click once on the slider and use your keyboard cursor keys to advance in ten second increments).
The dark line overlaying the sun extension line is the sun shadow line. Advance the time slider to see this shadow line shorten as the sun gets higher in the sky. Notice too that once the sun rises above +6˚, the circle turns black. The yellow circle is just a visual way of indicating when more golden light is typically available.
Click the sunrise event in the timeline again to go back to sunrise and advance the time slider by a couple of minutes:
- +6° shadow circle is shown as the time of day is adjusted with the time slider
- Sunrise time is shown in the timeline
- Time slider is now set to 05:53
On this date it’s clear that the rising sun will come from the north east providing imperfect illumination of Dream Lake and the valley walls above - particularly the north side of the lake, which will be in shadow. Perhaps this is not the perfect time of year for the image…
Alternatively, in the above example, you could reposition the marker farther up the valley to see where the light comes from. There are other good reasons to take this approach too, which we’ll cover in a subsequent tutorial.
A better date
Let’s skip a few weeks ahead to Sunday 12 September 2021, using the date selector or advancing day by day using the Next Day button. As we adjust the time of day, we can see that the rising sun will illuminate the drainage above Dream Lake perfectly, providing the possibility of good light conditions.
The sunrise this time is 06:41, great news! That means you can also have a slightly longer lie-in and still make the shot.
- Date selector
- Next day button
Saving the location
Once you have a location identified, you may wish to save it for future use.
Click Locations in header to view your saved locations. Click '+' to save the current primary pin location:
- Add primary pin position as a saved location
You can give a name to the saved location in the Title field and optionally enter some notes for future reference in the Notes field. Click Save to update with your changes. You can also delete a saved location by clicking the Delete button.
- Title field
- Click Save to save your changes
- Click to delete
- Optionally, type notes for this location.
Note: please use discretion when sharing photo location information.
That covers the basics. The same principles apply to any location you want to scout, including cities, for example, when will the full moon rise along 42nd Street in Manhattan.