Landscape Astrophotography Planning Apps and Websites


Students (and sometimes colleagues) often ask about the tools I use to plan for night sky shooting, so I thought  I'd collate a few of my favorites in a blog post.

 NOAA Weather Pages

The first step in landscape photography is understanding what the weather is likely to be doing wherever you may be venturing off to.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a wealth of weather date through numerous web pages. I like to use the graphical forecast page, like this example for Truckee:

NWS hourly

(link here--->) Truckee CA Hourly Weather Page. The NWS hourly page is a wealth of information,. including wind, precip potential, and sky cover %. You can generate this for any point in the United States.

And of course, the NWS radar is a great way to see what may or may not be coming over the horizon.

NWS radar

 Clear Sky Chart

The Clear Dark Sky website uses publicly available meteorological data to create a visualization of the aspects of weather that factor into what astronomers call "seeing." Seeing refers to the quality of potential observations at a given time. Good seeing conditions are thus clear, dark skies.

Check out their website for locations near you.

The Photographer's Ephemeris

photog ephemeris

I love this app, and it's essential for forward planning of many different types of photography. Even better, it's a free software download for your desktop. Only the smartphone app costs $.

You can use the Photographer's Ephemeris for many different things, it's really a one-stop shop for planning out astrophotography. TPE will tell you where the sun/moon will be in the sky over time (azimuth and elevation), as well as the times for sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, and astronomical twilight. It provides this info in a graphical format as a line laid over Google Maps. This is a fantastically powerful tool for lining up celestial and manmade objects - say for example you wanted to shoot the moon setting between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and wanted to know what time of year this is possible and where you could stand in SF to accomplish the shot.

You can download the program for your desktop computer free of charge at their website, or visit the iTunes store or Andoird Play store to install on your smartphone.


Deluxe Moon

deluxe moon

Sometimes, you need an at-a-glance view of the moon's phase in a monthly calendar format. This app is great for that. it has many other features as well that I rarely use, but I keep it on the front page of my phone so I can easily and quickly tell what influence the moon will have on my night photos on any given day in the future.