how to

Favorite Photography Apps

I used both apps to plan this photo of the center of the galaxy rising above Squaw Valley

I used both apps to plan this photo of the center of the galaxy rising above Squaw Valley

Pre-visualizing your photographs is the single most important means of progressing your work from "good" to "great" by stepping up to the next level of creative expression. 

Before the advent of smart phones and planning apps, photographers either had to refer to tables published by the US military to calculate the location and position in the sky of celestial bodies such as the sun and moon, or they had to figure things out the old fashioned way - by going to a location many times through the year and paying attention to the sky. 

It's never been easier to utilize the power of smart phones + apps to create plans for your photographic imaginations. Want to shoot the full moon setting between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge? Easy! How about the Milky Way arched in the sky over Delicate Arch in Arches National Park? No problem! Look no further than to either of my two favorite photography planning apps - Photo Pills and the Photographer's Ephemeris.

Below, I will go through both of them and discuss why they are fantastic tools for planning your photographs. 

Photo Pills:

This app is great for planning out just about any photograph you can possibly think of. For my photography, I mostly make use of the sunrise/sunset time planing features, the moon position and rise/set features, and the excellent Milky Way planner and Night Augmented Reality feature. Those are just the "tip of the iceberg" though in terms of what this app can do. It also includes all sorts of amazing other things such as a depth of field calculator, exposure tables, and even hyperfocal calculation functionality. 

Photographer's Ephemeris:

TPE was the first planning app I purchased and learned, so it's till my go to when I need to plan for the basics of sunrise/sunset and twilight time determinations. Also, it's still free as a desktop / web application - only the phone versions are $. 

In the most recent releases, the programmers have added many of the same functionalities (e.g. night mode) that heretofore were only available through more advanced apps (such as Photo Pills).   TPE still lacks the Augmented Reality mode that PP offers, which is a major drawback. 

Things to Beware Of: Not All Apps are Created Equal (on Android versus on iOS)

I recently taught a workshop where some of my students discovered that the Android version of TPE is lacking many of the same features as the iOS version. So beware and fully check the feature lists before you commit and buy. 

Which One Should I Buy?

Although similar, they both offer different functionality. Overall Photo Pills offers more features, but is more expensive. TPE is slightly easier to learn how to use, and you have the advantage of starting off with the free version on your personal computer. 

Download / Purchase Links:

TPE Desktop/ Web Application / TPE iOS / TPE Android

Lake Tahoe and Truckee Photography Workshops


I'm pleased to offer private small-group and individual photography and timelapse workshops custom tailored to meet your needs. Whether you are a beginner hoping to learn how to use an SLR, or a seasoned professional looking to learn some night photography or motion-controlled timelapse tips and tricks - I'd love to work with you.  Please contact me by phone at 530-386-6492 or send me an email here to schedule your workshop today.

Eclipsed full moon setting over Tahoe Donner, 12/10/2011

I am fully insured and permitted in the beautiful Martis Valley in Truckee and at Sand Harbor in the gorgeous Lake Tahoe State Park in Nevada.

How to Post Timelapses on Instagram


I love Instagram. It's a great platform for both sharing your photos and also seeing what some of your favorite photographers are up to.

Although it was built for photography, IG can also handle 15 seconds of video in the Quicktime format with H.264 compression. If I already lost you, hang in there, I promise it won't get too complicated.

There are a few basic steps you have to take to get your timelapse clips on IG:

Step 1 - Create your timelapse

I will assume you already have a timelapse prepared, either as a standalone file (I render all of mine as AVIs with the CineForm Codec). If not, you can use your image sequence in PP or AE. If you're looking for directions in Final Cut, you're gonna have to look elsewhere because I'm the last photographer on Earth that uses s PC.

Step 2 - Create a Comp / Sequence in After Effects or Premiere (Respectively)

I use AE for this, since it's simpler**. Start by creating a 1:1 composition with a size of 640x640, and a frame rate of 24 fps (or whatever frame rate your intermediate file is in). Then, import the timelapse files you want to upload to IG into your project. Drag them, one at a time, to the Comp, and scale accordingly. You can keyframe position and scale to taste if you would like to move or zoom through your footage.

Ensure your clip has less than 15 seconds worth of data on the timeline.

Add music if you want, but remember, make sure you have the rights to use it because professionals deserve to be paid for the use of their work!

Step 3 - Render out the Video

Add your composition to the render queue, and then open up the settings dialog. I have found that setting the Quicktime format with the H.264 codec to 100% quality and using a high bitrate of 24 MB/sec produces a smooth video that IG will handle no problem.

after effects settings


 Step 4 - Upload to Dropbox / Download to your Phone

Copy your rendered TL clip to a folder you have prepared on Drobox, and then wait for it to upload. Once it has, open the Dropbox app on your phone, and then view the clip. Hit the "share" button, and save it to your phone's local storage.

Lastly, open IG and browse to the clip, and upload it. Add filters if you want, and then post away as you normally would with a photo. As far as I know, IG uploading apps such as the excellent Latergram do not allow for video uploads, so get those thumbs warmed up and start typing on your phone.

And that's it. You can view my work on my Instagram feed here.

*Step 6 Above is entirely optional and up to you to achieve this milestone

** No one in the history of the world has ever said that about Adobe After Effects before