Software Tools for Photographers

What are your favourite apps?

I’m not sure how I ever lived without GPS. I have it in my car, I have it in my camera, and I have it on my phone. At any given time, I can open up a map and get an aerial view of my location and find my way around. It’s a very exciting time for geography related tools which has direct benefits for photographers.

There are an unlimited number of apps available for photographers but one of the lesser known options in the classic desktop app Google Earth, is light simulation. Sure, there are apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris that can provide fantastic data for where and when the sun will rise and set – but what if you could actually see it? Google Earth can do that for many locations.

This is most useful for large landscapes and would have little use in the prairies.

Mount Rundle from the Vermillion Lakes side, Banff

Mount Rundle from the Vermillion Lakes late on a February afternoon just before sunset.

Example One

My first example is Horsehoe Bend in Arizona. Before my first trip to this location, I was able to set the date I would arrive, and animate the passing time to see the light direction.

Sunrise will come from the right.

Sunrise will come from the right.

And sunset sets on the left.

And sunset sets on the back left.

Example Two

With an upcoming trip to Alberta, I was surfing around the Rockies in Google Earth. Using Lake Louise as a familiar place to everyone – here is another example showing the difference between seasons.

Understand that the colour of light can’t be shown in Google Earth and if the light fades to darkness at 3:45pm like in this first example, it’s not necessarily a sunset. Just take note on actual sunset times so you don’t confuse that with the sun passing behind the mountain peaks.

Feb 3:45pm

Feb 1st 3:45pm :: Long before sunset, Lake Louise has fallen into shadow.

Feb 5:30pm

Feb 1st 5:30pm :: When sunset arrives, Lake Louise is not the place to be.

June 9PM

June 1st 9:00pm :: June is slightly better at sunset but still with heavy shadows.

June 5:30am

June 1st 5:30am :: A fully illuminated Lake Louise early in the morning.


If we compare the images above to The Photographer’s Ephemeris on the same dates, we can see why different seasons can look very different. The yellow line represents the line of sight for sunrise and the darker orange represents the line of sunset.

Light direction in February

Light direction in February. We can see the dark orange line representing sunset directly behind the mountains.

Light direction in June

Light direction in June. In the spring, the morning light shines directly into the opening of Lake Louise.

For the edge of day light, Lake Louise clearly benefits from morning shooting and apparently, Darwin knows what he’s talking about. Here is an excerpt I grabbed from his Banff National Park eBook:

Lake Louise

Where: A well-marked interchange off the Trans Canada Highway will take you into the village of Lake Louise. From the off-ramp, turn left and then follow the main road for 4.3 kilometres (2.7 miles) where you will be deposited into a vast parking lot near the shores of Lake Louise.

GPS 51 24′ 59.8″N 116 12′ 50.9″W for the parking lot

When: Lake Louise is usually ice free from late May until well into October or November. The best light is from sunrise to mid-day. Winter photography is also good here because there is open water at the outlet of Lake Louise that is perfect for reflections.

What are your suggestions?

Let me know what your favourite apps are and what digital tools you can’t live without? I will create a new post listing the iPhone/iPad apps I depend on but would also love to include your suggestions.

About the Author

I am a designer, artist and photographer living in PEI and the co-creator of the Photographer's Guide to Prince Edward Island. I have helped design this website and the many oopoomoo ebooks. Stop by and say hi on Facebook.


  1. Olivier Du Tré
    February 7, 2013

    Yes I agree. I use Google Earth a lot when I’m preparing to head out to the mountains.

    TPE is great when you are on the prairies and you want to catch a moonrise in a 3h long exposure initiated before the moon comes up (oh and on film). All you need is a compass and you are set to go. Keep in mind there is a ‘true north’ and a ‘magnetic north’. In our neck of the woods there is already some noticeable difference (that is if you go by the numbers).

    I like the app Sun Surveyor to visually show the point of sunrise, moonrise, sunset or moonset in augmented reality on the iPhone.

  2. Tracy Crape
    February 7, 2013

    Thanks for this Stephen.
    I currently use TPE but this Google Earth feature will be a great resource as well. It will come in handy when in the mountains.

  3. Mike Fitton
    February 7, 2013

    The ones in the post are great, and I use them quite a bit..! I also use (Android) Also available for IOS. It gives you the names of the mountains in the area you are in. I haven’t used it a lot, but it works well for the times I’ve used it.

    • Stephen DesRoches
      February 7, 2013

      Thanks! Very useful when trying to keyword photos after the fact.

    • Samantha
      February 8, 2013

      It is useful! Especially if note-taking and map-reading aren’t you’re forte like me!

  4. Les Howard
    February 7, 2013

    Good article, Stephen. I have several Apps on my iPhone I find useful for photography. All are under $5.

    ‘Skyclock’ – shows sunrise, sunset & twilight times. Lots of apps do this but the Skyclock display is particularly easy to use. Two disadvantages: (1) it uses the phone’s GPS to set the location and you cannot enter an alternate; (2) it only shows info for today and you cannot ask for a different day. They also have an upgrade version that shows ‘solar noon’.

    ‘Night Sky’ – useful for locating & identifying stars. Many similar apps are available.

    ‘Dark Sky’ – helps find locations with low light pollution so I can actually see those stars, something my friends in Toronto can’t do.

    ‘Evernote’ – lets you make notes or write articles and sync them between a computer, iPad & iPhone. You need a matching copy of Evernote on each device. The basic package is free but some of the upgraded features cost. Lots of info on the evernote(dot)com website.

    Does anyone have a good app for phases of the moon? – in particular one where you can change the location and date.

    • Stephen DesRoches
      February 7, 2013

      TPE will give you phases of the moon by percentages.

      Thanks for the list. I also depend on evernote for all note keeping and blog post drafts.

  5. Angela C. Brown
    April 15, 2013

    I use PhotoMoon on my iPhone (not sure if it’s available for Android). Great app though. It calculates when the moon appears above the horizon around sunset time, days it’s visible, phases on a calendar, and more. All based on your location, or any location you select as well as any day. The same developer also has another app named LightTrac, which is similar to TPE.

  6. kevin boyle
    July 17, 2013

    Thanks Stephen,

    Google Earth has helped me scout a bunch of locations in Southern Sask which I would never had known existed otherwise. Living in Vancouver and photographing the Prairies, I am at a real disadvantage with time when it comes to finding that perfect spot to capture. Google Earth has let me fine tune my searches. Thanks for sharing this.



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