Sunrise, Sunset. Let LightTrac Be Your Guide.

A long weekend has arrived (at least for us Americans) and for many that means travel to both known and unknown destinations. If you are anything like me you’ll have your iPhone in your hand the entire time. You won’t miss any interesting shots and you’ll try to remember where you’ve been all weekend.

Although it is fun (and I do it most of the time) to wander around and take snapshots, my mind often drifts back to a photography class I once had. One of the first things I learned is that you need to know your area if you want to get the best photos, and for many types of photography you shouldn’t miss out on the sunrise and sunset – light can make a gigantic difference in shots.

The most difficult part of travel (for non-pros such as myself) is that I never pay attention to the sun or moon since I’m often just in a new location for one or two days. When I head out to grab photos in the morning or evening I end up doing a lot of walking just to look for locations where the sun is providing good light on a building, or beaming in a particular direction. Unfortunately, the sun often vanishes below the horizon before I find a shot I really like in the evening.

Of course, that is not the best way to do things. If you want to take a better approach you should get LightTrac. From the official description:

LightTrac is a must have tool for all outdoor photographers. Quickly determine at what time and location the light conditions are perfect to shoot your subjects outdoors. The elevation and angle of Sun changes throughout the year depending on the location, date as well as the time of day. LightTrac calculates both the elevation and angle of Sun and Moon for any date & time, for any place on earth and plots it on top of a satellite map. Armed with this information and with an extremely easy to use interface, you can now plan your photo shoot even several months ahead of time and position yourself at the right spot at the right time for that perfect shot.

Whether you are a nature or landscape photographer, a real-estate or architecture photographer, a wedding or sports photographer you will simply love what LightTrac has to offer.

LightTrac is an invaluable not just useful to photographers, but also to architects, real-estate buyers, solar panel owners/installers, gardeners, travelers or for any outdoor person interested in knowing any info about the Sun or the Moon.

The GUI of LightTrac is straightforward. You have a map (either satellite or standard map) with a few colored lines on it. The yellow line shows points towards the sun at sunrise (or moonrise when moon is selected), and the blue line shows the direction at sunset (or moonset). The red line shows the direction at a given time. You can drag the live response time slider to see the immediate change.

LightTrac in Landscape Mode (on iPhone)
LightTrac in Landscape Mode (on iPhone)

In the image above I was interested in getting a picture of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia around sunset. I wanted some light on the front of the building. But if you look at the blue line (for sunset) you can see that the sun will be coming from behind the building at 7:20pm. Not quite what I was hoping for.

LightTrac with a different date selected.
LightTrac with a different date selected.

I changed the selected date earlier in the springtime and you can see a few things: the sun will be hitting the front of the building at sunset (at a very grazing angle), and the sun won’t be setting until around 8:50pm – a much later time in the evening.

One other thing that is clear from those shots is that if I wanted sunlight to be directly hitting the front of the Rotunda I would have to get up in the morning.

LightTrac runs in both portrait and landscape mode, where the latter is nice when you are focusing on the map. In portrait mode you can see some of the other features available in the app.

LightTrac in Portrait Mode.
LightTrac in Portrait Mode.

Search and location buttons are at the bottom. You can search for an address, city, or zip code. Once you find a location you can drag and zoom the map to get the specific view you are interested in. You can also save any locations you like for a later time.

Next time you are traveling try to think ahead just a bit about the sun and moon. Will the sun be shining on the face of the Statue of Liberty at sunrise or sunset? Can you get a picture of a full moon rising or setting over Biscayne Bay in Miami? When heading out for a hike in a state park do you know where the sunrise and sunset will be?

The app uses the same maps that iOS uses, which aren’t stored on the iPhone/iPad. They are downloaded via your network connection. This can be a problem if you are heading to a remote location. It is good to search for your location in LightTrac ahead of time in these situations and do quick snapshots of your iPhone screen (hold down both the power and home button for about a second) for that date/location.

If you want to get that great light for your shots you’ll want to get LightTrac. If you are using a DSLR to get your shots you should still grab the app and bring your iPhone along with you.

LightTrac is $4.99 on iTunes. This app is also available for your friends with an Android phone. For more information about the app you can visit their website.

I’m hoping to do a video walk-through of this app during the weekend. Tomorrow I’m hoping to do a 20 mile training run, so it may not happen until Monday. I may be taking a long nap 🙂

If you want one last thing to do – try to think of something photogenic in your area. Do you know where the sun will be in the morning or evening? What about the moon? If you aren’t sure, but want to know, think about getting this app. LightTrac can be a great guide when looking for the great light.

Update: I did a walkthough that you can watch on YouTube. Recorded it on my iPad (using iPhone).

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