TPE vs. PhotoPills


With this blog post, I'm going to be building on a practice that will probably become a lot more common in this space, linking my blog content with the latest videos on my YouTube channel. For those who enjoy the video content, the video will be embedded right here for consumption. For those who enjoy reading more about the subjects, the written content will be here too. With that out there, let's jump right in.


With this video, I'm choosing to do a bit more in depth review of some of the planning apps I've mentioned here before on my blog. In this case I'm reviewing and contrasting The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE for short), including its companion app TPE 3D, and Photopills. I've actually been using these apps for a few years now, but they definitely have very different use cases, strengths, and weaknesses.


Both apps have basic planning tools that are very similar, allowing you to place a pin on a map and mark a specific time, and then allow you to see in what direction the sun, moon, and Milky Way will be in the sky around you. They will also tell you things like sunrise, sunset, golden hour, blue hour, astronomical twilight, and more for that location and time. TPE also has a web version that does similar things, for those who might like that better. It is from this base that they become very different.


TPE builds on this by having a TPE 3D add on application for iOS that allows you to virtually stand on the location where you have placed your pin, at the time you have selected, and then virtually look around you at the landscape using terrain mapping and see exactly where the light is falling on the landscape and where in the sky exactly those objects like the sun, moon, and Milky Way will be, all from a first person point of view. There's a demonstration of this in the video, but I'll just say this is a very powerful tool that PhotoPills just can't match. You can even zoom in and out on the screen to plan your focal length for the shot.


So what does PhotoPills do to set itself apart? First of all, it builds on the basic planning tools by also having things like a meteor shower calendar, showing you when meteor showers will peak at your location, how prolific they will be, and what the projected rates will be for any given night. It has has an automatic calculator for the NPF rule, valuable for anyone who is getting started with astrophotography and trying to keep sharp stars in their photos. There are also exposure calculation tools, depth of field calculation tools, and other quick tools like that to help you get your math right. The most valuable features in PhotoPills, in my opinion, are its augmented reality (or AR) tools. When in the field, this allows you to see where the sun, moon, Milky Way, or even a meteor shower radiant point will be in the sky from your viewpoint at any given time. Sitting in your campsite in the middle of the woods and want to know if you'll be able to see the moon or the Milky Way through the trees during the night? Or at a specific time? No problem. Want to line up the moon inside an arch or in relation to a mountain peak? Use the AR on your phone and know exactly when it's going to happen and where you should be set up to nail the composition you want. I have a quick demonstration of this in my video as well.


So which one do I think is best? Well, that depends on how you're going to use them. Do you want to plan out a lot about your shots ahead of time, before you even go to your location? Scout compositions at a place you've never been to? The combination of TPE & TPE 3D will excel at this. Would you rather wait until you're on location, or you do a lot of shooting in locations where the basic terrain mapping TPE 3D uses won't tell you enough about what's on site? The AR features of PhotoPills will serve you well and help you get everything dialed in once you're in the field. To be honest, I use both, making them work together as a team to combine their strengths and cancel out their weaknesses. For you, one of the other may do well on their own. Watch the video for more details, and share your thoughts with a comment.


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