If you arrived here via a link from my Digital After DarkTM blog, don't be alarmed by the change in the banner and the site layout. I brought you to my website, where I can do a much better job of organizing and presenting the night photography content.
My goal is to make this page your one-stop shop for much of the night photography info you need. The links in the lefthand column are to sites that you can use regularly for planning your photo shoots. No need to bookmark all these sites yourself. Just bookmark this resources page and hopefully everything you need is right here. However, as noted below, this page is a work in progress and it will be a little while before I get all the links and other information in place.
Note: This page is new and I'm just beginning to get it filled with all the content I have planned. Please keep checking back, as I am adding new stuff regularly.
Websites and Apps for Planning and Executing Night Photography
The following links are for websites and software that give you the scientific information you need to plan night photography outings. With hundreds of thousands of apps and websites out there now—many dedicated to photography—suffice it to say that I’m not claiming this list to even scratch the surface. It’s a start.
As much as I depend on some of these services, I would like to suggest that having all the electronic information in the world isn’t going to help you if you don’t learn how to connect it with your photography. I see so many photographers who know much more about using their apps than they do their cameras. Everything listed here should be thought of as just another tool that you must learn to use and apply properly. Not one of them will take the photo for you. (Yeah, I know, there ARE apps that can do that!)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an app or visiting a website purely for the fun of it. However, I am trying to restrict this page to resources that will help you make better photos. If you know a good candidate for listing here, please let me know.
The website I use for printing monthly charts of the sun and moon with rise and set times, twilight, and azimuth info is timeanddate.com. It also features a world clock, time zone maps, calendars, and lots of other goodies, including apps you can download.
Why would you need to print a table of the sun and moon when all the information is available electronically? I use printed charts for PLANNING night photography. Yes, if all you need to know is the moonrise time and phase for tonight or a few nights, just look it up. But what if you need to plan a weeklong trip? Or plan far in advance as I often do? It is so much easier and quicker having a full month of data at your fingertips, without having to enter new parameters to get to another chart. I keep one year of printed charts of the sun and moon for my home location. If I want to know the best night to shoot the crescent moon 8 months from now, I can look it up in the charts quicker than I can log on to my computer.
Plus, my paper charts don't need an internet connection and the batteries never die on them. When traveling, printed charts may not be practical, but for shooting regularly from the same general locations, I find them very convenient.
Other than timeanddate.com, the website I use most often is Heavens Above, which is also available as an app. It has many features, but the main one for me is its predictions for satellites. It will tell you precisely when and where in the sky you can see a number of satellites, including the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Iridium satellites that produce those remarkable Iridium flares.
Another favorite website is SpaceWeather.com, which focuses on the sun-earth environment. Among its features, you can sign up for aurora borealis email or phone alerts.
The U.S. Naval Observatory website contains a wealth of information about the sun, moon, and earth environment, as well as other astronomical data, including a very nice feature called "The Sky This Week". I like the sun and moon charts from timeanddate.com better than those on the USNO site because timeanddate.com allows you to include twilight and azimuth with the rise and set times on the same chart. USNO maintains the Master Clock, which is the basis for everything related to precise time. You can learn all about it from their website. You can also get the exact time from USNO by calling 202-762-1401.
In addition to the USNO site listed above, if you need to know the precise time for any time zone, this site, which also uses data from the Master Clock, will tell you. Or, you could just look at the widget on this page, which comes from the same place. Night photographers need to know the precise time for shooting satellites, Iridium flares, and few other nighttime events. The clock on your computer or phone is usually sufficient, but it’s good to know where to go for the exact time if you need it.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a cool software that you can download free for your computer or smart phone. It allows you to calculate the position of the sun and moon for any given time or LOCATION. The latter is what makes it so useful. You can plot the sun and moon over a topo map for any location in the world and you can save locations in the database.
The websites for Sky and Telescope magazine and Astronomy magazine both offer some nice goodies for night photographers, including daily and weekly sky news, interactive sky charts, and event listings. I recommend spending some quality time browsing both sites.
Google Sky Map is probably the most well-known of the interactive sky applications. Like all of them, you need an tablet or computer screen to see enough of the sky at once to make the viewing experience as rich as it can be, although a smart phone is easier to hold up to the night sky. The ability to point a device at the sky and see on the screen what you’re seeing in the sky is pretty cool, even for old farts like me who still use a good old-fashioned planisphere! Some of the apps are truly amazing in what they can do. Besides Sky Map, a few others you might want to check out are: The Night Sky, GoSkyWatch Planetarium, Star Chart, and Starmap.
In case you're wondering, the advantage of a planisphere or a printed star chart is that they are large enough to read well, you can quickly see what the sky will look like for any time and date, they don’t need a satellite connection to work, and they never run out of battery power. A big disadvantage is that they do not show the location of the moon and planets and they are accurate only within a certain range of latitude. Also, since most printed charts project a large portion of the sphere of stars onto a flat surface, some distortion occurs.
Sea and Sky is a cool website offering all sorts of information about the ocean and sky environment. It has a nice astronomy event calendar.
A terrific way to learn about upcoming events, night photography, and the night sky in general is through a local astronomy club. There are hundreds of them located throughout the world. AstronomyClubs.com is a great place to start in finding a club near you. Even if you don’t care to join or go to a meeting, many of these clubs have websites with lots of useful information.