Tag Archives: shot planning

Spyglass: Scouting tool for iOS Devices


Spyglass: Realtime image overlaid with useful data

Spyglass, an iPhone/iPad application is a great tool to have in your photography arsenal.  In the field it is difficult to for a new photographer to know where to point their camera to get a star circle, and also get an idea what the composition may look like. Now there is an app for that: Spyglass.  Spyglass typically is used for aviation or navigators but adapts well to night photography where it is well suited for scouting and shot pre-planning.  Spyglass overlays a navigation compass, star location and other information on the live camera view of the scene. All of the displayed data can be recorded right on the image as well as in the EXIF data of the photo.  In the past we would use a complicated tripod leveling and degree app to show where Polaris would be.  Not anymore. SpyGlass can show the position of Polaris during daylight well before it is time to set up for the pre-twilight shots.  The students get a solid understanding what the photograph is going to look like before the night starts.

Please note while we are fans of this app we are not paid to support it or promote it.  This is not a comprehensive review. The user manual is 61 pages long for good reason! Spyglass is a well thought out app with a lot of functionality.

The Con’s

  1. The app is only as accurate as the sensors on your phone, meaning that if the GPS, Digital compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and camera are poorly calibrated your results can be very inaccurate.  There is a lot that can contribute to errors or compound errors, and in some cases in some cases affects usability of the app. Really these issues are hardware related, but does affect accuracy and usability of the app.
  2. The superimposed photos taken with the app are “soft” focus in the detail around the text.  However a screen shot of the same graphic is much crisper then a photo taken through the app.  While not a show stopper the image could be a little crisper.
  3. You cannot see the path the object will take in the sky.  This is troubling when trying to align objects like the moon to things on the foreground when the alignment is going to happen a few hours.
  4. Text color selections need to be carefully chosen to contrast with the background or they are difficult to see.
  5. The app only works on Apple products.

The Pros

  1. There is a ton of data overlaid on the photo.  (See figure) Data includes the Date, time, Direction (Azimuth you are facing) in degrees from true north, Altitude, Accuracy, Position in Lat. And Long., Position in Mil Spec.  Azimuth Circle, Target pointers,  Ranger finder, Horizon/Roll,
  2. The data is overlaid in real-time with adjustments depending on height, speed and incline, direction.
  3. Photos show the data overlaid on the foreground as well as GPS coordinates. This data is encoded in the EXIF data of the photo, too.
  4. One of the most exciting features is the Sextant and Calculator which allow you to determine the height and angle of elevation of objects in the distance from the place you are standing.  Very useful for celestial object (moon) alignments.
  5. Sharing your location and data is easy.   Just tap and hold and you have a bunch of options to share where you are. Unfortunately you can’t share the photo and the location data in the same message.
  6. Multiple locations can be saved on the map so you can remember where those photogenic locations are and mark them for return to later.
  7. Multiple sky objects can be tracked.  The Sun, Moon, and Stars (Polaris).  Knowing that Polaris is right behind a landmark helps you put a Star Circle where you want it. If you know where the Milky Way is the app can help you determine if it is possible to get the Milky Way arching over this pointy Tufa tower.

Examples of some of the things you can do with Spyglass. 

The northerly direction is discovered using Spyglass

The northerly direction is discovered using Spyglass

Resulting alignment from the positional analysis using Spyglass.

Resulting alignment from the positional analysis using Spyglass.










Or facing south, the Milky Way will appear above this sand tufa structure (our censors asked us to blur the exact location information to protect this fragile structure)

Sand Tufa

Sand Tufa







You can plan a Moon contact shot by measuring altitude and azimuth and then use those measurements as we describe in the “Catching the Moon” webinar to determine when the moon will be exactly where you want it to be.

Moon and Osaka-Jo

Looking toward the next day for the moon alignment.  Checking the altitude and azimuth for helping determine the exact location to stand for the alignment of the moon over the Castle.

Moon Alignment with Osaka Castle

The resulting alignment from previous days scouting of Osaka Castle.
















Spyglass does have competition. There is another app called Photo Pills which we are also evaluating. Write ups soon!

Sequenced Shots (How To)

How on earth did I end up with this:

Annular Eclipse Sequence [C_040079+fives]

What I started with was lots of shots that looked liked these first three images – i.e not much of anything.

As I went along I ended up combining the “specks” into the image at the lower left. I combined the sequence with a shot taken just after sunset (middle bottom) and the result is as shown in the lower right.

We will soon provide the explanation of how to create the result. First we would like to give some clues about how the shot was planned – because, as it turns out, planning is an important part of all sequences like this one!

Avoidable Technical Content

The May 20, Annular Solar eclipse was well documented. Particularly handy is Nasa’s map based application. Choose a spot on earth by clicking on the map and some useful data pops up:

See those highlighted numbers… they tell you that when the eclipse starts it will be 31.5 degrees high in the sky, and when it ends it will be 5 degrees high – about 27 degrees top to bottom.  Allowing another 5 degrees above and say 10 below we need an image that spans 42 degrees in one direction.  Looking at the Azi numbers  The eclipse begins at 270 degrees (due west) and ends at 292.2 degrees (WNW).  So to take that all in and allow a little breathing room we need about 30 degrees.   Thus we know our field of view needs to be somewhere around 42 degrees vertically and 30 degrees horizontally. Already it sounds like we would prefer portrait mode to keep the sun/moon as large as possible. Using one of the many online tools, like the Angular Field of View Calculator by Tawbaware. Canon people might prefer the “easy to click, but perhaps not so easy to understand Canon equipment specific calculator.”

On a full frame camera, the 50 mm lens comes out to 39 x 27 degrees. which would just fit the whole sequence.  I decided to use my 70mm lens – because I already had a solar filter for it. My plan was to wait until I could catch the sun in the upper left of the frame and the foreground I wanted at the bottom. When the sun arrived, I slapped on the solar filter and started automatic 30 second intervals between exposures.

Or Just Go with Luck

Perhaps my first attempt was not so well planned.

Mamma Glows, Baby Shines

I was too interested in keeping Mt Tamalpais in the picture and ALMOST didn’t get the whole moonset. I know better now! Over three years ago I described how I created the image.  The technique is an extension of my previously described Easy HDR method.

To Be Continued…

In Part 2 of this article, we will show you a few helpful little addenda to make the process easier to manage. We will reveal a Photoshop-only method to approach the problem, AND for good measure a nifty tool to make it easy as pie.

Meanwhile if you are intrigued by the moon, you might want to join us from WHEREVER you are on one of our fun, informative, and oh so reasonably priced Moonatic Webinars.  Or maybe the next Photo Manipulation webinar is just your size.

Essential Tools for Planning a Star Circle Shot

Consider this image:

Bristlecone Pine Star Trail

Bristlecone Pine Star Circle

This shot was set up in the daytime. All the shooting happened while I was not there: I was sleeping in my tent! But that does not mean it was easy. I used several tools plus on-site scouting to conceive and execute this shot. The tools were:

  1. Google Maps (and Google Earth) – to locate potential subjects before scouting
  2. An ephemeris for the moon phase, rise time and set time to determine when the best possible times are to work with rather than against the moon;
  3. An inclinometer to measure the angular height of an object and the angle above the horizon.
  4. And a GPS unit (on site) to find and mark the shooting location AND to determine where true north is.

I’ll address them briefly here and then talk in greater detail about each in subsequent posts.

Google maps is very useful for identifying possible shooting locations, topography, roads and trails.

An ephemeris (meaning a schedule of events) is very handy for determining the best dates and times for night photography. You will need to know the phase of the moon, the moonrise and moonset times and sunrise and sunset times. There are many sources for this data but it is important that your data be for the location where you plan to shoot.

I did not actually use one for this shot, but an inclinometer used on site is very handy. An inclinometer measures the angular height of something relative to the horizon. Polaris sits above the horizon at an angle equal to the latitude of the observer. In Hawaii, the southernmost state, Polaris is about 19 degrees above the north horizon. But the Bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California are farther north. At the latitude of the Bristlecone pines Polaris is 38 degrees above the horizon.

To make your shot set up much simpler you will need a way to determine where true north is (not magnetic north!). Although a student of the sky will be able to find the North Star at night, it is best to make sure you have north nailed before it gets dark. I find the best tool for this is a handheld GPS unit. I use the GPSMAP® 60CSx – newer devices are available.

In truth you can pare down this list to three tools. Your camera can be used to measure angles if you know the trick. More on each of these tools in subsequent articles.

If you would like some hands on experience learning and using these tools, please join us for our November 5-7th Star Circle Academy Workshop in Alabama Hills, California.