Midsummer madness – virtual and real

Using Google Earth and The Photographers’ Ephemeris together

My commercial photography can keep me away from the landscape for what seems like too long. In a characteristic over-reaction this nearly-midsummer week, I spotted a half decent weather window for Monday-evening-Tuesday-morning. Camera gear, tent, sleeping bag and not much else in the car, I headed off to Wasdale and its mysterious lake, Wastwater.

Photography workshops in Cumbria and the Lake District including Wasdale and Wastwater
Wasdale stone circle. Subtle colours, and tones best viewed against dark background click on the image to dim the lights.

Why Wastwater, why “mysterious” and why “madness”? Three reasons:

  • Photographically, I don’t know Wasdale very well because it takes such a long time to drive to compared to the rest of the Lake District—even if I have led plenty of walks on the hills around it in one of my other lives
  • With the first reason in mind, I wanted to see just how useful (to me and my guests and students) using The Photographers’ Ephemeris (TPE) in combination with Google Earth could be
  • “Madness” because the days don’t get much longer than at this time of year so I was lakeside until after twilight (11 pm) and up at least an hour before sunrise (3 am)

I’ve been using TPE for some time, specifically to establish light direction, sunrise and sunset times. It’s also great for predicting the angle of the sun to check if a subject will be shaded by higher ground. But I had missed any announcements about enhancements to Google Earth, in particular Groundview, which enables you to view a location as if, yes, standing on the ground. Rather like Google’s Street View but more uplifting. I am indebted to Mike Green and his recent Musing on this topic, which brought me up to date and was, like much of his writings, entertaining to read.

Not all sunset photographs have to have fire in the sky. Here the foreground is nicely coloured and natural
Wastwater sunset alternative
View from "the ground"

I used the two applications to choose a relatively unfamiliar Lake District location that looked favourably orientated for sunrise and sunset—even if I was more interested in photographing before and after the sun had actually risen or dipped below the apparent horizon. Wastwater seemed to fit the bill.

I picked two lakeside locations using TPE and then checked them out “on the virtual ground” using Groundview in Google Earth. Throughout this post you can see some of the virtual reconnaissance and a couple of real-world “results”. Some of this may help you decide whether or not to add these applications to your landscape photography toolbox. From now on I’ll probably not leave for a less than familiar location without consulting both. For familiar locations TPE is always worth consulting unless you have an almanack in your head—although given that you can get it as an iPhone/iPad app, I suppose you may not need one.

It would be interesting to hear what you think, or about your experience with GE and TPE together. Or maybe about your landscape photography exploits in this part of The Lakes.

Seeing the light with TPE

3 thoughts on “Midsummer madness – virtual and real”

  1. Hi David,

    I’m glad you found my article useful and have had a chance to play with the combination of tools, and that it proved successful.That first image, in particular, is excellent. Great title too!

    I neglected to mention in my article that this sort of planning is <b<fun!


    1. Thanks Mike.

      Yes, the planning is fun as well as more productive than using “The Force”. Another good thing about planning using the two apps combined is, having pre-identified a location or two, you can spend much more time—camera bag on the ground, real or imagined cardboard viewfinder in hand—actually looking for compositions that you can come back to at your appointed time. This was especially useful with the first shot (on which thank you for the compliment) which would have been difficult to spot in the gloom before the twilight.

      The piece now reads a little better after I’ve had a break and corrected some of the tired photographer typos.


  2. Hi David,
    An interesting read & also Mike Greens article.
    TPE is a great tool * one which I used this Spring down in Cornwall.

    The sunsets dissapear from the South coast around Lands End in Spring, so the best evening light is on the North coast.
    Anquet maps had something similar to Google Groundview a few years ago, once you’d plotted your walk it would give you a ‘fly by’ along your chosen path, it was like taking a walk in your armchair, except no trees etc.

    I thinkTPE it was used to plan this shot,

    If I had a smart phone I’d have the TPE app on it.

    I’ve not used Groundview so will give it a try, looks interesting thanks for the tip off.

    Have you come across this site, very useful for walkers & photographers planning a day out, plot your route & print off the OS map & download the route to your GPS, its free.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *