In the App Store and the Google Play Store you can find a collection of apps for all kinds of situations. This is equally true for photography. But there are not only programs for image processing. Especially in the fields of landscape and astrophotography, the Photo Pills app has made a name for itself.
Among others, this app offers you:
- Information about the exact course of the sun, moon, its phases, and the Milky Way.
- Various features and tools to avoid unwanted shadows and take full advantage of the blue and golden hours.
- A finder function to determine the perfect time for your dream scenario.
- Two augmented reality modes that simulate the course of the sun, moon and Milky Way so that you are perfectly prepared.
All the information and applications of the Photo Pills App make it easy for you to always be in the right place at the right time and to skillfully plan, stage, and capture the various light moods of the sun, the moon, or the Milky Way for your own shots. You will learn how to use all these functions correctly in this post.
The Photo Pills Planner: A useful companion in landscape photography
Location, display, and meaning
The most extensive and important feature of the app is the Photo Pills Planner. When you open it, the first thing that catches your eye is a satellite map. On this map you will find an orange pin with several lines emerging from it. This pin always shows your current location when the app is opened for the first time, provided you grant the app access to your location. However, the pin does not necessarily have to represent the current location, but can be placed at the position from where you want to take the photo. You can touch the pin with your finger and move it to the desired location. Alternatively, you can tap anywhere with your finger for a long time, causing the pin to jump to the desired position.
Several coloured lines emerge from the pin. There is a thick yellow line, a thick orange line, and a thinner line that can change its colour between yellow and orange. The thick yellow line represents the sunrise and the thick orange line the sunset. The thinner line represents the current position of the sun. If the mode is changed from sun to moon, the orange-yellow lines disappear and new lines appear in blue tones. Here, too, the brighter thick line represents the rising of the moon and the thicker darker line the setting of the moon. The same goes for the thinner line, which indicates the position of the moon.
The mode can be changed by clicking on the sun symbol in the field above the map (information bar). The sun symbol changes to a moon symbol. If you click on the field again, both the lines of the sun and the lines of the moon will be displayed.
Movements over time
The third part of the Photo Pills Planner is the timeline, which can be found directly below the map. This timeline displays the current date and time in its default setting. If you move the timeline to the left or to the right, not only the date and time will change, but also the alignment of the lines. As the thin lines approach a sunset or moonset, the colour of the line becomes darker. As a sunrise or moonset approaches, they become brighter. But time and date cannot only be changed by dragging the bar. To enter a specific time, simply tap the clock to enter the information manually. This lets you make larger jumps, especially when it comes to the date.
Below the timeline is the last part of the planner, the options bar, which contains other useful features. These include the Finder, two augmented reality modes, and other features, but more on that later.
Sun, Moon, and Milky Way always in focus with the help of the information bar
Position of sun, moon, and azimuth
Beside the change between the courses of sun and moon, the information bar contains a lot of other information and settings. The basic position of the bar gives us insight about the azimuth, the height and the phase of the celestial bodies sun and moon. The term azimuth refers to a horizontal angle that aligns itself with the points of the compass.
If you swipe your finger once to the left on the bar, more detailed information about the rising and setting of the sun and moon will appear. You can also switch between the individual phases of the moon by clicking on the large round symbol. You should pay attention to the changes of the date in the timeline to find out when the next moon phase, for example new moon, occurs. Next follow the exact times of the blue and golden hours, which both bring wonderful light moods that every landscape photographer likes to use for their pictures.
Visibility of the Milky Way
The next two tabs in the information bar deal with the Milky Way. By clicking on the left Milky Way symbol in the first of the two tabs, several circles around the orange pin and two thick lines in light and dark grey appear on the map. The light grey line stands for the time when the Milky Way becomes visible and the dark grey line for the disappearance of the Milky Way.
If you move the timeline into the blue area, i.e. into the night, the Milky Way also appears in the form of a dotted, curved line. Here, the accumulation of several thicker points represents the galactic center of the Milky Way. Furthermore, the curvilinear line gives an idea of how the Milky Way will be seen in the sky. If it is very bulbous, then the Milky Way extends horizontally across the sky. However, if it is close to the centre line, the Milky Way will rise vertically into the sky. The exact time of visibility, the azimuth, and the height of the Galactic Center are also specified in this section of the information bar. The second tab for the Milky Way, in the form of a blue scale, indicates how well the Milky Way will be visible in the sky. If the bars are filled, the Milky Way can be seen well on the horizon.
Pin-to-Pin geodetic info
By swiping from the starting position to the right, further options open up. The first is pin-to-pin geodetic info. By clicking on the button, a second pin in black appears on the map. This pin should be placed on the desired motif. Once this is done, you can quickly see whether the sunset is behind the desired motif on the chosen day. Looking at the first picture in the illustration below, it is easy to see that the desired scenario cannot be captured at this time. However, by moving the timeline, you can determine the correct time. In our example, this would have already been on October 6 and is now in the past. The next suitable date is almost a year in the future – so the motif can no longer be photographed in the near future.
In addition, the course of the sun must be observed. If this line is dotted when the desired motif is reached, this means that the sun is already too low and has therefore disappeared behind the horizon.
Calculating shadow cast
The second option, which results from swiping to the right in the information bar, is a tool to estimate the shadowfall of a building or a tall tree. In order to use this function, however, it is necessary to find out about the height of the building or to be able to estimate it well. Once the building has been selected with the orange pin and a height has been entered in the information bar, the shadow is displayed in the form of a black line. This allows you to determine in advance which side of a building should not be photographed due to the amount of shadow.
The Options Bar – Find, schedule, and share with friends
Simply find a dream scenario
The information bar already offers many possibilities to find the right place and the right time for the perfect photo. Especially the pin-to-pin geodetic info is very handy if you want to take a photo of a motive with the sun or moon rising or setting behind it. It is easy to find out whether this arrangement is available on the desired day. If this is not the case, it is very tedious to find the suitable time by moving the timeline. The Find function in the options bar can help with this.
When selecting the Finder function, there are four different constellations of criteria that can be searched for: “Sun at Azimuth”, “Sun at Azimuth and Height”, “Moon at Azimuth”, and “Moon at Azimuth and Height”. In order to be able to determine more precisely how and where the sun or moon should stand for the planned image, it is advisable to select “at azimuth and altitude”. Once the azimuth, altitude, and desired time period have been determined, the app displays a list of exact dates where you will find the desired scenario at the desired location.
Augmented Reality – Simulating photo motifs
In addition, the options bar contains two AR modes (Augmented Reality). These two modes are more or less Live View modes that display the position of different celestial bodies using the smartphone camera. The AR mode is responsible for the course of the sun and the Night AR for the course of the moon and the Milky Way. By using these modes, the exact position of the desired celestial body can be simulated on site, so that you can align the camera to the situation in advance. If one of these modes is activated, the current point in time is displayed for the time being, but here, too, the point in time can be shifted on the screen by swiping to the left or right in order to determine the exact point in time at the correct position.
Save and share with friends
In addition to the Finder option and the AR modes, the options bar also lets you save your own project and then even share it. To do this, press the “Save” button and select “Plan”. You now have the choice of overwriting an existing plan or creating a new one. Once you have given it a name and created it, go back to the main menu and select the category “My stuff” at the top and then select the plans. If the plan is opened in this mode, a field called “Action” will appear at the bottom right, through which you can send your plan by SMS, WhatsApp, or e-mail. This is especially useful for sharing plans with a friend who is also a photography enthusiast to go on a photo tour together.
The Photo Pills App with its extensive planner is a very useful aid for all enthusiastic landscape or astrophotographers who don’t like to leave their success to chance. The numerous options to plan light moods and the positions of different celestial bodies increase the chances enormously to come home with successful and impressive photos from your photo tour. The app is available in the App Store for CHF 10 – we think it’s a worthwhile investment.