Home How-To Tip Of The Week Use Google Earth to Plan Landscape Photos—08/06/12
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Monday, August 6, 2012

Use Google Earth to Plan Landscape Photos—08/06/12

How pro Kurt Budliger uses a high-tech tool to make better landscapes

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week
Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, as viewed from above in Google Earth
When I interviewed landscape photographer Kurt Budliger earlier this year for a story in Outdoor Photographer magazine, he described the making of a great image in his portfolio with help from a decidedly high-tech, Internet-era accessory: Google Earth. The free, downloadable mapping program is fun for anyone to play with, but it can be a downright invaluable tool for serious photographers. I asked Kurt how he uses the software to improve his landscape photos. Here's what he told me.

"I use Google earth to zoom into a spot that I'm thinking would make for a good photo location," he says, "either because I've been there before, pre-scouted, or because I have a hunch and want some intel. If you continue to zoom in, eventually the perspective will change 90 degrees from a 'bird's eye' view, looking down, to one that feels like you're actually standing there looking around."

"My first step is to find the spot I'm interested in," Kurt says, "and then zoom all the way in. Once there you can use the compass in the upper right of the screen to rotate the scene a full 360 degrees. Once I'm 'standing' where I think I want to be, I'll run the time slider (the button with the landscape and sun on the top tool bar) to simulate how the sun will illuminate the landscape. This is how you can figure out where exactly the sun will dip below—or appear above—the horizon. You can also tell whether a scene will be backlit or side-lit, see shadows and know if the sunset will be obscured by a mountain or ridgeline. You can also choose different times of the year to see where and when the sun will light your scene. You can't get enough detail to know if the elements on the ground will make for a good composition, but you'll know if there is potential."

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week
Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, zoomed in all the way to see what it's like to really be on top of the mountain, looking out over the Atlantic at sunrise. Note the timeline slider in the upper left of the screen, and the position of the sun for sunrise.
The shot that inspired Kurt's initial comment was from the Main coastline. He frequently shoots the coast so he needs to know when the tide is coming and going, and he uses a variety of other smartphone apps for that. He recommends that photographers investigate all the great apps available for their smartphones that augment Google Earth.

"There is a version of Google Earth for the iPhone," he says, "but I have to admit that I haven't played with it yet. There is another program that I've heard great things about called the Photographer's Ephemeris. It allows you to figure out exactly where the light will be and when, as well as moonrises, sunrises, and so on."

Kurt suggests spending the middle part of the day, when the light is bad, scouting locations and checking them against the software to determine what a location will look like at a given time. Otherwise, he'd rather get out from behind his computer and into the real world taking pictures.

To see more of Kurt Budliger's landscape photography, visit his web site at www.kurtbudligerphotography.com.

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