Using Sky Guide – Tips for Night Photography
Sky Guide is a great app for star gazing but did you know it is also a very useful tool for creating your night sky photography plans? I use it for planning milky way shots, eclipses, meteor showers, star gazing, planet ID and more. It is certainly one of my favorite apps for the iPhone and it’s just plain fun! I want to share with you a couple tips for setting up Sky Guide to make creating a night sky photography plan even easier.
Turn on the Ecliptic
Before we begin, you need to visit the app settings to turn on the Ecliptic. This is an important feature for locating planets and the moon when using Sky Guide. The ecliptic is essentially the plane of the planets. They all circulate in generally a flat plane around the sun. Being able to see the ecliptic makes locating planetary objects within our solar system much easier. Go to Main Menu > Preferences > Ecliptic to turn it on. While you’re in the settings, I have also enabled Constellations, Horizon, & Labels. You can experiment with turning on and off different features to configure the app to your preferences.
Align the Compass
When you first open Sky Guide, you will see a little compass arrow in the upper right corner of the screen. Tap that arrow to turn the compass on. This should align the sky view screen. Hold your phone up to the sky and double check the compass alignment. Look for a little N, S, E or W just below the horizon to indicate compass direction. Make sure the compass is oriented correctly, i.e. west is really west. If so, you’re ready to start. If not, slowly move your phone around in various directions to help the compass orient itself. Please be aware use of a magnetic phone case can interfere with proper alignment of the compass. If it is a problem, it’s probably best to remove your case. Side note: I often use photography gloves with flip over finger tips. These gloves often have magnets to hold the finger tips back which can also interfere with the orientation of the compass.
Select the Time
To see sky events on a specific date in the future, tap the time indicator in the upper left corner of the screen, then tap on the little calendar icon. You will see two options, Current Time and Select Time. Choose the Select Time option and scroll to the date you are interested in reviewing. Another option to set the future time is go to the menu, the gear icon in the lower left corner. Choose Time & Date > Select Time. I usually choose a time an hour or two prior to the event.
Click the X to close the Menu and take you back to the sky view screen. Double check that the new date is in the top information bar.
Now look for the Ecliptic we turned on earlier. It is a dotted yellow line in the view screen. You will find the moon also on this plane. Move your phone around following the yellow line until you see your object, moon or planet, etc. You can even see straight down through the Earth which is very helpful when trying to determine when & where the Moon or planet will be rising above the horizon. I should mention that being near a tall object, mountain or tall building, etc. can certainly impact when a sky object will become visible in your specific location. The further back you are from an obstacle, the more accurate the readings will be.
Get your Readings
Press the fast forward button to begin moving forward. Each time you press the fast forward button the view screen will speed up. Pressing the backwards button will slow down the speed. Pressing the pause button will stop the flow. You will notice that the sky view displays how the sky will look at your selected time. When you are fast forwarding, watch as the sky features move across the the screen. When the sky event you are waiting for gets into the sky position you want, press pause and make a note of the time stamp. Use this information to create your photography plan. Now you know what time you need to be set up with your camera to capture the shot you desire.
In conclusion, this is such a simple and accurate way to anticipate sky events. Some sky events like eclipses, are animated to show the darkening of the moon or sun at the times they will really be changing which is just plain cool. It is a great app for sky gazing but also quite useful for planning night photography shots too.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my post on Creating a Eclipse Photography Plan
Sky Guide is available in the Apple App store for only $2.99. Enjoy! 🙂