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The Best App for Sun and Moon Position Search

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

Planning a shot that includes the sun, moon, or Milky Way? Sun Surveyor, available for both iOS and Android, makes it easy.

Moonset over Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Moonset over Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

My first attempt at shooting the full moon setting over Longs Peak at sunrise was a fiasco. I got up at 2 a.m., hiked three hours in the dark to the summit of Twin Sisters, and discovered that the moon was so far to the right of Longs Peak that it was no bigger than a dust speck when I attached the 35mm lens I needed to include both mountain and moon. Longs Peak was not much bigger.

That misadventure convinced me I needed to plan such shoots much more carefully if I was going to have something to show for a night of lost sleep. My goal was to identify days when the moon would be near the horizon and setting directly over Longs Peak at the moment of sunrise. Selecting the best dates required a table of moon positions, a USGS topographic map, a compass, a ruler, and a scientific calculator to handle the trigonometry calculations. A student in one of my workshops, Stephen Trainor, saw the value in my careful planning but considered my methods hopelessly inefficient. He went home and developed a piece of software he named the Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE), available for Apple and Android devices as well as desktops and laptops. TPE is a brilliant piece of software that I use constantly. It has greatly simplified the planning process, but the current version still has one weakness. The ability to search for specific positions of the sun and moon is limited to the iOS version, and even on that platform its search capabilities can only narrow down the range of possible dates. Picking the best date still requires a lot of cross-checking. PhotoPills (iOS and Android, no desktop version) also has search capabilities, but again the results must be checked one-by-one to identify the best day.

At this time, Sun Surveyor has the most sophisti