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What Sun Tracking App or Website Do Most Real Estate Photographers Use?

Published: 21/01/2019
By: larry

lightracJack in Florida recently asked:

What do most real estate photographers use to determine the lighting conditions (sun) for a particular address at some future date and time?

I've always been partial to using the LightTrac app so I verified that it still works when you search for an address. My iPhone version of LightTrac has an option in Settings to use either Apple Maps or Google Maps but it works just fine with either map settings option. LightTrac has an app for both Apple IOS and Android.

Here is a list of other apps and sites that real estate photographers use:

  1. SunCalc.net
  2. PhotoEphemeris.com
  3. Sun Surveyor
  4. PhotoPills

What is your favorite sun tracking app or website?

16 comments on “What Sun Tracking App or Website Do Most Real Estate Photographers Use?”

  1. I've used LightTrac for years and it works great for my needs. I know when I get to the property at say 11am I'll know exactly where the sun will be.

  2. I always use The Photographer's Ephemeris when I am quoting a job. It's a bummer that Google jacked up their fees for the API that would let you input the street address directly, but even without that, it's a great application. I put Google Maps and The Photographer's Ephemeris side by side and it's very quick to zero in on the correct home in TPE. I'm also looking at street view if possible to see not just where the sun will be but what architectural details might cast annoying shadows.

    I've never needed an app on my phone. I already know how the sun is going to move across the sky since I look at that during the initial appointment setup so if I'm getting direct sun in a room, I can intuit how it's going to change with time. For security, I don't add apps to the phone willy nilly and most these days are spyware, otherwise, why would a sun tracking app need access to your contact list and text messages? I also tend to be a "planner" rather than someone who just wings it.

    For twilight images I have to do more virtual scouting. If I know the home is near the hills, I'll use Google Earth to get a 3D view to make sure I'm not booking a session too late.

  3. I'm a big fan of PhotoPills. They've got Sun tools, Moon tools, Virtual Reality tools, DoF, DoF tables, Planners, etc. Pretty much a one stop shop for Photographers. It's a paid app, can't remember how much off hand, but pretty sure it's not more than 10 bucks or so. Money well spent in my opinion.

  4. My advice is if you are asking about this for real estate photography, you are probably thinking too much. I mean cmon, every house faces one direction, and then the other as well. Good lighting for one is going to probably be the worst for the other. You are only there for an hour or less.

    This is what flash is for, to help tame highlights and bring up shadows. Just simplify your life and forget where the sun is or will be.

  5. While I have LightTrac and as good as it is, it usually is not used. 99% of the time it is overridden with "Yes, I have an open slot 2PM on the day you want...Great, see you then" As I am typing this, never have contacted clients to 'swap' timeslots allowing east facing home in the AM, west facing in the PM - north doesn't matter and south is into the sun all day with shadow front - nor have I "swapped" for similar location commuting path. It all comes down to the photographer's skill and how you deal with adverse lighting, which is reality is easier than trying to make the schedule changes.

  6. I don't use one. My market is a small valley and I know it pretty well. So I use Google Earth to check the structure(s) orientation to North, where they are set in the East/West valley between the hills that can cut off the sun in the early morning during the winter so then I have a pretty good idea, depending on the time of year and the current height of the sun, when I need to shoot. But first I ask my client what their marketing points are, what they want to make sure looks best (like front or back) and then I know what time would be best to start the shoot. That is all depending that the client and the owner can fit in with what will probably be the best light. When the budget will cover it, I usually do a morning and an afternoon shoot for the larger properties.

    If not, then I just do the best I can with what is possible but explain that the results would be better lit if I had been able to shoot with the best light. Delivered with diplomacy.

    But it's not just the light, here in California we also have strong winds to consider such as the Santa Anna's we are currently experiencing that set the trees to big swaying and leave leaves and branches littering lawns and the driveways not to mention pools and spas. They also prohibit the use of a drone. So I spend time on the weather sites trying to find some consensus which seldom ends up being what Mother Earth actually chooses to deliver. So a lot of working parts. In the end, you just have to go with what you've got and make the best of it having done your due diligence.

  7. I'm with Andrew on this one. However, it does impress the client when you ask what direction the house faces.

  8. @Andrew, I'm sure you've had a few homes with big windows when you were in SJC/SC. Most of those probably faced west to take in the ocean, but in other areas they could face any direction to get the view and it's not always possible to compensate with flash. The other side of the equation is to see when the worst time of day might be for the main front exterior photo or a mandatory view image. Shooting into the sun directly behind the house doesn't work very well and just leads to more work to get an acceptable image. I'm lazy, so the easier, the better. I've also had days where there were multiple jobs and I stopped at one home early to make the front exterior and then to an appointment for a full shoot and after that, returned to that first home and made the rest of the images. Other times on rehabs, I have done the front exterior based on where the sun was going to be if the exterior was ready so the broker has a nice teaser image and I could return for the rest of the images at anytime when it was ready or, if the backyard was special, when the sun was the best for the backyard. I'm not being very tedious about lining up with precision, I just see what time windows are best and what are likely the worst. Even if the house is facing north and there will never be any sunlight on the front, I can use StreetView to rough out how I might compose the shot and try to get an appointment at a time when that composition isn't pointed right at the sun. While it sounds like a bunch of steps, I'm already pulling up the address on Google Maps anyway and printing out a hard copy so if the SatNav fails, I have a map to the job. A quick look at the StreetView and a minute or so on TPE isn't keeping me from anything. As I wrote above, I like to plan ahead. I even sometimes look to see if there are any previous listing photos if it's a more expensive home so I get a feel for what additional equipment I might want to bring and any problem areas I want to mull over.

    @Tim, clients always feel like I'm really looking after them when they know I'm checking where the sun will be and if weather will be an issue. It's the same as showing up with my gear in nice organized cases. Other than I like to be organized, owners and agents notice and I'm more the professional in their eye. If I show up with all of my gear in a borrowed milk crate and Crown Royal drawstring bags, it wouldn't have the same impact. Appearances are very important.

  9. @Andrew, it depends where and what you are shooting. In my market, the Gulf view is everything, it's what the agents are selling. The sun position is critical. Every waterfront shoot is scheduled with the location/time of day/sun location considered, not to mention the forecast. Too late in the day and nothing but glare and long, harsh shadows on balconies. Too early in the day and the western exposure is too shady, usually swimming pools. No one wants to see a shady pool...

    Obviously, sometimes it just doesn't work out for one reason or another and can usually be worked out satisfactorily in post, although that is extremely time-consuming for me personally.
    I like to try and exceed my clients expectations whenever possible and sun position is key for me.

  10. P.S. @Tim
    It impresses your client more when you tell THEM which way the house faces and recommend a suitable time for a successful shoot. 😉

    If I'm not familiar with the address, I google it or go onto the county prop appraiser website and look it up.
    And I'm an agent so I will also search MLS for any previous/recent photos, etc. (Hee hee)

  11. Going to agree with most people here, a simple search on Google Maps is pretty much all you need. But I'd also say it not only "impresses" the clients when you can suggest the right time of day, it just makes for better photos. And that probably earns more brownie points than anything else.

  12. Also don't forget Google Earth - the desktop version and to click on that little sunshine icon at the top. If its the middle of the day when you do that you probably won't notice too much shadows on screen unless you live in a hilly terrain. However moving that little slider that pops up will enable you to see where shadows fall as the sun rises and falls.

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