Can A Compass Help You Get Better Photos? Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, I told you how a simple compass can be the key to getting spectacular shots of the sun and moon like this one:


or this one:


Are you ready to give it a try? Cool!!

It’s actually really simple. First you’ll need one of the apps I mentioned above. Note that The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE) is free for use on your computer (via a web app), but the smartphone apps are really a bargain for what you get (click here for the website).

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine both the time and location of whatever event you want to capture. Let’s say it’s sunset. Here’s a screen shot from the desktop version of TPE:


Here’s one from the iPhone app (There’s an Android app too).


Once you know where the sun is going to set, the next step is to use your compass to determine just where it’s going to land on the horizon. For this, I really prefer an orienteering compass (and one with a mirror), but you can use a regular compass in a pinch to at least get a general idea. I tend to like regular magnetic compasses better then compass apps on my phone – the real compass seems more precise to me. I personally go overboard and use a Silva Ranger 515 CL. For a more affordable route (less the mirror) I also like my old Silva Polaris. However, any good compass will do.

Also, I went into my TPE settings and turned “Use magnetic north” to “On”. This way, I don’t have to worry about adjusting for declination (sometimes called variation) as I move from place to place across the country. And hey, if you don’t know what declination is, then that’s another good reason to switch it on  (OK, declination is the difference between magnetic and true north, since magnetic north doesn’t directly coincide with true north on a map).

If you don’t know exactly how to use a compass, here’s a very basic crash course:

1. Turn your compass dial to the degree specified by your software:


2. Turn your entire body with your compass until the red arrow is in the red (north) orienting outline:
3. Your index pointer will be pointing directly at sunset (note the compass below has seen better days – I think it sprung a small leak, hence the big bubble).
4. If you have a mirror on your compass, put the sighting line (the vertical line right down the center of the mirror) on the center of your dial and make sure you still have the red side of the needle in the red orienting outline on the dial. Now, just look through the notch – that’s where the sun will set.

There ya go!

This one little trick has helped me tremendously in my landscape photography and it’s even handy for wildlife. Although super precise locations for sunrise / sunset aren’t critical for most wildlife, I have used this method numerous times to help position myself for the best light when I’m after critters.

Finally, I urge you not to dismiss this as simply something “interesting to know” – it really has been one of my greatest photography assets. I use this technique with every one of my sun / moon photos and I sure hope you’ll give it a try too 🙂

Enjoy! And as always, your comments and feedback are appreciated


PS – If you enjoy these articles, you’ll really love my e-book, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography. It’s 290 pages of field tested tips, tricks, and advice for getting amazing wildlife photos on your memory cards. Thousands have already ordered, click here to check it out for yourself. I know you’ll love it!

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