Essential Photography Apps

Today’s smart phones can be one of the most useful tools of the modern photographer. They can combine the role of multiple single-purpose gadgets into one pocket-sized package, and replace or streamline the hours of research that can be required when deciding the perfect location for a shoot. My wife reminded me of a quote this evening: “fail to prepare and you are preparing to fail”. Several of these apps fall firmly into the category of great preparation aids, whilst others are handy for saving time on a shoot.

The following is a list of the “essential” apps that I currently have on my iPhone / iPad.  It should be noted that I have limited this list to apps that are useful in conjunction with a separate (DSLR) camera – I have not included editing / post-processing apps. In particular, I have intentionally not included Instagram: I do not use it, and you should think carefully before using it yourself in an attempt to make otherwise boring photos “interesting”. I will shortly be writing another article on the perils of HDR and Instagram.

All of these apps are available on the Apple App Store. I suspect that many are also available on Android and other platforms, but you will have to search for these yourself!!

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

App Store – £5.99 (works on iPhone & iPad)

Don’t be put off by the bizarre name (Ephemeris means “a table or data file giving the calculated positions of a celestial object at regular intervals throughout a period”, so now you know!) or the hefty price. This app is brilliant.

As well as providing sunrise and sunset times for any location and time, it also displays the direction in which the sun will rise and set, and the instantaneous direction and elevation of the sun at any given time of day. It also provides the same data for the rise and fall of the moon. All this information is invaluable when deciding where to set up to get the best light. Of course, nothing beats the knowledge that comes from studying your subject over a period of days and months, but we don’t all the have the luxury of spending so much time in one place; this app provides a neat visualisation that can go a long way to replacing said knowledge.

The app can even calculate the length of shadows cast by an object of a given height at a particular time of day, and can also tell you when the sun will become visible over the brow of a hill when you are in the valley by referencing topographic maps that include altitude data – a great touch.

Loading the maps requires an internet connection, so data charges may be an issue when roaming… but you can always freeload off a Starbucks WiFi or similar to preload the information you need, which will then be stored in the app’s cache.

AccuWeather

App Store – Free (works on iPhone & iPad)

As any landscape photographer knows, your subject is nothing without the right light and weather conditions. That doesn’t mean you need blue skies to get the right shot – far from it, a blue sky often lacks any real interest, and can provide relatively dull sunsets and sunrises – but it is always good to have an idea of what the weather will be, which will go a long way to determining the mood of your photos. Is there rain forecast, which may well bring ominous and foreboding skies that can prove so atmospheric? Or is there sufficient wind to smear out that light covering of cloud to create some interesting texture to the sky? Whatever the case, getting a decent forecast can make your life easier.

The Weather app that comes bundled with your iPhone is, frankly, rubbish. Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives available for free which provide significantly more information, such as hour-by-hour forecasts and long-range forecasts (which should not always be trusted!).

I have settled on AccuWeather HD for my iPad. It seems to be as reliable as the next weather app, and provides useful information such as the percentage chance and likely volume of rain in a user-friendly manner.

Honorable mentions go to The Weather Channel (Free; for iPhone), which I have on my iPhone, and WeatherPro (£2.49; for iPhone), which I have not tried myself.

TidesPlanner

App Store – Free (works on iPhone & iPad)

If you plan to do any work in coastal areas, or on tidal rivers (such as the River Thames), it is well worth spending some time working out the tide patterns. The most appealing composition may well be at low tide, when it is possible to find details revealed on the sea/river bed which are not visible for the majority of the time; my shot of St Paul’s was a good example of this.

This app is not the most user-friendly, but it provides a wealth of information once you know how to use it. Unfortunately the free version limits you to finding out the tide for “today”, which seriously limits your ability to plan ahead. An in-app purchase opens up the database for a full calendar year for £1.49.

One alternative is tideApp (free; for iPhone & iPad), which lets you select any date, but which has a more limited selection of locations. I have also seen reports questioning its accuracy.

With both of the apps listed here, use the tide data with caution – they are not a substitute for local knowledge and you never know how weather conditions could affect the predicted tide. You could find yourself in serious trouble if you end up getting cut off, with the best case scenario being a catastrophic soaking of your camera gear.

NDCalc

App Store – 69p (works on iPhone)

Have you started working with neutral density (ND) filters? If so, then you may well find this app useful, particularly when shooting in full manual mode. This app allows you to input a shutter speed and then see how it would be affected by using an ND filter of a given strength.

“Couldn’t you just let the camera’s metering system work it out?”, I hear you ask. Well that is certainly reliable when using relatively transparent filters (e.g. an “ND 0.6 (2x)”), but quickly becomes impossible when working with much more opaque filters, such as the 10-stop “Big Stopper”. With such a filter attached, there is so little light reaching your camera’s metering system that your camera will not provide a reliable exposure reading. Using this app, you can check what the shutter speed should be to achieve a particular exposure without the filter attached, and then use that shutter speed to calculate the time required to achieve the same exposure with the filter attached. Hey presto, no more trial and error to find the right exposure.

Field Tools

App Store – Free (works on iPhone & iPad)

Field Tools is essentially a depth of field calculator. It lets you select your camera (taking into account the type of sensor and hence the circle of confusion), the focal length of your lens, the aperture you are using, and the distance to your subject. It will then tell you the nearest and furthest points that are in focus assuming you focus on your subject. It will also tell you the hyperfocal distance (effectively the distance you would have to focus on in order to obtain acceptably sharp focus at infinity), which is particularly useful when determining where to place your focal plane for landscape photography.

Any Others?

I would love to hear your suggestions of Photography Apps you couldn’t live without. Drop me a line in the Comments section below.

2 responses to “Essential Photography Apps

  1. Pingback: Top Weather Apps in 2013 - The Real Supermum·

  2. Pingback: ProScope micro mobile iPhone mega close ups | Digital Strategies + Biotechnology·

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