Top 10 iPhone Apps for Photographers
t truly is amazing how technology has changed our approach to scouting locations, over the past few years. When the iPhone was first introduced in early 2007, it was still a very closed system. Then, in 2008, up jumped the App Store. Initially there were only a few apps designed with photographers in mind. As developers have learned to stretch their wings, that has all changed.
Scott and I are fairly die hard Apple fanboys & techno geekery aficionados, so we’ve tried a literal metric ton of photography apps on our iPhones. Some have been brilliant, some have failed brilliantly. Before we get into the meat and potatoes, you should know – none of these apps or their makers have supplied us with these apps. The apps that had a fee, were paid for by our own hard-earned cash money. The apps that were free, well… we gobbled them up and put them through their paces (then promptly spit most of them out before they gave us indigestion). Also, the links provided below do not reward us with ‘kickbacks’ or commission on sales.
We’re going to break down the iPhone/iPad apps that we use into categories: Scouting, Editing, & Miscellaneous. No, I’m not including weather apps. Everyone has their favorites, and you’ll be happy to hear that they all work equally well in Alaska. That is to say, not at all. Want to know the weather forecast in Alaska? Stick your head out the window. If it looks like it might rain or snow, there’s probably a 50% or greater chance that it will.
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Focalware – Focalware was one of the first apps I downloaded. It’s a simple interface, allowing for precise information about sun and moon data – including: sunrise/set, moonrise/set, sun & moon azimuth & elevation, and moon phase. It ties into your gps and digital compass, and is very quick to use. Like all the best scouting apps, you can save locations for future reference in a list format. Just click on a pre-set location and learn the pertinent data you need. ~ $4.99 (iPhone)
Sun Seeker – Sun Seeker (and the next app on the list, Moon Seeker) are similar to Focalware, in the fact that they both offer data about sunrise/set & moonrise/set. But the key is using ‘augmented reality’ to further display these typically visually boring statistics in a really cool way. Augmented reality apps utilize the iPhone’s camera, in conjunction with the digital compass and accelerometer to display the aforementioned ‘boring statistics’ as an overlay of the camera’s live video feed. That’s pretty cool shiznit. For instance, Sun Seeker (and Moon Seeker) display the current position of the sun/moon on an arc of time for any given day. You can swing your iPhone (typically in horizontal orientation) in any direction and see where the sun/moon is going to rise or set, and most importantly, how it will interact with natural or manmade elements in the scene you are photographing. Want to find out what time the sun is going to crest the Alaska Range to the north of your campsite? Bing-o, bang-o, prest-o, chang-o – Sun Seeker/Moon Seeker to the rescue-o. Keep in mind, you have to actually be there (at the location you need information on) in order to use the augmented reality option in the apps. There are other apps that allow you to scout locations from afar… ~ $4.99
Moon Seeker – See above. In the case of these apps, the moon is very much like the sun, except it’s the moon. It would be nice, ozPDA (Sun/Moon Seeker’s development company), if you could include both the Sun and Moon data in one, all inclusive app – rather than making us buy 2 separate apps. Charge me a bit more, I’d pay it for the convenience of only having to open one app. Just sayin’. ~ $1.99
The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) – One of the most bestest (yep, I said it) crossover apps available. Full disclosure, I have worked as a beta-tester on TPE (for iOS) for Stephen Trainor (the app’s developer), but I received no monetary compensation. I bought the final app, simply because it’s the most bestest app, and Stephen deserves the money. So, what it is – for those of you living under a rock and not already using this app before every landscape shoot? This ephemeris tool collects similar data to the previously mentioned apps, but it displays it as an overlay on a Google Map. Now, admittedly, I don’t use the mobile app as much as I use the desktop app (Free! You will need Adobe Air running – also free!), but the functionality is nearly identical in application. TPE projects the most important data of all, sun/moon path throughout the day, for any day, for any location. Another powerful tool that comes from it’s big brother/desktop version, is the inclusion of ‘Geodetics’. No, don’t worry, it’s not a Hollywood-based religious movement… Geodetics is a way for you to drop a pin on any location on the map to determine the apparent altitude (or height) of the object. Why is this useful? Well, it will tell you if the sun or the moon is going to clear that object at any time during your shoot. Example? Why sure, I thought you’d never ask. A few years ago, I wanted to shoot the Super Moon in a unique way, rather than the same old ‘big moon against the landscape’ that I had always seen it. I used the Geodetics feature in TPE to find a location where the moon would almost perfectly parallel the slope of a mountain, as it rose just after sunset. I used this feature to take 15 photos of the moon, 5 minutes between each shot, as it climbed into the sky and paralleled the northern slope of Pioneer Peak. Without this technology, this shot never would have been possible for me. Geodetics data has become an integral part in our location scouting & planning sessions. ~ $8.99 (iPhone/iPad)
GeoTagr – Honestly, this app was a bit of a surprise. Scott showed me this app running on his iPhone, otherwise I likely never would have given it a moments thought. It’s a deceptively easy app to set up. All you do is sync the time displayed on the app’s main screen with your camera’s date. When you are ready to start tracking your image locations, you simply hit ‘Record’. The app uses the iDevices built in gps to lay down ‘breadcrumbs’ as long as you are ‘recording’. Deceptively simple. Then, after you are done shooting, hit the stop button on the app, select the ‘Track’ from the Tracks menu, and export the track as a GPX file. When you import your photos into Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, you can also import this GPX file into your image database’s map program and sync it with your photos. In a matter of seconds, your photos show up on the map. Exactly where you shot them. Scott and I are still young enough to have long periods of lucid thoughts and our memory is still thriving… well, ok… I do. Scott is old. But, in place as vast as Alaska – these location tidbits can become very valuable for return trips or captioning, or fledging out a full story. My only complaint is not directly related to the app… it’s the iPhone’s battery life over a long backcountry trip. This one shortfall is pushing me towards purchasing a dedicated GPS geotagging module to plug into my camera, rather than using the app. Regardless, the app works beautifully. ~ $4.99
LongTime – Are you kidding me? Free? ‘Nuff said! Use an ND filter to achieve longer shutter speeds? This is the app for you. I have been using a B+W 10-stop ND filter for select shots where I really want to stretch my exposure out. This app is also deceptively easy to use. Seeing a pattern here? Just take a base exposure with your camera – I prefer to do this in LiveView, with my RGB histogram active. Then, attach your ND filter. Open the app, and select the power of your ND filter, then your base exposure’s shutter speed. Prest-o,bang-o – the app gives you the correct new shutter speed with your filter in place. Pretty slick. ~ $FREE!
Snapseed – I don’t always take iPhone photos, but when I do, I edit them with with Snapseed. Stay Snapseedy my friends. Quite simply, this is the only app I use to edit my iPhone photos. It’s got great presets (all of which are editable), filters, and NIK’s patented ‘Control Points’. Control Points allow you to apply very precise local adjustments. Great app, lots of power and flexibility, and people are stunned when they learn the photos were taken with a mobile phone. ~ $4.99
Dermandar (DMD) – It’s not exactly an editing app, but I’m putting it here. Deal with it. Dermandar (DMD) is a pano stitching app and sharing app all in one. Again, it’s deceptively simple. Just open the app, hold the iPhone/iPad vertically and click ‘Start’. Then pan left or right slowly, watching the yin-yang symbol as an alignment tool. The app automatically takes a photo as soon as alignment is optimal. You can make a pano that is just a few stitched images or you can do a full 360˚ pano. You can export the photo or share it on DMD’s very own social site, and link to it from your social network of choice. Great app, just be sure to take your time and watch your alignment carefully. ~ $1.99
Easy Release – I’ve only used the iPad version, here so that’s what I’ll touch on. This app just works. You can use pre-made forms or design your own (model and property releases). Models (or their parental guardian) or property owners can read then sign the release (with their finger, or a with stylus). You can include a pic of your subject (using the iPhone’s camera/app), and even email pdf copies of the release right from the app. The app is more expensive, but I believe it is a steal for the power, flexibility, and easy of use. ~ $9.99
Spaceweather.com Link – I love photographing the aurora borealis. It’s one of the most incredible phenomenon anyone can witness. Or photograph, if you are so lucky. No, this final ‘app’ really isn’t an app at all. It’s just a bookmark to a webpage. But it’s one of the most hit ‘buttons’ on my iphone from September through April. The people at Spaceweather.com do a fantastic job at keeping up-to-date reporting on upcoming and ongoing space-related phenomenon. Highly recommended. ~ $FREE!