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Photography

15 Essential Apps for Every Photographer's Smartphone

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There are many good photography apps available for smartphones running iOS or Android. Apps like Instagram and VSCO Cam make it easy to take, and share, great looking photos from your phone. Photographers, however, should not get caught up just using their phone as a camera; there are apps that can help you plan shoots, get model releases signed, add GPS data to your photos and much more. Many of these apps are capable—in some cases with the help of hardware add-ons—of replacing expensive dedicated devices.

Note, while I’m focusing on apps that work on your smartphone, most of them are available for tablets too.

Weather Apps

Unless you’re a studio photographer, photography tends to involve going outdoors. There are few disappointments more pathetic than havnig a sunny morning of shooting ruined by unexpected rain. A good weather app, like Dark Sky for iOS or AccuWeather Platinum for Android, provide not only general forecasts but also minute by minute data for the next hour or two. Dark Sky and AccuWeather Platinum even have the live weather radar data available so you can make up your own mind about how threatening the clouds look.

dark sky ios
Dark Sky for iOS is a great weather app. Image credit: Dark Sky.

Celestial Tracking Apps

Nothing effects the kind of photos you can take more than the sun’s position in the sky. While there is no such thing as bad light, taking portraits in the middle of the day involves some additional considerations. If you are shooting at sunset or sunrise, knowing when it occurs is, obviously, crucial. Similarly, if you are shooting at night knowing where the moon, planets and stars are going to be can help you plan your shoot.

Some apps, like The Photographer’s Ephemeris, go all out; The Photographer’s Ephemeris displays the direction of the light and shadow length at any time, in any location on earth. Others, like Sun Seeker use an augmented reality overlay to show where the sun will move throughout the day.

Many of these apps are capable of replacing expensive dedicated devices.

Shot Planning Apps

Ideally you have plenty of time to test ideas and explore the location when you are on a shoot. Unfortunately, circumstances are rarely ideal. Some apps can help you look at a location before you even get there.

Apps like the previously mentioned Photographer’s Ephemeris fall into this category. It’s sister app, the iPad only The Photographer’s Transit, is another example that you can use to explore shoot locations and see the viewing angle of different camera-lens set ups so you now what gear to bring to get the shots you want.

Google Maps, Streetview and Earth also let you check out a location before you get there.

Exposure and Depth of Field Calculators

Photography is governed by the laws of physics—and a ton of maths. For quick snapshots, relying on your camera’s auto-features is fine: modern cameras hide most of the calculations behind autoexposure and autofocus modes. For carefully taking a shot, however, manually setting you camera gives the most creative control.

The relationship between shutter-speed, aperture and ISO is not difficult to calculate, but some situations are made much easier with a little help. It can be especially awkward to do calculations in your head for long exposure photography. For macro, landscape and wildlife photographers calculating the depth of focus can be tricky. Using a calculator guarantees accuracy.

PhotoBuddy for iOS and Photo Tools Pro for Android provide both exposure and depth of field calculators in a single app. Other apps like Long Exposure Calculators for iOS and Exposure Calculator for Android are limited just to exposure calculations but allow you to take neutral density filters into account—perfect for long exposure photographers.

photobuddy ios app
PhotoBuddy for iOS does both exposure and depth of field calculations. Image credit: PhotoBuddy.

Light Meter Apps

A dedicated light meter can set you back several hundred dollars and guarantee you almost perfectly exposed photographs every time. The light meter apps available for both iOS and Android might not be as accurate in all situations but they are still pretty good and are available for a fraction of the price.

The apps work by using your phone’s camera to get a reading of the light in the scene. They then calculate what combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO will give you a correct exposure. Most apps will allow you to lock a particular setting so, for example, you can find what shutter speed you will need if you want to shoot the scene at f/5.6 and ISO 200.

Many of the iOS apps support Luxi—a $30 dollar diffusion device—to get even more accurate measurements.

Geotagging Apps

Many modern cameras support geotagging add-ons. When you take a picture, these devices add your GPS coordinates to the images metadata. If you are using Lightroom, each image’s location will be displayed in the Maps module. These devices are not cheap. Instead, you can use an app like Geotag Photos Pro.

Geotag Photos Pro records your GPS coordinates as you shoot. When you are done you are able to export a GPX file which Lightroom can import. As long as both your phone and camera’s clocks are in sync, Lightroom will match your location to each shot using its capture time.

Camera Controllers

Your smartphone has far more computing power than your camera. It’s possible to use this to control your camera with one of my favourite apps, TriggerTrap. Along with a connector and dongle, TriggerTrap makes it easy to explore some of the areas of photography, like time-lapse and long exposure, that once required expensive dedicated gear.

TriggerTrap lets you control your camera using just an app. You can do everything from simply trigger your camera to taking thousands of shots where the exposure adjusts in response to the changing light conditions. I’ve written a full tutorial on how to use TriggerTrap to control time-lapse and long exposures that goes into more detail.

triggertrap iphone
TriggerTrap app running on an iPhone that's connected to the camera. Image credit: TriggerTrap.

Document Signing Apps

When you are working with clients and models you need to provide them with legal documents such as contracts and model releases. These documents are largely boilerplate; for most shoots, the only thing that changes is the client name and the date. Keeping paper copies is always problematic, especially if you are shooting outdoors where they will be exposed to wind and rain. Instead, you can use an app like Easy Release to create legal documents, have the other parties sign them on your smartphone and have the contract emailed as a PDF directly to you.

Audio Recording Apps

If you are going to the effort of using a DSLR to film an interview, short film or professional video, it’s worth going the extra mile and recording great audio. As with many of the apps in this list, an app for your smartphone can replace an expensive set up. In this case, using something like RØDE’s smartLav, you can use your phone to record high quality audio. Apps like RØDE Rec for iOS and RecForge II for Android give you professional level control over your audio recordings. When you go to edit your film, you can simply add the external audio and sync it to your film.

rode smartlav
RØDE’s smartLav connects to your smartphone so you can record high quality audio.

Conclusion

In this article I’ve talked about some of the great apps available to photographers that do  everything but take pictures. You can use your smartphones to collect model releases, add GPS metadata to your images, control your camera or simply find out whether you will get wet if you go outside in the next hour.

This list is far from exhaustive so please weigh in with your suggestions for other great apps for photographers in the comments.



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