There are many extremely useful applications available for Android and iOS smartphones on the market. In today’s day and age, almost every person with a mobile phone, owns a smartphone. And that smartphone is used for everything – web browsing, social media, finance, fitness, the list goes on.
Why not photography too? If you are not using your smart phone to help plan shoots, edit photos, and more…then you are missing out. It can be a crucial piece in your photography arsenal. A lot of these applications are used universally by esteemed photographers. Great shots just don’t happen (unless you are on a Backcountry Journeys workshop), and these applications help you prepare.
In this post, I’d like to highlight some applications that I use on a daily basis for photography. To give you a quick snapshot, I use editing applications, map applications, GPS applications, photo storage applications, and weather applications.
All of these combine to help me scout locations, take actual photographs, edit those photos and finally share those photos. Some of these applications are free and some are paid. All are definitely worth it so let’s take a closer look to learn why? I will spend the most time discussing the scouting applications, specifically The Photographer’s Ephemeris and PhotoPills. If you are not using these applications, you should be.
I use four applications on my phone for the majority of my scouting work – Google Earth, Google Maps, PhotoPills, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D. The Google applications are used mainly for scouting new locations or trying to get an idea of what the landscape looks like, we will get to those shortly.
In my opinion, PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris are MUST-OWNs, and the best applications to have across all those listed in this article. They are paid applications, but they return their value instantly if you spend a lot of time shooting in the field.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D
- 3D topographic maps with simple navigation options
- Sun, moon and galactic center continuous timeline showing key rise, set and transit events
- Full search capability to find your location (or enter decimal or DMS coordinates directly)
- Automated playback to watch a real-time or faster-than-real time simulation of the light
- Flying mode for quick movement around a scene
- Enhanced mode for maximum topography and shadow detail
- Direct elevation control for the 3D model camera
- Camera pitch and bearing indicators
- Moon phases are rendered accurately in the 3D scene
- Zoom in/out to equivalent 35mm focal length in enhanced mode
- Daily and annual events lists
- Shared location database with TPE
- Navigation and Artificial Highlights lighting modes
- Support for multiple map pins
- User settings for controlling scene complexity
- Compatible with our sister app TPE
I recently started using TPE 3D and it is by far my favorite application for planning shoots. Unfortunately, it is only available for iOS at this time (sorry Android users) and it costs $11.99, which is an absolute steal.
The creators state that TPE 3D is a unique natural light visualization tool for outdoor and landscape photographers. It’s a map-centric Sun, Moon and Milky Way calculator: see how the light will fall on the land in 3D, day or night, for any location on earth.
It is absolutely amazing. You can use this application to see how light will fall on certain areas during specific times. You can also use it to visualize how the Milky Way might look over a feature. For instance, I am headed to Mount Rainier in a few days and I wanted to see how the light would fall on Rainier at sunrise and sunset on October 10th. I plugged that date in and searched for the exact spot I wanted to shoot from, I dropped a pin and panned through to sunrise and sunset. I was able to see exactly how sunrise light hit the mountain and the same for sunset light. It is so useful to plan for shots, especially when you have never been to a location before and have no idea what the light looks like at different times.
TPE 3D builds a 3-dimensional model of the landscape and overlays it with a detailed topographic map so you can see roads, mountain names, overlooks, trails, etc. You can also use the application to see moonrise and Milky Way. For instance, you can see exactly when and where the moon will be in the sky during specific times, and the same goes for the Milky Way. If you are an iPhone user, buy this application immediately. It is worth it. TPE has several other applications you should check out.
- PLANNER – Easily plan images nobody has taken before
- WIDGETS – Traveling? Enjoy all daily Sun, Moon and Milky Way information in just one swipe
- 2D MILKY WAY – Plan any Milky Way shot you imagine comfortably on a map
- AUGMENTED REALITY – Get it right! Visualize Sun, Moon and Milky Way position and path
- AWARDS – The place where your photos are honored, rewarded ($6,600) and shared with the World
- LOCATIONS & PLANS – Explore, manage your locations. And never miss a unique scene again, save your photo-plans
- SUN – All you need to know about the Sun, twilights and magic hours
- MOON – Rise and set times, calendar, phases, and Supermoon dates
- EXPOSURE – Easily calculate equivalent exposures with filters, in low light and at night
- DOF – Decide what you want in focus
- TIME LAPSE- Quickly compute parameters needed to collect sequences of still images to create time lapse videos
I use PhotoPills in combination with TPE applications. I enjoy both and I think both are worth having. PhotoPills is a do-it-all application. PhotoPills is only $9.99 so it is a great investment. It has a 2D map to plan shoots with the sun, moon, and Milky Way. I use it the most to plan for night photography. It is extremely easy to see where the galactic core of the Milky Way will be at specific times of the year. You can drop a pin anywhere on the map, scroll through times, and get a great overview of Milky Way positioning. I also use the 2D application for a general sense of what angle the sun will rise and set, as well as the moon. It can be a great tool for planning all types of shots. I really like PhotoPills for the other tools it provides as well.
It has a DOF calculator, an exposure calculator, and a timelapse calculator. All very useful. For instance, say I want to calculate a long exposure time or exposure time with an ND filter on, PhotoPills can do that for you in a few seconds. The app also has an Augmented Reality feature.
You can use that app on location to see a visual image of where sun, moon, and Milky Way will be at certain times.
I use the 2D features of PhotoPills in conjunction with the 3D features of TPE and really enjoy that combination.
I won’t spend a lot of time covering these applications, but you should definitely play around with Google Earth and Google Maps if you are looking to scout a new location. Google Earth provides 3D imagery for the entire planet. The resolution is amazing and you can a good idea of how an area looks just from using the application. I use it every single day to see what locations look like and to try and find new spots. It is incredibly powerful. I also use Google Maps a lot, mainly for their street view options. I can get street view images from many locations around the world. There is also public panorama imagery integrated with street view, and many times I will find those points on Google Maps for trails or other less visited areas. I use the 360-degree panoramic images to get an idea of how the area looks. Nothing beats being there in person, but these are great applications to help before you get to that point.
As nature photographers, a lot of the places we visit are remote and lacking cell coverage. Owning a GPS can be extremely useful, but they are expensive. There is another option, a GPS application on your phone. Gaia GPS is the best that I have used. It is a subscription-based product at $20/year, but it is definitely worth it. Gaia GPS works just like a normal GPS and does not need cellular service to work. You can pre-download high-quality maps for areas, track routes, and keep waypoints. I use this along with my Garmin inReach to help me navigate on trips. I often find locations on Google Earth/Maps, then drop waypoints on Gaia GPS or load GPS tracks from others for those locations.
I also always pre-download a map for the area I am visiting. Even if you are just driving on roads, it can be useful for navigation when you lose service.
My Aurora Forecast & AlertsAurora
I use this application for finding projecting and predicting the Northern Lights. I find it is one of the best overall applications for KP indices, solar data, and mapping out the best real-time spots for capturing the Aurora. The extended forecasts have great accuracy as well. If you are ever chasing the lights, download this application. I used it extensively during my latest trip to Iceland.
NOAA (not an application)
Weather dictates all that we do when it comes to photography. We are always chasing the best light. I find that the most accurate weather data comes straight from our government with NOAA. There is no application at this time but simply navigate to – weather.gov. You can find detailed hourly tables document precipitation, cloud cover, temperature, humidity, lightning probability, etc. There is a lot of great data. You can also read specific projected forecasts for an area that is written by meteorologists. Also, check out the GOES satellite imagery and loops, they provide a great look into localized precipitation and cloud cover across a few hours. It is one of the best sources for weather, I just wish they had an application.
Adobe Lightroom CC Mobile
Adobe Lightroom CC for mobile is very similar to the desktop version. You can organize, edit, and share images all from the application. Move sliders around and drag filters over your images or export images to send to family. One of the most powerful features of this application is the ability to capture RAW files through the camera on your phone. It is no secret that smartphone cameras are becoming better and better, and the latest phones have incredible cameras. Use this app to shoot RAW on your phone and make your smartphone camera that much better. You can then edit those images right on your phone, as well as images from your ‘real’ camera too.
SnapSeed is the best mobile editing application. I prefer it over the Adobe Lightroom mobile application, but SnapSeed does not have a feature to allow your smartphone camera to capture RAW images. The interface is extremely simple and you have options to make adjustments for many different settings – white balance, brightness, contrast, highlights, shadows, crop, and more. You can save presets and apply pre-loaded presets to your images. It is a very powerful application and works great for phone captures, as well as your main camera captures too. The best part is it’s completely free.
I use Google Drive to manage all of my images for sharing. There are many options, this is just one and the one I use. I upload editing images (JPGs, TIFFs) to Google Drive and then I have the ability to access them on my desktop, laptop, or my phone. I usually edit an image on my desktop, upload it to Google Drive, download it on my phone, then share it on social media.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Image Review: Landscape Edition
with Matt Meisenheimer & Kenton Krueger
Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)