My iPhone has become a valuable photography tool that I carry with me every time I’m out shooting and I’m not talking about shooting with the built in camera. It goes beyond just a way to communicate, it’s become an important tool that I don’t leave home without. So I thought I’d share some of the many apps that I have found invaluable in photography. All of these apps (except one) are not apps for taking pictures with your iPhone or iPad but tools to help you take better pictures with your camera (not your phone).
Note: While this article refers to iPhone apps, most of these apps are available for the iPad, Android or other smart phones and tablets. Availability varies, but all listed below are available for the iPhone.
Depth of Field Calculator $.99 cents
This is the newest tool on my iPhone. You can set your camera make and model, your focal length and it will calculate the depth of field for you. Since your depth of field changes with every lens millimeter setting and f/stop, I find this handy to help remind me what my depth of field should be to keep those birds in focus from wingtip to wingtip. For example, if I’m shooting a 500mm lens on my Canon 5D MIII, I might need an f/8 to f/11 to give me enough depth of field to get the entire bird in focus. I constantly want to shoot wide open at about f/2.8, so this is helpful reminder for me as a learning tool to get the right f/stop for the perfect depth of field.
For an extra .99 cents it has a handy exposure tool built in.
I realize this is stupid… but I can’t tell you how many times this app has come in handy when shooting at night or in low light and I’m trying to adjust my camera or change a battery in the dark. It’s simple, turn it on and it uses the built in flash bulb lit constantly as a source of light. Use it too much and you’ll burn down your battery on your iPhone.
Fellow photographer Mark Jones inspired this idea. On a field trip he had a device on which he could call up a specific breed of bird and it played an audio file of that birds chirp, chatter or song in order to attract the birds. This helped us take pictures of specific birds. So I looked for something similar on the App Store. There it was from the Audubon Society. Here you can not only call birds with songs, you can learn their calls, identify birds you’re shooting and post sightings from where you’re located.
Compass and Weather
I use these apps for weather photography together. When photographing lightening I will pull up a compass app and rotate it until I find true north. Then I’ll set the phone down still pointing at true north and then close the compass app and open my lightning app or my Radar Scope to see where the weather and lightning strikes are coming from as compared to my position. This allows me to point my camera in the right direction for optimal lightning strike stills or time lapse videos.
For looking at lightning on a map of your location, I use this Lightningcast app. It works well for me but there are many lightning apps out there. I often look at several weather apps to get a full weather picture.
There are many free compass apps. I’ve grown tired of the ads to I often will pop for the $.99 versions. This one works fine for me. It also has a map locator. I use this in combination with many weather apps to learn the direction of approaching storms.
Radar Scope $9.99
My friend and coworker Meteorologist Nate Johnson at WRAL-TV in Raleigh turned me on to this next app. It is called Radar Scope. If you’re looking off into the distance and you see thunderheads, breakout the iPhone and pull up this app. It’s really very cool… and sophisticated. Frankly some of its technology is over my head but I can see the rain intensity and distance from where I’m standing… and whether I need to take shelter from the storm. I love this app. It is also animating the rain so if I’m doing a time lapse I can set my camera (again using my compass) so that I can make sure the rain bands are moving through my shot by anticipating the direction that the rain is moving.
Easy Timer Free
When I’m shooting at night I can set this timer in the dark easily, set my camera to bulb and go. When the timer goes off, I can release the shutter. This allows for very long night exposures without an intervalometer (timer for your camera). It’s handy for all kinds of things.
Star & Planet Finder Free
You’ve got to love free and you’ll love this app. This allows you to find the sunrise before the sun rises. While it is not perfect you can get a sense of where the sun will rise especially on a cloudy day when you’re just not sure exactly where it is coming from. This app uses your camera in the iPhone and overlays the stars and planets you choose over your live scene. This is a must have app… especially with its free price tag.
“Planets” is another excellent resource for looking at the night sky and identifying the constellations. It is not a live directions view, you’ll need to determine which direction you are facing and rotate the sky in the app to the direction you are looking. Again, you can’t beat free.
If you have a GoPro camera then the GoPro app is a must have tool. It provides a wireless live view (3-4 second delay) since there is no viewfinder on a GoPro camera. This app allows for remote trigger to start and stop recording, allows for remote set up and more. Note that you cannot see a live view while the camera is recording.
This is probably the least used of the apps I have. It shows the direction of light and directions of shadows. I find it a little difficult to understand and really don’t find a good use for it yet.
Golden Lite Free
Golden Lite a.k.a. Golden Hour simply shows you the time of day in your area when the light will be best to capitalize on that golden hour… or when the light is just beautiful before sunset and just after sunrise. It also has a compass, will show sunrise/sunset times and more.
PS Express Free
PS Express is Adobe’s free Photo Shop for iPhones app which allows for very basic corrections of photos on your iPhone. It allows for pictures to be taken through the PS Express App or recalling an image from the Camera Roll on your iPhone. Built in are several filters (such as vibrant, dream, glow, vivid, haze, etc.) that allow for different applications that can automatically be applied to your photos as well as basic image correction.
Both iStockPhoto and Shutterstock have free apps for people wishing to search and purchase stock photography via their smart phone.
iStock Contributor Free
I love this app since I’m an iStock contributor. This free app shows photographers and graphic artists who sell images on iStock their latest revenue, last images purchases, last image approved, pending images and more.
Photographers Contract Maker $2.99 (there is a free lite version)
This is by far one of my favorite apps. If you’re going to sell any of your images that have people or private locations in them, you’ll need to get a Model Release Form (or Location Release Form) signed. This app allows you to use the Photographers Contact Maker boilerplate form or pre-load your own Model Release Form. Then while you’re out shooting and you run into situation where you take an image with someone in it, you can ask the person in your shot to sign a form right there on the spot. Simply pull up the Photographers Contract Maker form you have pre-loaded, ask the subject to type in their information in the fields provided in the app, when completed the model can read and sign the contract with their finger or stylist right on the phone. Once done a completed signed version of the contract is produced and can be emailed to all parties involved right from your smart phone before leaving the shoot. I love this app and have used it many times. It is great for approaching strangers after photographing them in real life situations. People are always more than happy and flattered that you wish to use their likeness. I’ve never been turned down yet. Of course I always volunteer to share a copy of the image with the person as a "thank you" for allowing me to use their image. It’s well worth the investment if you sell your images anywhere. Yes there is an iPad version of this one. I have both.
No Budget Slate Free
For those who want to use a slate at the head of a series of photos, time lapse sequence or video, this little slate is handy and free. The only downside is you’re very limited on the open text you can enter on this little iPhone slate. Some fields only allow a few characters. I’ve found slates on the iPad I like better (below) but when I’m out away from my vehicle, I’m not going to carry my iPad just for a slate. This comes in handy as a backup as I will always have my iPhone with me.
I like to slate a lot of my shooting sequences for stills, video and time lapse sequences as it helps me keep track in post-production of which flash card I’m using, subject matter and so on. Stacking of images in Adobe Bridge helps keep things neat and easy to find. Using slates with stacks is like having a title sheet on top of a stack of pictures identifying what is in the stack. Thus all I need to see in Bridge are the slates of subjects on top of image stacks which help me find my images quickly without having to peruse thousands of images.
TIZA Slate $1.99
Since we're talking slates... While this is not for the iPhone but for the iPad… this is the slate I use and like the most shooting video and time lapse sequences on my DSLR. I realize that all of that information is in my Meta Data but it is just easier when looking through thumbnails of stacks to find exactly the shots series I want. Additionally when shooting video the clap board is vital in keeping audio synced with video should they be separated during the editing process.
Tide Chart Free and $1.99 Version
For those of us near the beach, we like to know what the tides are doing to help us understand the conditions and visibility of rocks and objects we might want to photograph along with knowing what wildlife might be active. For example shore birds often feed at low tide or subsurface rocks, old pier pilings etc. might only be visible at low tide. This app gives us a quick glimpse of tide conditions and when it the best time to shoot.
Use this app to level your camera and or tripod. This is especially useful when shooting panoramic sequences that will later be stitched together. While software these days help with uneven shots, the better shots you have to begin with, the better odds of a great final product.
TimeLapse Helper Free
This is a time lapse calculator not an intervalometer for your iPhone. However there are several apps for the iPad and iPhone that will allow you to create time lapse video right in your smart device (but not this app). Using those apps would require a tripod or mount for your device so that your phone or tablet does not move while recording the series of time lapse images. Those apps will shoot the images and compile them into a movie right on your smart device. Search the App Store for Time Lapse Movie Makers if that’s what you want. I’ve seen them, but I don’t shoot my Time Lapses with them. I want the quality of my Canon cameras or the GoPro to get the best final movies I can make.
This Time Lapse Helper allows me, in the field, to figure how long to shoot, how many images to take or the total length of the finished video will be based on frame interval (time between frames), frames per second (in finished video such as 30 Frames Per Second) and time shooting (how many hours do I need to let the camera run) etc. I realize that sounds confusing. An example would be if I wanted a 20 second finished time lapse video (say of clouds dancing across in the sky) shooting one frame every five seconds and 500 images with a playback rate of 30 frames per second, this calculator tells me that I need to shoot for 50 minutes with those parameters.
Other Apps - Surf, Wind and Snow Apps - There are apps out there for those who like to photograph surfing, wind boarding and snow skiing… to help show the current conditions. These are not apps I currently use but thought they were worth mentioning. I use regular weather apps to determine what the surfing conditions are in this coastal town.
There are hundreds of apps out there to assist the photographer. There are other apps that help you to be creative with your smart phone such as Instagram. Apps like Instagram are not for me but there is a huge fan base for them.
If you have any apps that you like to use that help you with photography, I’d love to hear your comments here. Feel free to add your favorite app tools to this article in the comment section below.