There’s no question that smart phones have made planning our photographic adventures much easier. There seems to be an endless number of apps available, but which ones are the best? This list contains a few of my “can’t live without” photography apps that I find myself using on a regular basis.
The Best Planning App
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is perhaps the most useful app on the market when it comes to landscape photography. There are many planning apps out there, but TPE is my personal favorite. The app utilizes GPS to determine where the sun, moon, and milky way will be on any given date at any given time. The app works offline but will not be able to generate a map display when you’re out of service. That’s ok though, because TPE has an augmented reality feature which will show an overlay of the sun and moon paths as you move your phone around. This is really helpful if you want to know what angle the sun will be at on a future date or if you simply want to know where the sun will set or rise.
The app has a variety of features, including various map overlays such as stars and light pollution. For $30 a year you can add the Sky Fire overlay which predicts the odds of a good sunset and sunrise for a given location. Although the success of the predictions can vary, I find that the add-on is fairly accurate and a nice addition to TPE. Skyfire allows you to see predictions for all of you saved locations, and can even notify you with a push notification if the odds are looking good.
At the end of the day, TPE might be the best $10 app you ever buy.
The Best GPS Apps
Have you ever found an incredible location, only to get lost on your subsequent visit? Gaia will help prevent those frustrations from ever happening again. Now there are a lot of GPS apps on the market and I’ll explain why I use Gaia. First of all, it allows you to arrange your routes, waypoints, and maps into folders. This is extremely useful when you want to create groups based on a particular region such as different parks or countries.
Gaia allows you to record your route when hiking or driving and gives you a nice list of statistics such as elevation change, distance, and time. These stats take all of the guess work out when describing a trip to someone else. Another key feature is the ability to attach a photo to any of your waypoints. You can only have so many “interesting rock” waypoints before you loose track of what is what.
Gaia has four different map overlays including USGS topo, satellite, Gaia topo, and Austria topo. Any of these overlays can be downloaded for offline reference. The App has two ways of guiding you to a way point including a “guide me” feature which will draw a straight line to the waypoint you designate. Of course the world doesn’t always work in straight lines but this feature can be a helpful nonetheless. The other guided GPS option is driving directions but this feature is a little frustrating because it utilizes your phones native map system and if you don’t have service, you’re out of luck.
Unfortunately, Gaia has adopted a subscription based platform and now costs $19.99 a year for a membership. Like many apps, you have the option of paying more for a premium membership which has some pretty cool features. A premium account will give you access to National Geographic Trails illustrated maps, hunting maps, and 4×4 maps for $39.99 per year. It’s a bit steep, but if you are the type of person who will be using the app on a regular basis, the cost is justified.
Maps.me is another great GPS app, and the best part is that it’s free! Just like Gaia, this app allows you to place waypoints but it will not allow you to permanently record your tracks. There is a rumor that this feature will be added at some point in the future though. The app has a good interface and the maps load consistently, but don’t expect all of the overlays that Gaia provides. One feature that I like is that It will show you photos that are attached to a waypoint when you import from Google My Maps. This feature only works when you have an internet connection though.
The app allows you to color code your points, which can be very useful when you want to differentiate between a shooting location and a bathroom. There is a built in navigation system that is generally pretty good and even works offline when you download your maps in advance. On a side note, Maps.me is not always accurate with arrival times. I’ve seen it as much as a few hours off when going down less traveled roads. The good news it always over estimates so you will never be late!
Best Peak Identifier
We’ve all been in an unfamiliar area and looked up and said what peak is that? Luckily, Peak Visor has us covered. This app uses augmented reality to show you the names of the mountains that you’re pointing your phone at. Although the app can download maps on the fly with good service, it is much better to download the region you will be traveling to in advance.
The Best Tide Apps
If you’re going to be shooting near the ocean, it’s a good idea to know when high and low tide is. Tide Charts is a great app that will find the closest tide station to you as well as give you map or text search options. Unlike some other apps, Tide Charts allows you to view tide predictions well into the future for no extra costs. Another key feature is the ability to see the tide prediction height at any given time by sliding a target along a time scale. As an added bonus, this app has a built in weather forecast. All in all, this a great app that should be on every photographer’s phone.
Nautide has similar features to the Tide Charts app plus some additional features. Unlike Tide charts, Nautide shows surf predictions. This info can be more useful than the tide charts if you’re in a location that has high surf because the sizable surf will outweigh the tides anyway. The app includes many other features including wind speed, barometer, and water temperature. These extra features come at a cost though. You will have to pay $13.99 a year for a premium membership if you want to access any information other than the current day. The app is great for day use but you’ll have to fork over $13.99 a year for a premium membership if you want to use it for any serious planning.
The Best Night Sky App
There are many apps out there that tell you what stars and constellations you’re looking at in the night sky. I like Sky Guide because it has just about any feature that you could possibly want from a night sky app including a graphical interface as well as an AR option. The night vision mode is a great way to preserve your eyesight in the black of night too. The app shows the sky in real-time but also gives you the option of choosing any date that you like. One of the more unique features that sets this app apart from some of the others is that is has a built in calendar of major astrological events such a solar and lunar eclipses. This free app is a really great companion for anyone who enjoys the night sky.
The Best Weather Apps
There is certainly no shortage of weather apps with nearly 10,000 in the iOS store! So, which ones are worth it? I have a few favorites that I consistently use. I find that it is best to use a few to get an accurate reading of what is actually going to happen.
Dark Sky is my current favorite weather app. This app offers a wide range of forecasts including temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, uv index, wind speed, and more. You can display any of the forecasts in a weekly or bi-hourly view. The app provides pretty consistent predictions and does a good job of accounting for costal fog which some apps fail to do. A map feature offers a great way to view regional rain and temperature information in addition to the other features mentioned above.
The app has a time machine option that allows you to view past forecasts as well as future predictions for any date you choose. This could be helpful if you are planning a trip to a particular location and want to get a general idea of what the weather will be like during that time of year. Lastly, there is an extreme weather notifier which will send a push notification should you be in an area where severe weather is approaching.
Windy is a great weather app for those who want a seven day forecast in a radar format. The app not only predicts your standard forecasts such as temperatures, wind, and rain, but also has lightning strikes, surf, and water temperature. One of the greatest advantages of Windy is the fact that you can switch between three different forecast models including NOAA which is one of my favorite weather agencies, and the same model that the national parks use to predict their weather. The app provides up to date snapshots from webcams all over the world too, a nice bonus in an all around great app. As the name implies, the app is available online as desktop version too.
Long Exp is for all of the photo junkies out there who flunked math class. As the name implies, it’s a long exposure calculator. I’ll start off by saying that I don’t agree with all of the calculations that it makes but it definitely gets you in the ballpark of where you need to be. The app can help you determine your shutter speed in the following situations.
Stacking ND filters
ND grad calculator (more trouble than what is worth)
Shooting in moonlight
Star trail calculations
Pin point star calculations
Velvia 50 reciprocity failure
Araura borealis and more.