Five Must-Have Apps for the Working Photographer

Five Must-Have Apps for the Working Photographer

There are thousands of apps out there to expand your mobile photography capabilities, but what about apps that augment your abilities when you're holding a DSLR? Here are five of my favorite apps to enhance your productivity.

1. The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE)

Available on iOS, Android, and as a web-based application, TPE is indispensable for natural light shooters and landscape photographers. By using your current location, or searching for a prospective spot, you can view the compass heading and angle of the sun and moon at all times of day, the phase of the moon, the hours of twilight, the size of shadows, upcoming celestial events, "golden hour" times, and so much more. Perhaps my favorite feature, however, is the visual search, which reverse engineers locations of the sun and moon, allowing you to find out exactly when those two bodies will be at a certain location in the sky. For example, say you found a beautiful grove of trees and wanted to capture the sun rising from behind them. Using the app, you can input the location in the sky at which you would like to see the sun and it will tell you the exact dates and times at which that will occur. This is a landscape photographer's dream. I'll frequently use this feature when I encounter a picturesque landscape and want to know when I should return to it for an optimal shot. The app definitely comes with a bit of a learning curve, at least for the advanced features, but they are more than worth taking the time to understand.

$8.99 | iOS

$4.99 | Google Play

TPE's interface is clean, pleasing, and informative.

2. Photographer's Tools

With a simple, clean, and unobtrusive interface, Photographer's Tools provides quick access to some of photography's most common and useful quantities. I use it most for its depth of field calculator, which also provides hyperfocal distances, making it undeniably helpful for landscape photographers. It also provides sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times, as well as twilight, blue, and golden hour windows. Lastly, it provides an ND filter calculator for determining how much to compensate an exposure. It also features a "gray card," which simply displays the digital equivalent of a neutral gray card; while phone displays obviously aren't considered professional level color-calibrated displays, it can be useful for providing a quick approximation when determining white balances. The app gets bonus points for presenting everything in a clean, uncluttered format that allows you to quickly access what you need and get back to shooting.

Free/$1.99 | iOS

$1.49 | Google Play

3. Easy Release

Are you a street photographer? Do you work with a lot of models? You're probably well-versed in model releases then (and if you're not, you need to be). Easy Release is just that: easy. I'm big on PDFs nowadays: I always have a copy of documents, I can easily share them, it's better for the environment, and it's much harder to spill my tea (as is my wont) on a PDF. With Easy Release, I can set up a custom release form (or multiple versions for different situations) that anyone can sign using just their finger, instantly generating a PDF that can be emailed to everyone who needs a copy (I do wish it had Dropbox integration). The best part is that major image houses such as Getty Images and iStockPhoto approve its use. Nonetheless, as with any legal matter, do not assume that its use automatically covers you; consult with your lawyer to make sure your releases and contracts are legally binding.

$9.99 | iOS

$9.99 | Google Play

4. Dark Sky Finder

Light pollution is the bane of every night sky photographer's work. Although light pollution generally correlates with metropolitan areas, finding truly dark locations can be tough sometimes. Dark Sky Finder is just the app for that, overlaying the relative light pollution levels on top of standard Google maps (you can choose street, satellite, or hybrid maps). It's a one-trick pony, but it does that trick well. It also shows designated dark sites, giving the address, accessibility, and general notes on the site, as well as other helpful information, such as entrance fees, parking, etc.

$1.99 | iOS only

Dark Sky Finder is straightforward and helpful.

5. Triggertrap

Yes, it requires you to purchase an accessory, but for $37, Triggertrap is relatively inexpensive as far as triggers go, and frankly, it's pretty stellar. It's also quite clever. Because it uses your smartphone as the trigger, it can receive updated capabilities as new versions of the app come out. It's also compatible (not all modes are available) with the Apple Watch and Pebble Smartwatch. The app is a joy to use and navigate; all trigger modes and relevant parameters are readily accessible and easily modified. Trigger modes include (but are not limited to): cable release, self-timer, sound, vibration, and motion sensors, and facial recognition. It also has extensive time-lapse capabilities, including two very neat modes: "TimeWarp" and "DistanceLapse." TimeWarp allows you to gradually vary the gap between successive exposures, thereby creating an acceleration or deceleration effect, while DistanceLapse is the spatial equivalent of a time-lapse, taking a shot each time the camera has traveled a predefined distance. It also includes HDR (up to 19 bracketed shots) and HDR Time-lapse modes.

Triggertrap also offers an adapter for use with flashes and a phone clamp that conveniently sits in the hot shoe adapter of your camera. It's my favorite setup for anything requiring an external trigger. Their paid Timelapse Pro app offers advanced time-lapse features, allowing you to program almost any conceivable sequence.

$37 | Triggertrap Mobile Kit

$29 | Triggertrap Flash Adapter

$22 | Triggertrap Smartphone Holder

Free | iOS

Free | Google Play

Bonus: Pocket Light Meter

Do you still shoot film? Pocket Light Meter is a surprisingly accurate light meter that allows you to set any two of the three exposure parameters, from which it will give you the appropriate setting for the third. It's simple to use, has a pleasing interface, and most importantly, provides trustable exposure readings. What more could you ask for?

Free/$1.99 | iOS

$.99 | Google Play

Smartphones are great for mobile photography, but they're also great for photography. Seeing as many of us have one on our person most of the time, there's no reason not to embrace the extra capabilities that can make your working life just a bit easier. Do you have any favorite apps that you use for your work? Share them in the comments!

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19 Comments

Wayne Denny's picture

I can definitely vouch for The Photographer's Ephemeris - my friend & I used it countless times while planning out where to shoot recently in Iceland. Any recommendations for a good app to find where the milky way will be appearing every night? Google sky map leaves a little to be desired...

Stellarium works great for me. It has a desktop and iOS client. Not sure about android.

Brian Reed's picture

I can vouch for Easy Release. It seems a bit on the "expensive" side for an app, but if you do a lot of portraiture work ... this app is indispensable to have. I have used it ... A LOT over the years.

Thanks for the heads up on the other apps as well. I've downloaded/added a few more to my toolbox. (*hehe*).

Michael Comeau's picture

+1 on Easy Release. I tried quite a few free model release apps and they all royally sucked.

Brian Reed's picture

Thanks for the heads up on this Oscar. I am for sure going to be checking out this app. Looks Sweet!!!

Juan Osorio's picture

I am glad that Oscar mentioned Photopills. I don't think any App can get close to what this little marvel does. Instead of showing you lines on maps you can actually point your phone to a certain point and you will find exactly if the sun or moon will ever be there and exactly when. It does everything that all apps combined do and much more. The only caveat is that it's only available for Apple. Their website mentions they will have the Android version in 2016. I don't have an Iphone, but this app is so amazing I was tempted to change my Android device just to have Photopills. Please if anyone finds an App more versatile or powerful than Photopills that also has an Android version, let us know.

PhotoPills is my app of choice for planning, locating, and composing Milky Way shots.

Wouter Oud's picture

Lightmeter (free or Pro) has more and better reviews than Pocket Light Meter, for Android.

John Teague's picture

The Photographer's Ephemeris is good, but I find Sun Surveyor to offer lots more features. It's TPE on steroids (but without a desktop version). Plus, it's very well supported. It's available on Android and iOS. Learn more here: http://www.sunsurveyor.com/

I tried sunsurveyor many times (because i didnt know any other app existed)..i never could ger an accurate reading ..something was always off..tried on multiple android devices...

PlanIt for Photographers is a great app, it is much much better than TPE and replaces Dark Sky Finder as well.
It has so many features I can't cover them all in a short post but among other things it shows the rise and set of the sun and moon, the milky way center, high and low tides and many other extremely useful features, like visualizing how the scene is going to look through the view finder. I find it an invaluable tool to plan my landscape shoots.
Highly recommended.

Philipp Scholz's picture

My favorite app is DSLR Controller.
It only works on Android and with Canon cameras but it's awesome!
You can connect your cam to your smartphone or tablet via usb and then shoot "tethered".
It's great- I recently shot some tree trunks for a project I'm working on.
I had my cam upside down on a tripod as low to the ground as possible and couldn't access the buttons and menus- so I hooked my 5D up to my smartphone fired up the app and did the whole shoot from there.

If you're devices are compatible, I can't recommend DSLR Controller enough:

http://dslrcontroller.com/devices.php

Clear Sky Droid provides a weather forecast based on cloud cover and other items that factor in night sky viewing. It doesn't look to be the same as the Apple Dark Sky Finder.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.jtb.csdroid

Evernote is a method of keeping notes and having it synced with your smartphone and computer; it's also accessible from any web browser. I keep my camera inventory with serial numbers as a note. Use it for notes for a photo shoot, etc.

PS: Few people still shoot film these days, but I do. EXIF4Film is an Android app that lets you record ISO, shutter speed, aperture, camera, lens, film and location so that EXIF info can be exported and added to JPEGs.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=dk.codeunited.exif4film

I've been using easy release since jan 2013 ..its a great app ..you end up building your database of addresses and talents and witnesses etc.. so you can simply re-use them saving you the precious minutes to re enter everything during a shoot..and for that reason you end being attached to it for a long time naturally...my only rant i wish it was easier to move it from one device to another which you will encounter eventually when you upgrade your phone or tablet...i had to do it a couple of times and it was no joy. A simple cloud based solution for database storage would resolve this issue.

All in all ..best app on the market and a great wow factor during shoots ..and anything that makes you look cool in client's eyes is worth the money in my view.

iZoner is, in my view, the best iOS light meter. It has normal, spot, colour, hi-low etc etc etc meters built in and is very accurate. Highly recommended.

This is a very useful article. Thank you! Although I do love the Photographer's Ephemeris, I've found that while on location, a much easier app to use is called Sunseeker. In the 3-D view, you can easily see where the sun will be at the local time. Sadly, I'm not sponsored, but I've used it many times in the field to quickly determine the path of the sun. Follow me on Instagram @susanseubert if you want to see it in action!

Another nice app I use a lot is ViewPointer: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=right.apps.photo.map
Helps a lot finding nice new points to shoot, especially when traveling somewhere new