Once upon a time, taking photos, processing them, and getting your work seen meant hours toiling away in the darkroom or thousands of dollars spent on advertising. Those days are long gone. Today there are smartphone apps for both iOS and Android devices that make all aspects of photography, from location scouting to shoot planning to release signing, loads easier. This is a collection (in no particular order) of some of our favorites.
For Android and iOS
The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) has been one of the most popular shoot planning apps out there for a long time, especially for Android users who don’t yet have access to Photopills. Pick a location anywhere in the world, drop a pin on the aerial map, and see how the sun and moon will move across the landscape on a given date. TPE is very useful for planning shoots in locations you’re not familiar with. Going on a big trip and hoping to maximize your shooting time? That’s what TPE is there for. Getting good landscape shots is often a combination of good planning and a little bit of luck. TPE makes the planning part easier.
2. Google Earth
Good old Google Earth. If you’ve spent any time near a computer in the last decade or so you’ve probably played with Google Earth, but did you also know you can also use it on your phone? Google Earth is an incredibly useful tool for scouting out locations from afar. It allows you to easily see buildings, geological features, and other areas that might be of interest to you in planning a shoot. Google Earth uses a very simple interface that you’re probably already familiar with. There’s not much of a learning curve here. Just download the app, start getting the lay of the land, and get ready to shoot away.
3. Scene Scout
If you’ve ever gone scouting for locations and come home unable to remember what you just saw, Scene Scout is here to help. This useful scouting app allows you to collect details and photos from your scouting sessions, save them on your phone, and share them through social media. This not only makes it easy to remember and keep track of what you saw but also to share your ideas with friends, clients, and collaborators.
Light meters are useful for helping film photographers calculate exposure. Sure, you can carry around a separate light meter all the time but what if you could use your phone (which you already have on you) instead? The Pocket Light Meter app does just that. This useful little app measures the light in the room using your phone’s camera and allows you to adjust ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to see how it will affect exposure in your image, helping you to get your settings dialed in just right. And it’s surprisingly accurate.
There are many mobile editing tools out there but VSCO might be one of the most popular due to the large number of filters it has, the easy user interface, and the fact that it can also be used as a tool for sharing. Use the free VSCO filters or purchase additional ones for a small price. VSCO lets you adjust things like exposure, contrast, and white balance within the app. With a lot of different filter options to chose from, this app has something for everyone who likes to edit on their phone.
When it comes to retouching photos on your mobile device, Facetune is one of the best options out there. This app lets you do things like remove blemishes, whiten teeth, reshape faces, and correct red eyes right on your phone. For a mobile option, it’s incredibly powerful. It does have a steep learning curve which is to be expected from an app this powerful but getting the hang of it is well worth the effort. This app is useful for photos taken with your phone but also for ones transferred to your phone through wireless devices.
Lightroom is probably the most popular editing software around and the mobile app is a powerful tool for photographers who like to edit photos in the field. While other editing apps are handy for making adjustments to JPEGs, Lightroom Mobile ups the ante with RAW file editing. Keep in mind that RAW files are significantly larger than JPEGs so they will take longer to transfer from your camera and take up more space on your phone but for photographers who like to edit RAWs on the go, this app is invaluable.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve surely heard of Instagram, the wildly popular photo sharing app that was purchased by Facebook to the tune of $300 million. When it first hit the scene it was mostly used by people taking photos on their phones, applying sometimes cheesy filters to them, and sharing them with the world. Not anymore. These days Instagram has become one of the primary ways for photographers to get their work noticed, book paying gigs, and find inspiration. If you thought that Instagram was just for taking pictures of your coffee, think again.
Flickr was one of the first big photo sharing communities on the internet and, while it has a lot of competition today, it still has a big following. The Flickr app makes it easy to upload photos directly from your phone as well as to see what other people are doing. If you’re looking to get your work seen or get inspired by other photographers, Flickr is a great way to do it.
If you’ve ever wanted to share photos with your family and close friends without the pictures being seen by everyone you’re connected to on Facebook, Cluster is a great option. This app allows you to invite people to private groups where you can share, comment on, and “favorite” photos. It’s a great way to share photos and interact with the important people in your life while still maintaining some sense of privacy.
Having your gear stolen is the stuff of any photographer’s nightmares but all too often that nightmare becomes a reality. Lenstag wants to change that. Register your lenses, cameras, and other equipment with Lenstag (a photo of the serial number is required for proof of ownership) and, in the unfortunate event that your stuff goes missing, mark it as stolen on your account. If a third party buyer does a search for the serial numbers of the equipment you are missing, they will be notified that the stuff they are looking to buy was stolen. This app is helping to reunite photographers with their stolen equipment while also helping purchasers not buy illegally acquired goods.
12. Posing App
Few things are more uncomfortable than being in the middle of a shoot and running out of things to tell your subjects to do. It’s an awkward and terrible feeling. The Posing App helps make this a thing of the past. This app has posing ideas for everyone from couples to kids presented in a clearly drawn, easy to use fashion. Think of it as a posing cheat sheet that is stored right on your phone.
13. Easy Release
Model releases might not be the most exciting thing to talk about but if you’ve ever been in a situation where you see someone who looks awesome and want to take their picture, you know how important they are. The Easy Release app lets you get model releases right on your phone. It has contracts available in 12 different languages which is incredibly useful when traveling abroad. A model release is one of those things you don’t think about — until suddenly you need one. This app will make sure you always have one in your pocket.
14. Star Walk II
Astrophotography is a lot of fun but it can be challenging to know when and where to shoot to get the images that you want. Star Walker II makes this process a lot easier. While not technically a photography app, Star Walk II is extremely helpful for photographers who like to take pictures of the night sky. Star Walk II will help you identify stars and constellations and plan Milky Way shots anywhere in the world. If you’ve ever dreamt of nailing that perfect shot of the Milky Way rising over a certain location, Star Walk II can help you get there.
There is no shortage of weather apps on the market but the NOAA Hi Def Radar may be the best for photographers. This app gives you hi-def satellite imagery of approaching weather systems. This is useful not only for keeping you and your gear safe from inclement weather but also for getting those epic sky shots. If you’re wanting to find a break in the clouds, this app can help you do it. Bad weather can either make for great photos or a miserable shooting experience—this app will help you be on the right side of this equation.
16. My Aurora Forecast
Photographing the Northern Lights is a bucket list item for many photographers. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a place where the aurora borealis happens regularly, it’s going to take a lot of planning and a little bit of luck to get that perfect shot. My Aurora Forecast takes some of the guess work out of the equation by telling you when and where you’re likely to see the lights and sending push notifications to your phone if the likelihood is strong that the sky will light up in a given location. The app also provides aurora tour information for people who don’t want to go at it alone.
For iOS Only
PhotoPills is designed to be a one stop shop for location scouting and shoot planning. It’s especially useful for trying to plan a shoot from far away. This powerful app can tell you exactly where the sun and moon will be anywhere in the world on any given date. Want to know exactly when the Milky Way will be at a certain point above a particular feature in the land? PhotoPills’ augmented reality features can tell you. It uses augmented reality to help you plan and visualize your shots. This app has a bit of a learning curve but it’s well worth the effort to figure it out.
This is another great tool for learning about photography. Designed for beginners, The Great Photo App helps you learn the basics of things like lens selection, aperture, shutter speed, and depth of field in an interactive and easy to understand way. The app lets you play with exposure by moving sliders around to see how it changes the image. The lessons are designed for true beginners so you will outgrow this app fast but it’s still a great way to get started.
19. Dark Sky Finder
Getting great shots of the stars isn’t just about high ISOs or wide apertures—it’s also about finding the darkest skies possible. In a world with a lot of light pollution, this can be a challenge. The Dark Sky Finder app is here to help. This app uses information from NOAA and Google to compile a map showing where the darkest skies are found in any given place. For some locations it also provides crowd-sourced information on things like access restrictions, parking, and restrooms. This app helps take the pain out of finding a dark, safe place to shoot.
If true to life film emulation is your goal when editing on your phone, Filmborn may be your new favorite app. While VSCO tends to lean towards dark, contrasty photos, Filmborn swings to the light and airy side—and it does it really well. Made by the same people (and featuring the same emulated film stocks) as the folks behind Mastin Labs, Filmborn will let you edit photos on your phone with subtle, film-inspired tones. This app is free, easy to use, and allows for a lot of customization. Photos that you edited on your phone have never looked so good!
With the ability to have so many tools right in your pocket, doing photography has never been easier. These apps make it easier than ever to take beautiful photos, even if you’re just starting out. We hope this list has introduced you to your new favorite tool or helped you to see how something you’ve always used may be a useful for your photography. Now download some apps, maybe rent some new (to you!) equipment, and get out there and shoot!