If Spock had a DSLR or iPhone, which photography Apps would he download? Well, the answer is logical.
I can’t tell you how many websites and blogs are reviewing the same photography Apps over and over. Undoubtedly, there are a ton of great Apps on the market – with many more titles appearing on a weekly basis. Some highly rated Apps that immediately come to mind include: Adobe Photoshop Express, Camerabag, Best Camera, TiltShift Generator, Hipstamatic, Gorillacam, Photogene, and Photo fx, just to name a few (yes, I’ve probably left out your favorite photography/camera App – so let me apologize in advance).
But many of these Apps are designed to enhance or manipulate existing photos, or help you optimize the camera in your mobile device.
So, I thought I would come up with a list of cool alternative photography Apps that might help DSLR or mobile photographers accomplish something else – such as finding the right light; optimizing depth of field and focus, or even predicting dramatic weather events – from sunsets and lunar photography to the awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis.
Overall, you’ll find that many of the Apps I’m recommending are designed to help you better prepare for your outdoor shoot – whether you’re in the process of scouting shooting locations in advance or are attempting to chase down some fleeting weather event as it’s magically unfolding. And it goes without saying that many of these Apps would also appeal to weather and astronomy aficionados – as well as to those photographers who specialize in other genres such as Urban photography.
Now of course, I’ve thrown in a few obvious choices (like Google Earth) – and maybe a few other non-essential “fun” Apps (like Inspire) that might make you question my credibility. But rest assured, there is a method to my madness – and I’d like to believe that every App serves some higher purpose, even if that purpose is not readily apparent.
It is important to note that many of these Apps are not for the faint of heart. Don’t expect to just press the App icon and have everything delivered to you in a nicely wrapped package with a tidy bow. If you really want to get the most out of these Apps, you’re going to have to take the time and effort to learn the science behind them. For example, what is Base Reflectivity? What does Azimuth mean? What is a Planetary K-index? The good news is, there is a wealth of information at your virtual fingertips that can be easily researched and referenced online.
Keeping the target audience in mind, my list is probably geared more to the “self-described photography, weather or astronomy geek,” than it would be to the casual photography user.
1. The Photographers Ephemeris ($8.99 by Crookneck Consulting): Would you love to know when the sun or moon will appear from behind a hill? The TPE is a great tool to help you plan your outdoor photography shoots. Night or day, see how the light will fall on the land for any location on earth. This map-centric sun and moon calculator will accurately tell you information like: time and direction of sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset; phase of the moon and illumination; times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilight; time-zone detection; elevation; sun/moon azimuth and altitude; distance, bearing and elevation between any two points; and much more. An excellent resource for the committed outdoor photographer. http://photoephemeris.com/
The Photographer's Ephemeris
2. LightTrac ($4.99 by Rivolu): Be at the right spot at the right time. Similar to The Photographer’s Ephemeris but maybe slightly easier to use, this App allows you to quickly determine what time and location the outdoor lighting conditions will be ideal to photograph. Like the TPE, this App utilizes a wealth of Sun and Moon data overlaid on top of Google Earth satellite or map imagery. Both LightTrac and TPE utilize GPS positioning. Rivolu also sells a basic Sun/Moon App called VisiMoon that is geared to the casual enthusiast, which is equally excellent. On a side note, if you want to see some amazing high-def images of the moon, check out Moon Globe HD by Michael Howard (99 Cents). http://www.lighttracapp.com/
3. Depth of Field Calculator (99 Cents from Essence Computing):
I really like this App, and for a buck – you can’t beat it. This easy-to-use calculator takes the guess work out of trying to determine optimal depth of field. After selecting your camera type/circle of confusion, simply type in the distance to your subject, working focal length, and aperture – and this App will automatically calculate the near and far distances of acceptable focus, while displaying results on an intuitive diagram that can be filtered by metre, mm, feet or inches. It even calculates hyperfocal distance. There are quite a few DOF calculators out there, although I consider this one to be one of the better choices. http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/depth-of-field-calculator/id356339910?mt=8
Depth of Field Calculator
4. RadarScope ($9.99 by Base Velocity LLC): This is some serious radar for the advanced weather, photography or storm-chasing enthusiast. If radar were a DSLR, this would be the the D3x. Utilizing NEXTRAD Level 3 radar data, you can select any base radar station by location (choose from over 140 different radar sites closest to your shooting location). Find out where the latest Tornado, Severe Thunderstorm or Flash Flood warnings are occurring. View radar using multiple filter types, including Base Reflectivity, Composite Reflectivity, Base Velocity, Storm Velocity, Surface Rainfall, Echo Tops and much more. The only drawback to this App is that you have to figure out what all the weather mumbo jumbo means – but that’s what the Internet is for. Bring out your inner Ron Burgundy. http://www.basevelocity.com/RadarScope/
5. My-Cast Weather Radar ($1.99 by Digital Cyclone): One of the best real-time, animated pro-sumer radar Apps on the market with no ads. Includes weather and StormWatch maps, weather warnings and advisories, detailed forecast data and graphs, along with one-push GPS positioning. A must for any serious photographer looking to predict outdoor drama before or while it’s happening. You can view weather advisories through the StormWatch map, although you’ll need to purchase the severe weather upgrade package (which is billed on a monthly or yearly subscription basis) to view other severe weather alerts, including lightening strikes. http://www.digitalcyclone.com/products/mobile-my-cast/iPhone/
6. Radio NOAA (Free by Newkey Technology): Listen to current NOAA weather reports as they’re happening. This simple App gives you unlimited access to over 200 NOAA weather stations. It’s not perfect and some stations are missing or inactive, but it can be a nice compliment to the RadarScope and My-Cast weather Apps. And yes, it’s free. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/radio-noaa/id390581757?mt=8
7. Solar Monitor ($1.99 by egrafic): Planning a photography trip to Alaska, Iceland or Northern Canada? Are you interested in photographing the amazing Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights? Then this App is perfect for you. We’re coming off a slow period of geomagnetic activity, but things are starting to really heat up – with an expected peak in 2012/2013. Similar in scientific complexity to the RadarScope App, view amazing solar telescope images taken from NASA’s SOHO solar observatory in near real time. View mass coronal ejections and check out the geomagnetic storm activity happening at the northern and southern Auroral Ovals. Features space weather predictions and forecasts. Don’t buy this unless you are committed to learning some of the science. http://www.solarmonitor.eu/
8. 3D Sun (Free by Dr. Tony Phillips): Developed in collaboration with NASA scientists, this App is a nice accompaniment to the Solar Monitor and Aurora Forecast Apps. It features some interesting 3-D images and solar movies. News alerts are provided by a Ph.D trained astrophysicist to inform you of important solar events, including Aurora viewing conditions. This App has a few minor bugs, but it’s free. http://3dsun.org/
9. Aurora Forecast (Free from Husky Code): Powered by the Geophysical Institute at UAF, this simple App displays a geomagnetic strength rating scale to tell you what type of Northern Light activity is occurring in Alaska, North America, Europe and at the Poles. It will also show you a visual map of Aurora activity in each of these locations. Nice to have in conjunction with the other solar Apps. http://www.huskycode.com/aurora/
11. Nikon Lenses (Free by Taggart Gorman): This App is simply a guide to Nikon’s current lineup of F-Mount lenses – along with pictures, links, pricing and reviews. Taggart Gorman also produces a similar App for Canon and Tokina lenses. Now you can dream about those lenses you’ve always wanted, but can’t afford. http://www.nikonreviewcentral.com/nikonlensesapp.php
12. B&H Photo (Free by B&H Photo Video): Feed your NAS/CAS (Nikon/Canon Acquisition Syndrome) with a link to the world famous NYC-based photography megastore, B&H Photo. Search, browse and purchase from their entire inventory. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/
13. Naturespace (99 Cents to $2.99 per recording by Holographic Audio Theater): Great for photographic pre-visualization exercises or to help connect you to the great outdoors. Almost as good as “being there.” This audiophile-quality holographic 3-D headphone or earbud-optimized listening experience completely immerses you in the wondrous and diverse sounds of nature – transporting you to the cool river, the deep forest, the wildflower meadow, or to the crackling fire at night listening to the haunting howl of the wolves. The recordings are so good in fact, you won’t just hear them – you’ll actually see them. While not a photography App in the traditional sense, it is a tool to help you get in touch with your inner Zen and creative self – which will make you a more mindful photographer. Highly recommended! http://www.naturespace.com/
14. Inspire ($4.99 by KiwiPixel):
So why in the world would I be recommending a painting app for photographers? Well my friend, it’s to help you flex your creative muscles. I’m one of those people that believes that a cross-disciplinary approach is the best way to help you fine tune your photographic skills while stimulating creative centers in the brain. And this is accomplished by exposing your mind to things like painting, poetry, creative writing, music, scientific discovery, what have you. This painterly App is one of the most realistic out there and a lot of fun. Use your own paintings to better explore the artistic and emotional constructs behind good symmetry, design, balance, color harmony, spatial relationships, lines, shapes, forms, etc. http://kiwipixel.com/Inspire/index.html
15. 3D Gallery X ($9.99 from caweb.de): Would you like to digitally display your work in a gallery-like setting? This cool 3-D gallery App allows you to place your photos into photo-realistic rooms. If you’re looking for an interesting and visually striking way to display your art to peers or clients, this App might just be your cup of tea. http://caweb.de/caweb/3D_Gallery.html
3D Gallery X
Feel free to post your own recommendation under my comments section!