A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about taking better photos with your iPhone, but sometimes, the camera in your pocket just isn't going to cut it. That doesn't mean you should leave that handy little device at home, though (as IF!). There are some fantastic iPhone apps that can help you to step up your “big camera” photography game in double time.
If you are having trouble wrapping your head around the exposure triangle and what is affected by of the settings on your DSLR, try downloading an app called Camera Sim. It shows a simple scene, with some foreground and background objects and an element of motion. You can select different camera settings and see how it would render the scene, by replicating exposure, depth of field, motion and noise. It will also suggest different scenarios, and then you select your settings, snap a “photo” of the moving scene and it will tell you how well you did and offer tips on how you could improve your settings for next time. The app has several example photos of the same scene, at different focal lengths and you can even play with the distance from the camera to the subject and see how that will affect your depth of field and field of view. It is difficult to explain, but if you learn better from visual examples and performing tasks than by reading about a subject, then this might really help you make a leap of understanding. The app is about $2, but there is also a free version online that you can play around with.
The Great Photo App
Another good resource for learning the basics of photography is The Great Photo App. This goes a little further than Camera Sim, with lessons on composition and lighting, as well as all the photography basics. Everything is broken down into very short, simple lessons, with a little task to complete in-app at the end of the lesson, to ensure that you have grasped the concept. Most of the modules are included for $2.99, with extra, in-app purchases for additional modules on Studio Portraits and Location Lighting.
So, you've got the basics down, but now you're hearing about speedlights and strobes and modifiers and Rembrandt lighting, it can be very daunting. The Light Studio app shows you examples of styles and setups for the most common one, two and three light setups and on location lighting. An interesting feature of this learning resource is the 3D modeling component, where you can position the lights and then turn the model from side to side and see how the light and shadows are affected. For $1.99 in the app store, it's a fairly painless introduction into the world of off-camera lighting. Once you feel ready to dive a little deeper into learning about photography, lighting, and photo editing, you might want to consider subscribing to Improve Photography Plus, to gain access to ALL of the training videos, books and presets that the Improve Photography team have created. There's even a free 14-day trial…but sadly, no iPhone app.
If you have something techie that you want to learn, Lynda.com will have you covered. Photography, lighting, and Photoshop – yup, but also building a website, graphic design, accounting software and all those other myriad skills that any photographer who goes into business for themselves will need to have at some point. The iPhone and iPad apps are free, but you will need a paid subscription to access most of the content.
The Photographer's Ephemeris
It's quite a mouthful, and will heretofore be known as TPE, but if you can get past the name, The Photographer's Ephemeris is an invaluable tool for planning a location shoot. Drop a pin on a map, enter the date you'll be there and it will show you the direction and time of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. Tap on the event that you're interested in and it will tell you if there are any geographical features obstructing your view. I've even been known to use it to pick a campsite, because, you know…if I have to get up at 4:30 AM, it hurts a little less if I have a great view of the sunrise from right in front of my tent, and being able to see colour creeping into the sky is the only thing (short of a natural disaster) that will get me out of my toasty sleeping bag. For me, TPE was beginning to be overshadowed by the next app that I'm going to discuss, but now they have teamed up with Skyfire, a subscription service that predicts the likelihood of colourful skies for upcoming sunrises and sunsets, so now you can have that overlay on the map as well, which really takes it to the next level for me. At $8.99 in the US app store, plus subscription fees for Skyfire, it's a bit of an investment, but you're worth it. There is a free desktop app if you want to see what it's all about.
Photo Pills is my favourite app for planning when I'm already at the location. It does the same things TPE does (excepting the Skyfire overlay) and does a few others, as well but most notably it has an “augmented reality” view that allows you to look at the scene in front of you, through the camera's live view and then it overlays the sun's path or the night sky over the scene to show exactly where and when the features will appear. Add in a bunch of other cool features like a Depth of Field calculator, Hyperfocal Table, Star Trail Planner and “Spot Star” planner (which tells you the longest shutter speed you can use with your camera and lens and still get sharp, pinpoint stars) and this app is pretty hard to beat. It's another of the more expensive apps, at $9.99, but if you do any on location shooting, I think you will want at least one of these planning apps in your arsenal.
A recent find for me, Storm is a weather app that Nick Page has recommended on the Improve Photography and Tripod Podcasts. What makes Storm different from the other several hundred weather apps in the app store? Satellite and radar overlays that show you the direction the weather is moving in, giving you a leg up in your storm chasing endeavours. Possibly the coolest feature of this app is the lightning alert that you can set to let you know if there is lightning within a certain radius of your location (you select the number of miles distance that you want to be alerted to). Heartbreakingly, this feature is only available in the Continental US and not yet useful to me in Canada, but maybe someday. There is no obstacle to checking out this app as this one is free!
Stuck On Earth
You've chosen a destination for a trip, but you've never been there before. All of these planning apps are great, if you have at least a rough idea of the locations you're going to be shooting, but first you need to find out where the most photogenic spots are. That's where the Stuck On Earth app by Trey Ratcliff comes in. Find an area on the map and zoom in to see beautiful photos of the area you'll be visiting and find out exactly where they were taken. In fairness, this one is more enjoyable on an iPad or tablet than on a phone, but it is still functional. More than just a hodgepodge of photos, the featured ones that rise to the top are selected by a combination of algorithm and curation, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found as you zoom in, as well. Great for inspiration and daydreaming, even if you don't have a trip planned…yet. Dreamin' is free, as Deborah Harry once said (sang) and so is this app.
If you're new to shooting portraits, you will be glad to have this handy Posing Guide in your pocket. There's a lot to remember when posing people, like creating shapes and keeping limbs away from the body and for heaven's sake, do something with those hands…it can be overwhelming. I, personally suck at directing people (but I rock at directing dogs) and I totally freeze up and can't think of more than one or two poses and then…total blank. I tend to avoid doing human portraits, but for those occasions when I am roped into it by friends or family, I am super relieved to have this posing guide available to help unblock me. After using a couple of poses from the guide, I begin to loosen up and gain confidence and can usually take it from there on my own. The app includes a Tips and Tricks section, as well as posing guides for a number of situations, including Men, Women, Children, Couples, Groups, Weddings and Glamour; it costs $2.99 on the US app store.
Ok, this one may not improve your photography, per se but it will definitely improve your photography business, even if you only casually sell the odd print or licence the occasional photo. Pixel Cents is a calculator that gives you an idea of how much to charge for a print or digital file, based on size, resolution, and intended usage. It even has a slider that you can move from “emerging pro” to “established pro” to “specialist”, recognizing that not every photographer can demand the same dinero for their work. Even so, if you're just starting out, you may be surprised by how much you've been undercharging. $3.99 on the app store…that may lead to more profits in your wallet.
The Podcasts app is free, preinstalled on your iPhone and busting at the seams with information on every topic you can possibly imagine, including photography. If you workout or commute to your job, why not spend that time on some painless, passive learning? There are so many awesome photography podcasts, including several produced by Jim Harmer and his team of podcasters from Improve Photography. My favourites are the original Improve Photography Podcast and the Tripod Podcast, but Portrait Session and Photo Taco are great, too. I also enjoy This Week In Photo, PetaPixel Photography Podcast, The Business of Photography – Sprouting Photographer and Full Time Photographer with Josh Rossi. Each one is different, some are focused more on business, others on photographic techniques and still others are more focused on news that might be interesting to photographers. There are podcasts about gear, street photography, travel photography, you name it. If you dig deep into what's available, you are pretty much guaranteed to find a podcast that appeals to your interests and with a host that you find enjoyable to listen to.
Learn Photo 365
The Learn Photo 365 app promises to keep you practicing photography, learning new techniques, and stepping outside of your comfort zone. It calls itself an “assignment generator” and you can use it to keep getting fresh ideas during a 365 photo project (you can also select 30 day or 52 week projects) or to take on various challenges like a scavenger hunt. If you're feeling uninspired, stale or bored with your photography, you can have the app randomly assign you a subject or theme to photograph. This can be a really great way to expand your knowledge and refresh your creative vision. There is a free, basic version of the app and if you find it useful, there is a more fully featured version for $3.99
Along the same lines as the previous app, but with its own integrated social network, Ok Do This is like Instagram, but with user created assignments (known as “DOs” in the app). Pick a topic, browse the top photos or look under the “DOs” column for assignments to photograph and post. Add your photos to a pre-existing “DO” or create your own “DO” for others to try. The app is free and is such a great idea that I'm surprised it hasn't already exploded in popularity. Now's your chance to get in on the ground floor of what just might be the next big social sharing platform.
Full disclosure, the free Triggertrap app won't do you much good without the device that connects your phone to your DSLR, but this is a very cool gadget. It turns your phone into a cable release and so much more. You can trigger the shutter using sound (like lightning, for example), motion, or vibration – the possibilities are endless. It also enables you to shoot time lapses and long exposure HDR brackets, even with cameras that don't have these features integrated. The first DSLR that I bought was a Nikon D3200 and I was surprised and disappointed to find that it didn't do bracketing. Even the cheap, 6MP point and shoot that I was upgrading from had bracketing! Also, no intervalometer for shooting time lapses. Triggertrap was a very affordable (under $40 USD) solution and an enormous relief.