As I am writing these lines I am sitting on my uncomfortable return flight from my latest photographic trip to Scotland. I think this is at least my sixth or seventh trip here, and if I try to somehow compare my first trip with the latest I do realize that many things have changed. Among these, I definitely have to dwell upon the technological means that are available to us nowadays, such as, for example, the applications for our smartphones and tablets, of which we could only dream until a few years ago.
I don’t think a perfect recipe is possible and this list is surely just the result of my personal experience and my photographic style.
However, I want to share with you my personal selection of applications which, in my opinion, are really a must-have for every landscape photographer, and so I hope to somehow give you a few ideas for your next adventures in the field.
The mother of all photographic applications. We have already talked about it many times and therefore, without uselessly expatiating, I just let you refer to the relevant articles previously written HERE and HERE.
If you like a spoiler before you go and read, I can tell you that it’s an actual Swiss army knife of photography, holding many applications in one body. If this application did not exist, my list would be at least twice as long, and anyway you wouldn’t be able to find valid alternatives for many of its functions.
The way I use it is mainly related to the planning and study of the ephemerides, that means the position (in particular) of the Sun depending on the day and time I’m taking into consideration.
In short, minimizing, if you want to take photos of a sunset in any part of the world, framing the right spot, you really can’t do without it.
One of the things I have soon learned on my trips is that good old paper maps can really make a difference. However, since we are now accustomed to the world of Google Maps, we often underestimate the topic and we find ourselves lost in marvelous places where a data connection is definitely the last thing you could hope to find.
And this is exactly where Maps.me can come and rescue us. It’s an application that allows us to download, for free, the offline maps of the area of our interest. I find it really excellent for two reasons in particular: the first is that we are able to download the sole area of our interest and not necessarily the entire nation: this means that the space taken on our device will be minimum and we’ll be able to download maps at the last moment even with connections that aren’t particularly fast. The second is that it allows the importation of my long beloved .kmz files, that means those files created using Google Earth and in which I mark all the photographic spots.
In a nutshell, thanks to Maps.me you will always know where you are and you will be able to easily reach any spots you have planned, even if no data connection is available.
Right, we’ve just said that very often we won’t have any data connection available when we are in the field, but when we have it Google Earth is really an outstanding “lazy scouting” tool. Thanks to satellite imagery we are able to explore, without having to move one inch away from where we are, entire coasts, and inspect them to get an idea of their photogenic potential.
Especially when we are going to shoot in a place that we don’t know, even if we carried out an accurate planning when we were at home, I find it really useful to be able to go again over the coast that I’m going to shoot shortly before actually going there. The only downside is that it’s really greedy for connection.
As I usually like to say “no battle plan survives the first cannon shot” and, as you well know, our photographic dreams often break on walls of rain or blue and clear skies.
But we also know that weather conditions can be monitored in their evolution in order to be enabled to change our plans accordingly. By now there are a number of applications for doing that, but concerning the short term I haven’t found anything better than Weather&Radar. In short, this application lets you see what’s going on above your head (and not just that) and it allows you to visualize how the clouds are moving (so as to understand if the situation could evolve in our favor or not). I have been using it for several years now and it has failed very rarely. Absolutely priceless with regard to sunrises, when looking out of the window can’t surely be enough compared to sunsets (actually it’s not enough at sunsets as well, but at least we have the daylight to let us roughly understand our situation).
There is both a free and paid version, and they actually differ only in the level of zoom that you are enabled to use. As mentioned above, I suggest this app for the real-time or short term, since medium-term elaborations (let’s say the next 24 hours) might not reach the level of accuracy that we need.
For a more in-depth weather analysis and to have a more likely idea about how the weather will be during the next hours, my choice falls upon Ventusky. Paid app available for both iOS and Android, it can be used for free by making use of the online version (in my opinion it is worth every penny).
This application allows you to visualize different types of weather maps, which go from temperature, wind (interesting for those who use drones), to rain and cloud cover. I particularly like the way it is structured exactly with regard to the cloud cover, as it allows me to have a graphic view of the estimate, subdivided into high, medium and low clouds, which, as we well know, play very different roles in our compositions.
Then, if I see a cover of low clouds between 40% and 70% with no high or medium clouds it means that I will have the much beloved puffy clouds which run quickly and are so photogenic for our shots!
Tides represent joy and sorrow for us seascape photographers. Although they can be forecasted with mathematical algorithms, they don’t have the same level of determination of the ephemerides (Sun/Moon/stars) and therefore it is often difficult to find an accurate and vast database. Moreover, most (accurate) available databases are not free of charge, and this makes it all even more complicated.
After various attempts, and until PhotoPills will finally introduce a tide module (I hope that Germán is reading these lines), my choice has fallen on Tides Planner which, however, as far as I know, is only available for iOS.
Thanks to Tides Planner I’m able to check the tides in the places of my interest and I’m also able to let the app locate me so that the app itself will locate the closest monitoring station. Even if this app would deserve a graphic restyling, the available database is really accurate. Unfortunately, it is so accurate that in the free version it is only possible to see the tides for the next 24 hours, and if you want to unlock the full view, with no time limits, it is necessary to purchase a large number of sublicenses divided by region and however only valid for one year.
Then this is not the best app for planning at home but for this purpose there are various other online tools about which I will talk in a separate article, but with regard to being in the field I think this app is absolutely perfect because it allows me to see the exact evolution of the tide over the next hours, and it allows me to check the current tide level so that I can compare it with the scenery lying in front of me and understand if my forecasts and planning have actually been correct. Unfortunately, since I’m not an Android user, I’m not able to suggest a specific application, but I surely invite you to try out a few because knowing tides does certainly make a difference.
Absolutely right, we’re photographers and we spend thousands of euros in professional equipment and in trips…but, in the end, we can’t help taking a few backstage photos with our phones, and when we take them we often need to immediately post them on our social profiles.
Among the many editing applications available I’m very happy with Snapseed.
Developed by Google, this application is really fantastic because, in addition to being really intuitive (no, I don’t think we need Photoshop for certain works), it implements many functions of the famous Nik Software plug-in (for the complete story you can have a look HERE).
Organized in modules and with the possibility of exporting by modifying the original file or by creating copies to be uploaded to cloud services, Snapseed really enables me to post photographic material online without having to go through my Mac. Whether it is a Story on Instagram or a Facebook post, a little post-production won’t hurt our cell phone photos as well…
8 – LandWebcams (iOS)
I have to admit, I initially did not download this app for the purpose of photography, but for getting bored enough at night so that it could make me drowsy and let me sleep. Despite the awful introduction, I think that an application which collects the various webcams from all over the world can be useful.
In my photographic process I use it before going to take photos at sunset when I am at the “base camp” and I have to choose the shooting location based on weather conditions. If the weather-related applications of which we have talked above are very helpful, as always one image is worth more than a thousand words: seeing how the sky really is above a certain location and combining what I see with what the weather apps say I’m really able to choose the best shooting spot when I have more options. To give an actual example, it’s been literally essential to me on my latest trip to Cornwall (UK) where between Land’s End and Bedruthan Steps the sky difference was abysmal, even if according to the weather apps it was about the same.
The actual limit is obviously the availability of webcams: with regard to Cornwall it hasn’t absolutely been a problem to find webcams facing the sky and the sea, but for example here in the Outer Hebrides I couldn’t even find one.
The application here suggested is the one I’m using on iOS, which, as far as I know, is not available for Android. Never mind: it’s not important which app you use, just choose the one you prefer, favoring those with extended databases.
Strangely free of charge, Adobe Capture is an application with several features, developed for the creative ones. Inflecting this statement into the world of photography, Adobe Capture enables me to carry out, on my smartphone or tablet, a chromatic verification of my images before posting them. Essentially what I do is using the “Colors” module to check the interaction of the various colors of a photo loaded into the application and their arrangement in the Color Theory.
The Color Theory is doubtlessly one of the most complex chapters of Photography and whether it is the first time you hear these words or you are already color fetishists like me, in Adobe Color you will find a valid support for your studies.
One of the most terrible things that could happen during our trips is the theft of our equipment. While I hope I will never have to use it, I however want to mention Lenstag to you. It is a free application (with the possibility of signing up for a paid Pro version) which enables us to register our cameras and lenses into an international shared database. The registration of the equipment is carried out not only by entering the serial number but also submitting a photo, as proof that you really own that particular object. If, unfortunately, our equipment gets stolen, by using this application we’ll be able to check if a photo taken with the stolen and registered equipment will be uploaded to the internet, thanks to the Exif data contained in the photo itself, to then (hopefully) be able to trace the thief or buyer.
Does it really work? I hope I will never have to find out, but there are successful cases reported online, and considering that however it’s free I would say that it costs you nothing to try to have one more aid in case of need!
We don’t have to be slaves to technology during our photographic trips, but it would be as much foolish if we don’t take advantage of valid tools like the ones mentioned above.
Bear in mind that these applications often love to drain the battery of your smartphone or tablet, so let’s not forget to also take a good power bank with you.
Do you have any other applications to suggest? Don’t hesitate to send me an email!