It is undeniable that technology has drastically made life easier for us landscape photographers. While we once used to look at postcards at a kiosk and ask locals for advice, today we can literally visit a place while staying seated on our comfortable chair. However, as always happens, the risk is that superabundance of available means would make our life more complicated rather than easier.
For this reason today I want to share with you the fruits of my experiments and researches, that means my 10 reasons why I think that PhotoPills is the app that no landscape photographer can allow themselves not to have. Let’s start!
1 – Because I’m able to Plan, with a capital P
If it’s true that no war plan stands the first cannon shot, it is also true that going to war without a plan is like hoping to win the lottery without even playing.
Those who know me well know that planning the photo shoot has a primary role for me, so much so that it’s the more time-demanding stage for each of my shots.
PhotoPills is the application I have been dreaming of for years because in one single software (available for iOS and Android) it contains various tools and functions that allow me to plan a shot wherever I am. Do I need to know the exact time of sunrise? Do I want to check which is the time period of the year when the Sun will set exactly behind the Kermorvan lighthouse for the composition that I have chosen? Do I want to know at what time the Sun will disappear behind the mountains based on my position? No problem, with PhotoPills I am able to know it all in one second, and for each day of the future (and why not, of the past).
PhotoPills is structured in modules and through each module we can have the answer we are looking for: it’s the Swiss army knife of photography.
2 – Cached offline maps
An essential good quality of any General is to be able to adapt their battleplan to the situation. However, our battlefield is often situated somewhere in the world where mobile phone coverage or Wi-Fi are really the last things we could hope to find.
With PhotoPills I’ve never had a problem because once a portion of the map has been visualized, that portion is stored in the cache of your device. This means that while you’ll be waiting for the sunset at Unstad beach in the Lofoten Islands with no clouds in front of you, you will be able to check in one second if the formation of clouds coming from the west is compatible with one of the spots that you previously planned and saved.
3 – Ephemerides
One of the basic but absolutely key information for us landscape photographers consists in knowing the movement of celestial bodies, or in layman’s terms, knowing where the Sun and the Moon will rise and set and what course they will follow.
Going to take photos of the spectacular Costa Quebrada in November or Brittany in August are photographic suicides which we will safely be able to avoid by using PhotoPills. Thanks to a specially-provided module we will always be immediately able to know the sunrise and sunset positions according to our position, for any place on Earth and at any time.
For the nerdiest ones there are also available, in textual form, many other information that are useful for planning, such as exact times of civil, nautical and astronomical sunrise and sunset, elevation, phase and azimuth of celestial bodies, time periods for blue and golden hour, and much more.
Oh, in case you love the night be aware that there are also as many information about the Milky Way!
4 – Importing .kmz files
If you have followed one of my classes you’ll be well aware that I love using Google Earth for collecting all the scouting data.
However, unfortunately, it is an incomplete tool for photographic planning (for example it does not have Ephemerides, and it doesn’t even know what “working offline” means) and once we are in action it is of little practical use, not counting the mobile phone coverage problem as mentioned above.
One of the great advantages of PhotoPills is that I’m able to import Google Earth .kmz files. Once done, I can simply go and check what the sunrise and sunset positions will be in a determined time period of the year, for each chosen spot. By combining this with the possibility of having offline maps, I can really have the situation under control at any moment, from the beginning of the planning until a few seconds before taking the shot.
5 – Augmented reality
Whether your plan is perfect or not, once we are in the field we will have to finalize our composition so as to not nullify all the work done until that moment. In order to do that in the best possible way, the PhotoPills guys have developed AR modules that will make this task a piece of cake.
In fact, it is possible to combine the camera of our device with PhotoPills data to visualize, using augmented reality, what will be the path of the Sun, the Moon and the Milky Way. In this way we will be able to refine the composition by exactly previewing, for example, the point where the Moon will rise, and making sure that it is part of our composition, or by receiving the exact informations on how should we move right or left so that in the composition the Sun will set exactly behind the lighthouse.
AR gives us further help with regard to the focal length we should use. Through the Visual Field module we will be able to check, for any focal length we choose, what will be the portion of the scene lying before us that will be included in the shot. This is simply great for the finalization stage of our composition once we have reached the shooting location, especially if, like me, you only use prime lenses which would require changing the lens on the camera every time.
But it does not end here since PhotoPills has created another fantastic AR module: one that is specifically made for the highly feared hyperfocal distance.
If you don’t have a prime lens, focusing using the hyperfocal technique can often be a nightmare. Thanks to the augmented reality of PhotoPills, we’ll just need to set focal length and aperture, and in one second we’ll see before us exactly where we should focus! Super!
6 – Filter converter
When we use the long exposure technique, it is absolutely essential to correctly calculate the shutter speed. If, on the one hand, proceeding by trial and error only makes us risk missing the moment when the light is perfect, on the other hand we can’t even afford to make calculations or mathematical conversions at -10°C on the rocks while the wind is cutting our face. For this reason, the PhotoPills guys have created a module that is exactly what we need.
By entering the shot data of our “Test Shot” (and if you don’t know what are we talking about just have a look HERE) and the ND filter that we intend to use, in one second we’ll have the exposure time that we should set using the Bulb mode.
It is interesting to notice that also density fractions (e.g.: 6 stops and a half) are available, so as to facilitate the calculations even for those who have filters that are not particularly accurate in terms of density, like for example Lee filters.
7 – Hyperfocal tables
It’s really great to have augmented reality, but while we plan our shot and choose the composition, we often and rightly wonder about the depth of field boundary according to the focal length and aperture available.
Thanks to the Hyperfocal Table module, in one second we can visualize, for each combination of focal length and aperture, what the resulting hyperfocal length will be, and thus we can see how should we proceed to arrange that our foreground will be in focus without using unnecessary focus stacking techniques.
8 – Constant updates
As previously mentioned, the basic principle of PhotoPills consists in the presence of photographic modules (or better, “pills”) which allow you to carry out specific functions. It sounds like something complicated coming from a nerd engineer like I am, but then it works really well, because it actually is a rational organization that makes the use of a complex application simple. This block structure allows developers to periodically implement always new features or entire modules without invalidating the usability of the application.
The nicest things is that the developers do listen to us photographers: if some feature that you propose turns out to be useful and feasible, surely the developers will include it in the roadmap of future versions. A practical example is the subdivision in stop fractions on the filters in the Exposure module and the very recent “Drone” mode for those who love high-altitude shots.
9 – Trying new things
I am a marine landscape photographer who’s got a thing about long exposures, I could hardly hide that. Since I started this photographic course I never thought about experimenting too different things…or at least until I’ve had PhotoPills in my hands.
Thanks especially to all the modules related to night photography, for the first time I’ve felt the urge to try something different. Milky Way, Star Trails and starry skies are really within everybody’s reach now, and the fact that augmented reality is also available for these night modules makes life really easier.
Did you know that it is possible to see, using the camera of your smartphone, the current position of the Milky Way and Galactic Centre and simulate its position at any moment always using augmented reality?
Even a seascape photographer like me could not resist!
10 – Community
I think that the true strength of PhotoPills does not lie in the code lines of which it is composed, but in the people that are behind and all around it.
Differently from the many cold applications available on the market, with features that are more or less similar (less rather than more, to tell the truth), PhotoPills has an extra feature: the community.
When you start using PhotoPills you are not a simple user behind a screen, you become to all intents and purposes a member of a large family of enthusiasts. On the official website you can learn incessantly thanks to many free tutorials created by the developers or by PhotoPills Masters, and every week you can submit your pictures to win prizes and you can actively participate in the social channels of the developers so as to get in touch with many enthusiasts like you. And then, the nicest of all things: the PhotoPills Camp, where every year Photographers, Masters and Developers get together from all over the world on the Island of Menorca, amid photography, amusement and friendship.
Photo credit: Joan Mercadal
In an era where everything is now only digital and it’s so easy to lose touch with reality, I believe that PhotoPills really represents more than an application, but rather an actual photographic philosophy to be embraced, where sharing, passion, amusement and respect for nature are values at the bottom of each of the modules that it contains.
Well done PhotoPills!