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Gadget Bag: Apps For Nature Photography
Once you get past the ability to make a phone call or check email, the usefulness of smartphones and tablets is all in the apps. For nature photographers, there are a lot of photography apps that can be incredibly useful both in the field as well as in planning for where to go to get your best shots at any given time of year or even time of day. You can find exposure calculators and time-lapse calculators, weather and tide apps and night-sky simulators…the list is endless. In this article, we’re going to touch on a few of the most useful apps we know of.
Please note, we’re not including much in the way of shooting or image-processing apps in this article. We’ll be covering those much more extensively in a future Gadget Bag.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris
One of the most useful photography apps, for any nature photographer, The Photographer’s Ephemeris is available for iOS or Android, and there’s a free download available for your desktop or laptop computer. Beyond basic almanac functions like sunrise and sunset as well as moon position for any location at any time, the app will display how the light falls on the area—what will be in shadow and when. There are advanced features including automatic time-zone and elevation detection, correction for atmospheric refraction and height above the horizon, to ensure that you have all of the information you need for planning and executing your photo shoot. The app is map-based so you can use it to precisely position yourself or where you plan to be without having to just pick from a limited list of predefined places.
Another popular photo planner is Sun Seeker. It provides “an augmented-reality 3-D view showing the solar path, its hour intervals, its winter and summer solstice paths, rise and set times and a map view that shows solar direction for each daylight hour.” Sun Seeker uses your device’s GPS and magnetometer to determine your location. It’s a solid app that’s also much more than a simple almanac, and it’s available for iOS and Android.
Tide Graph lets you choose a location, and it will display the tides for that location on any day in the form of a graph. It’s a simple but incredibly useful app for anyone shooting on the coast. It’s available for iOS.
This is a simple and incredibly useful calculator for figuring out depth of field in your photos. You can plug in the specifics of your camera and lens setup, and DOF Master will generate the total depth of field, near-focus limit, far-focus limit and hyperfocal distance. The calculator works with just about any camera format, and you can select ƒ-stops in full, half or 1⁄3 increments. It’s available for iOS and Android.
As popular as time-lapse has become, this handy little app is a great addition to your iOS or Android device. Sure, you can just start firing away, but TimeLapse! Calculator will let you find the best settings as well as generate all of the important information about the size and duration of your clip. The app will calculate shooting interval, duration, target output of your clip, frame rate, the number of frames, required memory and more. There’s a companion app called TimeLapse!, which will enable you to do time-lapse with your iPhone or Android phone so you can experiment anywhere.
For anyone looking to catch dramatic weather, having this app on your iOS device is a great choice. iMWR gives you alerts for severe weather and lets you know when you come into an area of a weather alert. This isn’t only helpful for taking once-in-a-lifetime images, but also an important safety tool. It’s like having a weather radio with you all the time. Note: The iMapWeatherRadio app is for U.S. only.
Lightning Finder displays lightning strikes in almost real time on your iOS device. You can plug in your current location or where you’re planning to go and see where strikes are within 25 miles of that location. You can configure the app to send you text messages when a strike occurs within a predesignated area. Obviously, this is useful for photography as well as being an excellent safety app.
If you’re thinking of shooting a night scene with the Milky Way or other astronomical features, Star Walk is a must-have. Besides that, it’s really just a fun app for your iOS device. You can see real-time motion tracking of the sky, plan for celestial events with the calendar, and the app will send an astronomical photo of the day to you daily. Star Walk displays a huge amount of information about the night sky, and you can tailor how much is shown based on your needs and what the conditions are like where you’re located.
Earlier, we said this article wouldn’t be covering shooting or processing apps. Instagram is the exception. Now before you slam this magazine down in rage over the mere mention of Instagram, consider that it’s a great app to use for sharing photos with friends. It’s fun to mess around with the effects, and for some shots, Instagram is the perfect “camera.” Using an app like this won’t hurt you and it won’t make you less of a serious photographer. It will let you share photos fast and easily, and have some fun creating silly but harmless effects at the same time. Really. Give it a try. Your DSLR won’t hold it against you.