In part one of this Smartphone photography set, I promised to share my favorite apps for shooting and processing my smartphone images, and I told you that I would share a list of apps that can help you improve ALL of your photography – even with your expensive pro cameras. So let’s do this!
If you haven’t read part one of this set – I hope you have a good excuse! You can find by clicking here.
I mentioned in the first article that I shoot my smartphone images as RAW files! A lot of people were surprised to hear that was possible. Well it is, but let me clarify a few things. RAW files are not a native feature on smartphones, so you will need to use a different camera app than the one that is part of your phone’s operating system.
Smartphone Camera Apps
Just like there are different camera brands, there are fifty times as many different camera apps for your smartphone. So let’s look at two of my favorites..
Probably tops on the list for both functionality and ability to work on iPhone and Android is the app called ProShot. (iOS / Android) This is a $3.99 app that effectively turns your smartphone into a DSLR-styled operating system. You can shoot with Auto Exposure, Program, Automatic, or Manual and you can create two custom modes to fit your shooting style – just like you do with a DSLR.
The ProShot App gives you Manual, semi-manual, or automatic control over exposure, focus, flash, ISO, shutter speed, and white balance. You can shoot in JPEG or RAW – which is a DNG file or just like your DSLR – you can shoot RAW + JPEG. Also, you can shoot in a standard 4:3 format or 16:9 or 1:1 square and even create custom aspect ratios.
The ProShot app also offers manual focus assist, Burst, Timer and Timelapse modes, Bracketing, Live Histogram and a lot more.
My personal favorite app for shooting stills is ProCam. This is an iOS-only app. ProCam sells for $4.99. It will allow you to shoot a RAW file or even shoot a Lossless TIFF as well as JPEG with three quality options.
In addition it has all of these features……
If I am working on a shot in low light levels and I want to limit the amount of noise, I use an app called Hydra. Hydra merges up to 60 individual images to make a single high-quality picture, effectively getting more light from the scene. That way, Hydra produces up to 32-megapixel high-resolution images with enhanced dynamic range and reduced camera noise in low-light scenes. Hydra is an iOS-only app that sells for $4.99
So how do you figure out which is the best app for you to shoot with???? The same way you figure out the best camera or lens to shoot with…you consider what types of photos you like to take…and try a bunch of different apps. A lot of the camera apps offer a free version and paid version. The free version will help you figure out if you like the layout and design of the app and if it is worth spending the money for the paid version to unlock all the cool features. You can also use YouTube to see detailed walkthroughs of most of the apps.
It is worth pointing out – I still keep the native iPhone app icon on my main screen. If I am in a hurry – need a quick snap of something and I am not trying to be creative or create a work of art – nothing beats the native camera app on iPhone or Android for that quick snapshot.
Smartphone Post Processing
Yes – it said post processing. All digital files are meant to be processed, just like in the film days. You see we really haven’t evolved that much. I do want to be clear – post processing does not mean slapping an Instagram filter on your photo so that it looks like five million other shots that used the same filter.
My all-time favorite app for post is Snapseed (iOS / Android). Originally by Nik Software and now owned by Google, Snapseed is free for both iOS and Android. It supports raw files and allows you to create editable files so that you can undo and change your edits. Snapseed in very robust and its features include – well – all of this…..
I think it is important to mention that the latest version of Lightroom Mobile is extremely robust and well laid out, but it still suffers from the same roadblock as the desktop version of Lightroom, which is IMPORT. I don’t want to have to import my photos so they live in the Adobe ecosystem. So for my workflow, Snapseed stays at number one but if you use Lightroom on your Desktop and love that set-up, I would strongly encourage you to take a look at the Lightroom Mobile App available for both iOS and Android.
Its also worth mentioning that for the occasional gimmick there are apps that will create reflections and mirror images and raindrops and just about anything you can imagine. Honestly they are a lot of fun – just don’t over do it. Remember – a bad photo is still a bad photo and adding a reflection to it won’t save it. So use any of these apps sparingly – please.
DSLR HELPER APPS
I know – these are the ones you have really been waiting to hear about.
Let’s start with Shoot Prep. Smartphones give us so much useful technology for planning photo shoots, it really is hard to imagine how we ever got great shots back in the film days.
Hopefully it goes without saying that Google Earth and Google Maps are incredibly important from the ability to see a location that you have never visited before to of course being able to map out the fastest route to get there. Both apps are free and available for iOS and Android.
Aside from Google Earth and Google Maps – Number one on my must-have list is called Sun Surveyor. If you are going to shoot outdoors for any reason this app is extremely useful. Sun Surveyor allows me to track the sun throughout the day on any calendar date. It will show me where the sun will be in the sky, how high it will be, how long the shadows will be and more. I can use this in a map-view mode, but also a street-view mode to get a realistic idea of how my location will be lit. Using my phone’s GPS, I can even stand inside a building and use the app to figure out how much light will be streaming through windows at any given time of the day. Sun Surveyor also helps me plan nighttime shots by tracking the moon and for any calendar day it will give me detailed breakdowns of sunrise, sunset, golden and magic hours, and more. This is a $9.99 app that is worth every penny and for me it replaces several apps like the popular LightTrac and The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Sun Surveyor is much more robust and information-packed than any other app of its kind. It is available for Android and iOS.
Also when planning a location shoot the Weather Channel App, which is FREE and available for iOS and Android, is incredibly important to be able to review weather forecasts and also satellite radar data. If you want something a bit more robust, for $1.99 in both iOS and Android, you can pick up the NOAA Hi Def Radar app which has hi-def radar displays for more accurate predictions. a 99 cent per month subscription is required to see future radar data – but this is a worthwhile expense if you routinely work outdoors.
I like to keep track of potential shoot locations as I am out and about so I use an app called Scene Scout. Available for free on iOS and Android, Scene Scout allows me to shoot and organize my potential locations – tag and search them AND crowdsource by sharing them with others. This also means that if I am traveling somewhere new – I can check Scene Scout for locations that have been shared by others in the past.
Another very useful app – especially for landscape and architectural photographers – but even handy for us people shooters is Hyperfocal Depth of Field. This is a calculator app. It supports over 1,600 different camera models and lets you input your camera, lens, and aperture and it will tell you the hyperfocal distance for that combination. In case you haven’t actually studied depth field…The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance that your lens can be focused at while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp. So when the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp.
If I just confused you with that – you need to go and read up on how depth of field really works. You know… the part that doesn’t just mean bokeh in the background. I will be releasing an in-depth video about depth of field in a few weeks.
The Hyperfocal Depth of Field App is for iOS and it’s FREE. It is supported by small ads at the bottom of the screens. The Android alternative is an app called Depth of Field Calculator which is also free or you can pay just under two dollars to have the ads removed.
Having your gear stolen is the ultimate nightmare. Lenstag allows you to register your lenses, cameras, and other equipment and stores a photo of your gear’s serial number tag as proof of your ownership. In the unfortunate event that your stuff goes missing, you mark it as stolen on your account. If a third party buyer does a search for the serial numbers of the equipment you are missing, they’ll be notified that the stuff they are looking to buy was stolen. It’s also FREE and available for iOS and Android. I find it is useful just to have a complete inventory of my gear in case of theft. That inventory can be downloaded as a .csv file.
Last but not least on my list, since I am a people photographer, Model Releases are important and I am so over using paper. My long-standing favorite is the app called Easy Release. Available for iOS and Android, this is a $9.99 app that is also worth every penny. You can use the releases that are pre-installed in the app or upload your own. The app will allow you to collect a photo of your subject, add their signature and then produce a jpeg or pdf of the signed release that can be emailed to you and / or your subject as well as saved in the cloud. And btw – Easy Release also handles property releases.
So there you have it gang, my MUST have smartphone photography apps.
Be sure to bookmark this page and I will keep the information updated as things change and new and better apps are introduced.
Now you understand why I said in the first article that the best camera you have is your smartphone. It is an excellent tool to help you develop your ability to see and keep your creative edge when you don’t have the time to pick up and setup your DSLR. It is also an incredibly powerful tool for planning and executing almost any kind of shoot.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman