6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Travel and Landscape Photography

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Travel and Landscape Photography


Ansel Adams, the godfather of landscape photography once said, “A great photograph is knowing where to stand.” Sadly, I stood in all the wrong places when I began. I watched in envy as seemingly everyone else was taking pictures of an epic sunrise, an arching Milky Way, or an ethereal cityscape blanketed in fog.

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

Landscape photography apps are essential tools that help you be in the right place at the right time, like this rooftop in Busan, South Korea. © Pete DeMarco

Eventually, I learned that compelling landscape images are created long before the shutter snaps. Like anything in life, having a plan or vision about what you would like to create will massively increase your chances of reaching your target. The same goes for photography.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely respect chance, or what some may call serendipity. But capturing spontaneous events takes a fair amount of planning. Even the man who coined the term “The Decisive Moment”, the great street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, would plan his frame and then wait for life to happen within his photographic stage.

When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Landscape photography is like going to the casino. You can’t control what cards you get, but by learning the game you can increase your odds of winning.

In photography terms, Smartphone apps are essential tools in the image creation process, right up there with your camera, lens, and tripod. You can literally make the stars align with them.

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

Knowing where to stand (and when) makes all the difference in landscape photography. © Pete DeMarco

Here are six Smartphone apps I use to plan out my landscape photo shoots. Use them well, and it won’t be long before you get comments on your photos like this, “You always seem to be in the right place at the right time.”

#1 – PhotoPills

PhotoPills is the best photography app on the market. Period. It’s the photographer’s Swiss Army knife. It does so many things. I use it to plan my astrophotography shoots. I can easily figure out the phase of the moon, the location of The Milky Way, where it will rise, how high, at what angle, and at what intensity. The best part is the 3D augmented reality for finding The Milky Way in the sky.

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

PhotoPills is an excellent app for astrophotography. I used it to plan this shoot in Penang, Malaysia.© Pete DeMarco

And that’s just the beginning. Whether you are doing timelapse photography, location planning, tracking the sun or the moon, or calculating your hyperfocal distance, this app has it all. The $9.99 price tag is well worth it considering all you get in return (available for iOS and Android).

#2 – The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)

TPE used to be my go-to app before PhotoPills made it obsolete. The best thing is its simplicity. I mainly use it to track the sun and the moon. But since PhotoPills does that and so much more, I rarely use it now. I still included TPE on the list though because you can use it for free through their “web app”. Just go to their home page and click on TPE for Desktop.

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

You can’t control the light in landscape photography, but you can learn how to make the most out of what you’re given. © Pete DeMarco

It also has 3D topographical maps and can help with astrophotography shoots. Still though, PhotoPills offers far more at a lower price. Watch my short video tutorial on how I use this app to find where the sun will rise and set. (Price: $11.99 for iOS and Android; browser version FREE)

#3 – Sun Surveyor

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

Sun Surveyor is another helpful Smartphone app to plan the rise and fall of the sun. © Pete DeMarco

Another app similar to TPE is Sun Surveyor. It’s mainly just for tracking the sun, the moon, and how the light will fall. If English is not your first language, the app has been translated into a number of different languages like Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Czech and many others. With limited features though, I’d probably just use the free desktop version of TPE or buy PhotoPills instead. (Price: $9.99, iOS and Android)

#4 – Tide Charts Near Me

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

The land bridge in this photo is only visible at low tide. Apps like Tide Charts Near Me are helpful when photographing seascapes like this one. © Pete DeMarco

If you’re into seascape photography, knowing the level of the tide is essential. Some shots you can only get at low tide or high tide. Tide Charts Near Me is a super simple app with a great graphic interface for showing the height of the tide on any given day or time. There’s also a moon phase calendar included as well. (Price: Free for iOS & Android)

#5 – Maps.me

The most important thing of all is being able to make it to and from your shoot location. Google Maps and Apple Maps are decent. But the problem is that you need to use data to access those maps, which can be costly if you’re traveling internationally.

Also, if you’re in an area with no cell phone service then your map app won’t work. Yes, you can use Google maps offline but you have to download each individual location first.

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

Finding your way around a big city or new country can be daunting. Offline map apps like Maps.me not only save you roaming data fees, they get you where you need to be. © Pete DeMarco

Maps.me is a fantastic offline map app solution. It’s simple to use and does much more than just help you find your way. Once you install the app, all you do is download the country map for your destination.

Then you can locate the nearest ATM, restaurant, wifi connection, and more with ease, without using any data. It works with GPS, not wifi, so you can find your way anywhere in the world. However, if your device isn’t GPS enabled, like say an iPad or another tablet with only a wifi connection, then it won’t work. Check out the video for more details. (Price: Free for iOS and Android).

#6 – Wundergroud

6 of the Best Smartphone Apps for Landscape Photography

Clouds can add drama to your landscape images. Weather apps that show the hourly forecast like Wunderground can give you a planning edge. © Pete DeMarco

Last but not least, knowing the weather forecast obviously makes a huge difference in photography. Almost any app will do for this. I prefer Wunderground because it gives a detailed weather forecast by the hour, not just the day (Price: Free for iOS and Android).

Beginner’s Guide To Landscape Photography

If you found this article helpful and would like to learn more, check out Pete’s course A Beginner’s Guide to Compelling Landscape Photography

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Pete DeMarco is an award-winning travel photographer. GET: 19 FREE Lightroom Presets LEARN: A Beginner's Guide to Landscape Photography NEXT PHOTO TOUR: Cambodia: Temples of Angkor

  • Pete DeMarco – the price of $11.99 you quote for TPE is for a separate app TPE 3D, which offers something none of the others do – a 3D model with full natural light simulation. TPE, the original app, is $8.99 USD on iOS and $2.99 on Android.

    We certainly welcome all photographers to use our free web app. We’d also be happy if they checked out our mobile offerings too – it’s the sales of those that keep the free version going.

    It’s disappointing to see a fellow photographer recommend only to use the free web app, while not haven taken the time to understand properly the range of products we actually offer before writing about them.

  • Kai Prager

    At least on Android you can download maps on GoogleMaps.
    There are also other apps like “Here” that works brilliantly for navigation as well.

  • Hi Stephen, I bought your app a few years back, used it quite a bit, and thought I understood what it offers. Why should photographers buy your app instead of one of the others I mentioned?

  • Thanks for sharing Kai.

  • Albin

    I’ve used OSMAnd for mapping for some years – same OSM offline maps as Maps.me and with several alternative configurations (e.g. pedestrian) and plug-ins for contour maps, sailing, ski resorts, distance calculator, etc. (Free version limits the number of maps.)

    While online Google Maps is unbeatable for info, I dislike offline Google maps as less informative than OSM maps, and for simply wiping out offline files every six weeks if not updated. Older OSM maps simply stay there if not updated and having your maps disappear in remote place with third world wi-fi to replace them is only for the brave or foolish.

    Re weather, here in Canada the only reliable source is Environment Canada and I never miss a chance to pitch the excellent “Canada Weather” Android app / widget by Fish & Whistle, a young grad student who has done the nation a service with his free app.

  • mckenna4564356

    Now we can use more apps those are very effective for us. To make our daily life so more easy and enjoyable such kind of software is more favorite for us.

  • pete guaron

    Very helpful article, thanks, Peter. You’ve finally explained to me why there is some point in upgrading my mobile phone from the current “tradesman’s phone” to some kind of smart phone – there’s no other practical way of using these apps, except on a computer linked to some WiFi base nearby – which isn’t much use (“any” use?) out in the field.

    Do all these apps work world wide? – or do we need to find equivalent local ones, in other parts of the world?

  • Steve Carr

    A great article, Peter. Another excellent app for landscape and nature photographers free for Android users is called Snapdragon. I use it regularly on my OnePlus 3T and it helps my photography immeasurably, especially in conjunction with maps.me and an app for tracking the sun and tides!

  • Thanks Steve. I will check it out!

  • Hey Pete, glad it was helpful. Yes, all the apps work around the world. In the case of Maps.me, you’ll need to download the map for each country you visit individually.

  • Thanks for the input Albin. Yes, Google maps is excellent if you’ve got wifi or an endless supply data. Otherwise, an offline map is must.

  • Steve Carr


    Edited with Snapseed on my OnePlus 3T. Nearly as robust as mobile LR, in my opinion… I am really enjoying your articles. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  • Christos Kataxenos

    For the best and more accurate weather the Weather Underground app.
    You can create ideal weather condition for whatever reason (seascape, weather chaser, foggy effect, astrophotography) and it will notify you when will you have the ideal conditions for the kind of photoshoot you create a plan. It will notify you thw day before about the time in your area and what area you have tell it too.
    Its an app that can make you get away from the computer and get out shooting. I really love it!!

  • As someone who is already completely familiar with TPE but has ZERO interest in astro photography, is PhotoPills worth the time investment to learn a new app, or will it just offer me more of what TPE does with astro features I won’t use?

  • Joe

    If you’re into abandoned places, forgottenapp.com is pretty cool

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