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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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).
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.