Using Technology To Take Better Photos

Using Technology To Take Better Photos

Technology is a great thing and never has it been able to help (and often hinder) photographers with their craft than in this day and age. A bold statement, so let me show you some applications and websites which can make photography more fun, interesting or educational. They each have apps available for desktops, tablets and smartphones aplenty.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris and LightTrac

Both the Photographer’s Ephemeris and LightTrac offer tools to help photographers visualize and plan shoots. Whether you are traveling to a remote part of the world and want to know the best location for a mountain sunrise photo, planning a full moon shoot and hope to line up a treasured landmark or want to know when shade will fall on your favorite picnic table across town, these tools will get you there.

Right now LightTrac has a few more tools under the hood than TPE, but a sneak peek at the next release of TPE shows me the tables will be even once the beta goes live. Each has a different way of showing and accessing data and I have found them both valuable to use while traveling. Pre-visualizing your photos and where the light will be is helped immensely with these tools.


High Dynamic Range photography helps fill a gap between what you see in the world and what you can capture in a single image with digital camera. The long and the short of it is digital cameras can’t (yet) span the range of light our eyes and brain can handle with one click. So, by taking multiple images and combining them in a computer with specialized software and techniques, you can come close to what you see.

The technique takes practice and usually a tripod. There are a number of programs on the market to help create the images and they have strengths and weaknesses. Recently on DPS we featured a guest post which helps explain the basics, workflow and options when it comes to HDR.

Star Walk

Star Walk is a fun app even if you don’t have a camera, but even more helpful for night shots. While The Photographer’s Ephemeris and LightTrac can show you the direction of the moon rise and moon set, they don’t show you star alignments at night. That’s where Star Walk picks up. With its ability to choose any location on Earth, Star Walk is valuable for picking locations and directions to shoot star trails and the Milky Way at night.


Twitter? Yes, Twitter. I have found Twitter a valuable resource not because of the images I find there (as it is often a gamble for that) but instead for the community of photographers and travelers who can help with location information. The world seems to whiz by on Twitter with thousands of tweets a minute, but it can be a valuable resource once you get involved.

It takes time to build a ‘community’ on Twitter where you can ask questions and get them answered. I have found the effort with the time and have connected with many other photographers I never would have met elsewise.


Photographers have taken up the Google+ banner like no other group. Indeed, the platform is great for sharing photos with a strong emphasis on quality display of images (which Facebook has taken to heart as well). Google+ also offers many chances to meet your fellow photographers with regularly scheduled photowalks; casual events to help you sharpen your skills and stay active shooting.

To find a photowalk near you, start here and simple add your location to the beginning of the search string you see at the top of that page.

Hangouts are another popular feature of Google+ and allow a more conversational introduction to other photographers of all skill levels. And that is one of the great aspects of many hangouts, that you can ‘sit’ right along with pros and the atmosphere is typically non-pretentious and very inviting.

Some of my favorite photographers on Google+ include Ben Fullerton, Athena Carey, Michael Riffle, Colby BrownGary RandallJacob LucasVarina PatelJon Cornforth, Ben CanalesQT Luong and piper mackay.

Depth Of Field Calculators

The original depth of field calculators were nothing more than a simple chart that allowed a photographer to quickly calculate focus distance, focal length and aperture settings for a given required depth of field. But technology takes that a step further!

I have used DOFMaster is an app I have been using with happy success for 6 months (forever in technology terms) and is one I suggest to students looking for something simple to help with calculations. I also love that the site offers a simple, non-electronic version for when the batteries on your smart device die.

DXO Mark

How good is that lens you are thinking of buying going to work on your current camera? Chances are DXO Mark has the answer. At least from a technical standpoint. The site is the front end for a lab that tests and benchmarks camera equipment, including camera sensors and lenses.

They take a scientific approach to show you the quality of lenses and sensors and help you compare before you buy. For a more subjective approach, check out for a different point of view before making that big purchase.


What are some of the ways you have found technology has helped your photography? Websites, gadgets tools…list them in the comments section below.


Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Hapatography July 19, 2012 08:41 am

    Sometimes it is about the technology on board your computer. Here is an example of what your photo can look like when taken on a cloudy, windy day . Out of a few images, this is the best my camera could record, but using an editing program can bring it to life a bit more (smile icon)
    [eimg url='' title='558332_266080116838107_50161313_n.jpg']

  • Jason C July 6, 2012 12:28 pm

    There's an excellent free app available for Apple devices (I'm unsure if it's on Android) called Pocket Light Meter. It's an easy to use way to measure light and tells you what settings are ideal for any scene. You can adjust one aspect of the results and the other's respond so you can get the effect you want in your photos. Those of you who have higher-end cameras probably have a meter built in to your camera or an external one. But if you're like me and don't have much money to spend on your hobby, this tool is indispensable! Check it out!

  • CJAYJR June 28, 2012 03:22 am

    I have a question regarding HDR and the statment "So, by taking multiple images and combining them in a computer with specialized software and techniques, you can come close to what you see.

    I use Topaz Lab's Adjust 5 filter software to create HDR-like images and wonder just how much of a difference there is in creating multiple images to do this than just a couple clicks.

    Has anyone compared the difference in the images to say the use of this type of technology is just as good as doing it by taking multiple images?

  • Fuzzypiggy June 25, 2012 06:09 pm

    I use TPE all the time. When I wanted to sell my iPhone and go Android that was the only app that stopped me until they released an Android version, I had to wait 4 months with a half broken 3 year old iPhone, ha ha!

    I use it when planning shoots up to 9 months in advance at home ( the desktop version is free ) and then I use the mobile version when I am out and about to fine tune my position. I just couldn't operate without it now.

  • ccting June 25, 2012 01:04 pm

    Yes, good lenses make huge difference...

  • raghavendra June 25, 2012 12:43 pm

    Now the social networks have made a point to show a large picture
    if one posts a link, the picture in the link is quite big

  • Scottc June 25, 2012 09:22 am

    Great overview and I agree with the earlier comment on the photographer's ephemeris. It can be very useful in finding the right place at the right time.

  • MikeC366 June 25, 2012 07:48 am

    The Photographers Ephemeris is brilliant. I use it before I go to any location where I'm going to shoot. And it's free for PCs :-)


  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 25, 2012 03:29 am


    I am a big fan of technology and try not to shy away from new things as they rapidly show up. Never hurts to try! I use many HDR tools and have been for years....but I am now especially fond of Radio Triggers to control Speedlights. It is amazing how, once unencumbered by traditional methods what one can think of to light up.

    Here is a simple shot of dropping a pearl bracelet into a fish tank, lit by wirelessly controlled strobes top and side. So easy to set up and kinda cool!

  • Steve June 25, 2012 02:56 am

    A good lens makes a huge difference.
    HDR can also enhance photos. Not to produce the cartoony type of photo but using hdr to enhance details and tones: