In today’s blog, I share with you some great apps for landscape and travel photography planning. These apps will help you identify the best times to visit a location for photography as well as provide important guidance about camera settings and terrain information such as tide charts. No image processing apps are included in this list since I believe they require a separate blog post.
During my first year of full time RV travel for photography pursuits, the images I created from beautiful destinations were not great. They were definitely not the quality I produced when I photographed familiar places. Adding insult to injury, I would see other photographer’s images from these same locations that were stunning. Why were they able to capture so much better images than I was from the same locations? I owned the right gear and possessed the technical knowledge to create great images so what was I missing?
The main answer was I failed to plan my photo shoots. You see, once travel for photography became a daily event, I stopped investing time in pre-shoot planning. I just showed up. Upon finally realizing my mistake, I again began to plan my photo travels. This time, however, I undertook extensive research to identify good photo planning tools and apps. So allow me to share my thoughts on some of the better known landscape and travel photography planning apps.
Note: All text in blue are clickable links to the apps where you can locate additional information and the latest prices.
1. Best Overall App For Landscape And Travel Photography:
This is without a doubt my favorite app for landscape and travel photography. In fact I consider PhotoPills an essential piece of my camera gear. Not only does PhotoPills predict sun and moon rise and set times for a given location but it also provides the ability to calculate exposure, depth of field, time lapse settings, astrophotography calculations and other functions. It’s combined package of features is what makes it such a powerful app.
At first glance it can appear intimidating and difficult to master. However, spending just one hour understanding the basic panels with the included tutorials will make the app very easy to learn.
As good as PhotoPills is, there are times when other apps offer better features for specific planning needs such as tidal information. Therefore, I have broken down the list of great apps for landscape and travel photography planning into the following distinct categories:
2. Photography Apps For Predicting Light:
Knowing where and what time the sun and moon will rise and set each day is incredibly important for photographers shooting in natural light. Additionally, the ability to determine where shadows will fall on the landscape is vitally important. Although there are numerous apps in what I refer to as the “Light Predicting Category”, the following are ones I believe everyone should check out.
Best Known: The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)
The Photographer’s Ephemeris was the leading light planning app for many years and the one I used with great results. I still use it at times. It is a great light planning app packed with tons of features photographers need when planning a landscape photo shoot.
- It is available for both Android and IOS users on mobile devices as well as in a desktop free version off the web.
- The app allows you to plan shoots but plans cannot be saved within the app itself. This is one reason I use PhotoPills over TPE. Instead they must be saved to TPE’s web version and linked to from mobile devices.
- Certain features are limited for Android users
- TPE provides numerous different map types that will meet most user needs.
- Easier to learn initially than Photopills.
- Included line of sight analysis and search
- Has light pollution data- This data is not available in PhotoPills
- Augument Reality is available off line for IOS only
Screen Shot of TPE showing sun and moon rise and set times at San Xavier Mission in Tucson for February 28, 2019.
My Current Favorite: PhotoPills
Available as IOS and Android app though some features are not available for Android users. Not only does PhotoPills have a wonderful app for light planning, but as mentioned above, it contains a complete set of pretrip and in field features including but not limited to the following:
- AR available off line
- Sun and Moon Angles and Times
- Milky Way Planning
- Ability to save trip plans with the app itself.
- Exposure calculations
- Depth of Field calculator- Not available in TPE
- Time Lapse Settings
- Much More
- Lacks light pollution data which is very helpful when planning night shoots. Photopills are you reading this?
Screen shot of PhotoPills showing sunrise and sunset positions at North Window Arch in Arches National Park for December 21, 2020.
Another Feature Rich App: Planit
Available for both IOS and Android users. Here is another feature rich app that states it has everything you need for outdoor shooting. From milky way captures to time lapse images to seascapes, this app seems to include a ton of features.
- Planit appears to have all the features of PhotoPills with the addition of Light Pollution, rainbow condition info, tidal information, better shadow information and a virtual reality viewfinder. The virtual reality viewfinder is not available on any other apps that I am aware of at this time.
- The app is only available on mobile devices, no computer capabilities.
- Plans do not appear to be available when offline but this is something I need to research further.
- In addition to virtual reality features, it also offers augmented reality features.
- Also 500 rule, 600 rule and their own Circle of Confusion (Coc) rule are incorporated into the app.
- Planit definitely appears to be a one stop solution worth reviewing.
I only discovered Planit about a month a ago and have not had a chance to fully use all it’s features. Check back around June 2021 and I will update this blog with my infield results. If you happen to have any experience with this app, I would appreciate if you could leave a comment about Planit.
Available from Google Play for Android only devices. In addition to sun and moon angles and positions, Golden Hour includes a listing of specific start and stop times for different light events such as Golden Hour and Blue Hour. Although other apps include similar information the listing format makes it very easy to follow for beginners.
Here is another feature rich app available for both IOS and Android devices. This app has some cool features that I really enjoy especially there upcoming photo opportunities and the street views for architectural photo shoots. This is definitely an app to try.
I like all the above apps and again suggest readers give each a try to determine which works best for their particular shooting needs. I prefer to use an all in one app whenever possible to reduce the number of apps I have on my phone and therefore lean towards apps with the most comprehensive suite of features.
3. Best Photography Apps For Weather:
- This is an app that features a 7 day forecast that is updated hourly.
- One great feature for photographers is the breakdown of clouds into low, medium and high clouds.
- Temperatures are shown as Celsius and if there is a setting to change it, I have not found it.
- Rain, fog and visibility are also shown on this app.
The app has a visually appealing screen but I did find some functions to be a bit awkward. Some photographers rave about this app, however, I had a couple occasions when the app called for clear skies only to discover cloudy skies when I arrived at my shooting destination. Therefore I have mixed feelings but suggest you try it for yourself.
This app is no longer available but was viewed as a good app.
This is the app I have always used and continue to be very impressed with it. It is available for both IOS and Android devices. I have traveled out West for 4 years towing a trailer and knowledge of wind speed and direction has been critical to my safe travels. Weather and Radar wind speeds have been very accurate to date. Having it on my phone is like having a live weather station with me.
Also a feature that I find helpful is the ability to identify possible wind spin. I have been caught in tornados a couple times when crossing the country and definitely appreciate this feature. The app delivers a 14 day and hour by hour forecast for wind, temperatures, rain, where the sun is shinning, humidity and more. A plus is that temperatures are shown in Fahrenheit! However, I do wish the app had the cloud features of Clear Outside.
This is both a website and mobile app for weather and other meteorological events. The app was once called Yr.no but now just Yr. The “no” stood for Norwegian where it was developed. I have read many reviews calling this the best weather app so will be installing and testing this in the next few weeks and will update this post with my actual experience in a month. However, I have also read reviews listing some glitches in this app.
4. Best Photography Apps For Exposure And DOF:
Since I use this app for so many other things and am pleased with their exposure and DOF program, I have seen no need to try others.
In the example below, I input the focal length of my lens, my f stop, and the calculator tells me that the closest objects that will be in focus are at 16 feet while the farthest objects that will be in focus are at 25 feet. For purposes of this post, we will not get into everything else at this time. I do not want to turn this post into a depth of field discussion!
PhotoPills Depth of Field Calculator
PhotoPill Example of Subject to Distance Calculator
Initially PhotoPills DOF information can be intimidating as there are so many options. However, once understood, I believe they have the most powerful Hyperfocal and Depth of Field app on the market.
For those who find PhotoPills confusing to use, here is another popular DOF app that has both a free and paid version. I have not used this app in a number of years since I now use PhotoPills but it worked fine when I last used it. I can’t attest to it’s current functionality. Here is a screen shot from the apps website of what you will see as you calculate DOF for given settings.
I have not used this function since I am new to Planit. I will update this post once I have had a chance to spend more time using Planit.
5. Best Photography Apps For Night Photography:
Night photography can mean many different types of photography including light trails, milky way photography, star trails, moon photos, city nightscapes, blue hour and so much more. With such a variety of photography opportunities, it is important to know which apps work for best for each type of photography. Carefully evaluate each app I have listed below for its appropriateness for what you plan to shoot.
Finding Dark Skies:
Dark Site Finder/Light Pollution Map
This app helps you locate the darkest possible skies in any location. Dark Site Finder is for IOS users and runs about $2 while Light Pollution Map is the Android version and is free as of this post date. However Light Pollution Map has not received great reviews from users particularly the lack of ability to zoom into map locations without paying for upgrades. I am not an Android user so can’t attest to this concern.
On my free version of Dark Site Finder, when in street view, I am able to zoom in enough to determine a dark sky location. It may not be perfect but I can definitely figure out where to go as seen below.
Example-Florida Panhandle just south of Tallahassee -light pollution overlay is set to 50% and I can see the main roads.
Photographing the Moon:
The moon is usually one of the first night sky objects photographers photograph when they venture into night photography. Many apps are capable of predicting the moon phases but listed below are some of the most popular apps for moon photography. Unlike weather apps, these apps all tend to be very accurate so find the app that is easiest for you to use and go have some lunar fun. I do not find a need to use a special app for photographing the moon and prefer to use a full featured apps such as the following:
TPE- Already covered above.
PhotoPills -as discussed, this is my current go to app.
Planit Pro- already covered above
This app is available for both IOS and Android devices for $2.99 but appears to work best on the IOS platform. Please follow the link above to the Deluxe Moon website to view the different functions as one or two screen shots posted here would not do this app justice. Although I can have some of the same information from my PhotoPills app, this is one app where the additional features justify having this app on my phone.
Photographing the Milky Way:
Photographing the Milky Way requires a dark clear sky and knowledge of when and where the Milky Way will appear in the sky. Therefore it is important to know the moon phases, cloud cover conditions as well as the amount of light pollution in a given area. The apps we have covered above such as Dark Site and Weather and Radar provide some of the information needed. However, it’s time to once again turn to PhotoPills to see where to Milky Way will appear in the sky.
Based on the Dark Site map above, the bay area south of Tallahassee appears to have areas of dark skies. Next I decide on a location then open PhotoPills to drop a pin(red) on my chosen location. Next in PhotoPills planner, I scroll across the top bar until I find the Visible Galactic Center and check it. Lastly I pick the date of March 31, 2021 as a potential Milky Way shoot. OPPs sun moon in the top panel should read Visible Galactic Center!
The arch of white dots is the Milky Way with the largest dots being the Galactic Center. From the information above, I can determine that about 3:59 A.M. would be a good time to photograph the Milky Way. However, it is still almost a full moon and the skies will be cloudy so March 31, will not be a good night to photograph the Milky Way. Looks like I will be waiting a couple weeks to make this trip and the Galactic Center visiblity time should not change significantly. So in Mid April I will head to an area around Panacea, Florida at about 4.00 A.M. if the skies are clear.
I hope this provides you with a glimpse of how PhotoPills can help plan your shoots.
To photograph stars, again, it is important to locate a dark area, pay attention to the moon phase, and have a clear sky night. When all conditions are right and you are ready to photograph the sky, it definitely helps to know what the stars are in the sky. Therefore, a sky guide app is quite helpful.
Offers both a free and paid version for Android and IOS users. The app not only shows the stars but also shows the amount of light on a given date. There are too many features to list here so be sure to click the link to view all the apps functions. This is the app I currently use.
The above link is to the Apple store but there is a similar link at Google Play. I could not find their actual website. This app allows you to point the camera’s phone at the sky and it will tell you exactly what you are looking at. Here is an example from the Apple app site.
Other apps to consider:
6. Best Photography Apps For Coastal And Tide Info:
Beautiful coastal images usually involve a sunrise or sunset. So of course we need to know tidal information at sunrise and sunset times for several reasons: to pre visual shooting conditions, for safety reasons, and to determine which day would be best for creating certain images. Here are my top tide apps:
Provides over 5000 US locations with tide predictions without needing an internet connection. Also displays barometric pressure and moon phases.
This is a app for IOS devices and comes in three different products. One for iPhones, one of iPads and now one for the MAC. With each increase in device size, additional features are added.
This app is available for both IOS and Android devices unlike the previous app. Information is stored in the program for thousands of locations eliminating the need for an internet connection.
All tide apps offer decent tidal information as well as moon times. When choosing an app look for one that works on your particular operating system and also has the most information for areas you plan to photograph.
7. Best Photography Apps For Photographing Mountains:
When photographing mountains in addition to the light finding apps and weather apps discussed above, I find it very helpful to use an app that shows shadows and heights of surrounding terrain and an app that names the nearby mountains. So here are my choices for these two functions:
The Peak Finder app is available for both Android and IOS devices. It offers a number of different ways to identify mountain peaks and has a extensive database of mountains throughout the world. Last summer I spent about an hour trying to identify the name of a mountain peak in Colorado before I discovered this app! How I did not know about this app beforehand I don’t know but will never again photograph the mountains without it.
Screen Shot from Peak Finder for Grand Teton National Park:
Although it is fairly easy to determine when the sun and moon will rise and set over flat terrain, knowing when the first light will illuminate a mountainous landscape is not so easy. I once made 7 trips to a location to capture the late afternoon light on a subject. Although sunset was hours away, a nearby hill blocked the sun several hours earlier and also cast unpleasant shadows on my subject. This app was not available at the time but would have saved me days of effort spent capturing the following image.
Several apps have similar capability, a comparison of which, will be the subject of a future blog post. However, my current favorite is the 3D Photographer’s Ephemeris app. This is an add on feature for IOS mobile devices that simulates the different stages on light on a landscape. I encourage you to click the above link to learn more about this function.
8. Other Great Photography Apps:
Although this is technically a database, not a true app, this is a great resource for locating over 68,000 worldwide trees by location or species.
This is a great app that allows users to use wifi to control and interact with their cameras remotely. This app was originally designed to replace the poor quality wifi in many cameras.
AllTrails is a wonderful resource when hikes are necessary to reach photo destinations. It provides important elevation and distance information critical to arriving at locations in time for sun and moon rise and set times.
Google Earth and Google My Map
I can not conclude this post without including two important websites that need no explanation. I use both of these resources on almost all photo shoots to new locations.
The apps listed above are only a portion of the available apps on the market. I could not cover them all in this post but hope the information contained here gives you a starting point for planning your next photo excursion. By the way, I would love to hear your thoughts on the above apps as well as others that I did not list so please take a minute to comment below.
In the upcoming weeks, I will be publishing a new blog post that compares the features of the three most comprehensive apps, TPE, PhotoPills and Planit in extensive detail so be sure to check back in soon. In the meantime, to learn more about my entire process of planning photo shoots and RV travel routes check out: 10 Tips for Planning Photography Trips
Happy trip planning!