20+ photo apps every photographer should have on their phone
posted Thursday, July 27, 2017 at 1:15 PM EDT
What is one thing almost every photographer has on their person every time they shoot? A smartphone. These ubiquitous devices may be viewed with some scorn by longtime photographers, but in addition to being able to capture impressive images, smartphones can act as fully-featured photography assistants that are capable of helping you capture the best possible shots with your dedicated camera. We wanted to make a list of must-have apps for all sorts of situations, from editing photos to performing in-depth location scouting and calculations in the field.
We have organized this article into five major sections: Capturing and Editing Photos, Apps for Outdoor Photographers, Must-Have Apps for Lighting, Hyperfocal Distance and Much More, Apps for Storing and Sharing Your Photos and Apps for Your Specific Camera, but there is crossover between some apps. For example, Flickr is great for scouting locations, storing photos and sharing your work. Instagram can capture and edit photos, but really shines as a social media platform. PhotoPills has many tricks up its sleeve too. You can click the links to jump to a section, but we recommend scrolling through the entire article.
At least on iOS, the built-in camera app is fine, but not great. For photographers who want more control, a third-party app is a must-have iPhone app. Here are some awesome and free options for smartphone photographers.
VSCO prides itself on their library of filters that mimic the "shot on film" look, and over the years have proven extremely successful at doing so. You can capture in RAW via their in-app camera tool, and their editing options are also excellent. The app and a few film looks are free to download, but VSCO offers more that you can purchase in-app.
Camera+ - Available for free on iOS
Camera+ has long been my go-to camera app on my iPhone. It can easily capture RAW images and it has intuitive controls and a good user interface that offers photographers a lot of manual control over the camera.
So Cortex Camera is not free, but it is cool, especially if you want to take low-light photos with your phone. The app combines multiple exposures to create a final image with less noise. A tripod is not explicitly necessary, but you will need to be able to keep your camera steady. It also offers long exposure image effects like motion blur.
SKRWT - Available on iOS for $1.99
Are you sick and tired of distortion in your iPhone photos? Enter SKRWT, which is an all-purpose perspective correction app. It is designed to work not only with photos captured by your phone, but imported images as well or shots captured using iPhone lens adapters.
TouchRetouch allows you to quickly and easily remove objects from photos such as telephone wires, signs, posts and even blemishes from skin. It's your one-stop shop for removing distracting elements from your images on your Android or iOS device.
Though the app is free to download and use, but you do need an active Adobe CC membership to take full advantage of the application. It's very powerful, bringing basically desktop-caliber photo editing to your pocket. Adobe actively updates both Android and iOS versions, so consider this an app that gets better all the time.
For outdoor photographers, there are many indispensable apps you simply must have installed on your phone. From predicting weather to checking dark sky conditions or predicting the sun's location, there are a lot of apps that I personally use as a landscape photographer and many that location portrait shooters swear by.
A good weather app is a must-have
Above all else, if you are going to be shooting outside, you need to know the weather forecast. Of course, no weather forecast app will be 100 percent accurate. However, in my experience, AccuWeather (available for free on Android and iOS) has been as reliable as any, often accurately predicting hourly weather and cloud conditions in my area. Another popular one is Yr (Yr.no on iOS), which is available for free. This app is from Norway and offers detailed weather forecasts for 10 million locations around the world. If you place an emphasis on a clean user interface, give 1Weather a look, it's available on Android and iOS for free and includes data layers, radar maps, customizable alerts and more.
For finding great locations to shoot, 500px is a solid option. The app is available for free on Android and iOS and can be used to search for photos captured in certain areas.
We tried this app recently and found it to be a useful way to store favorite photo locations on your phone and view useful information about them when planning additional trips.
Pashadelic lets you plan a photo adventure while drawing inspiration from crowd-sourced photos from around the world. You can view sun and moon conditions for a selected location and view it in augmented reality to get a sense of when the perfect shot will take place.
Sky Guide - Available for $2.99 on iOS
I've long used Sky Guide to aid with my night photography. The app lets you view the location of stars and other celestial bodies in real-time and will let you know what you're looking at as you point your phone toward the sky. That's useful in the field, but what makes the app great for me is the ability to enter a date and time and scout ahead for the location of things such as the Milky Way and the moon and get an exact location for where they will rise and set and when that will occur.
Sky Guide (different than the iOS app above) - Available for $2.99 on Android
Sky Guide for Android is made by a different developer that is unrelated to the iOS version, but it offers similar features for those who don't use an iPhone or iPad. It's not the "same" app, but it's still great and will do pretty much what the iOS version does.
Now I don't know why the app varies in pricing from Android to iOS, but I do know that it's worth every penny no matter your platform. For outdoor photographers, this is a must-have app. The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) does it all, it allows you to check the time and direction of the sun, moon and galactic center for customized locations, it lets you view the azimuth and altitude of the sun and moon, visualize the Milky Way, view topographic maps with sun and moon path overlays, move map pins, save locations, use autorotation with the compass in your phone and allows you to view useful data offline. It also has information for line of sight, crescent moon visibility, the golden hour, light pollution and elevation. You can even import and export from KML using the app. It does a lot and can frankly take the place of many of the apps listed in this section.
Dark Sky Finder - Available for $1.99 on iOS
Light pollution is a big problem for night sky photographers. If you want to view a detailed map showing you the levels of light pollution for locations around the world, Dark Sky Finder is a great app. There's also a similar Android app available for free called Light Pollution Map, which you can download here.
If you live near the coast, being able to quickly check tides is very important for landscape photography. Tides Near Me is a free app which delivers tidal information in a clean, simple way. Plus you can quickly view tides for the next week, which is great for planning.
Dedicated light meters may be very accurate, but they're also not cheap. You can have a pretty good light meter right in your pocket thanks to apps like Pocket Light Meter.
Sylights - Available for free on iOS
If you often shoot with lights, it can be tough to keep track of how you had your lights set up for a particular shoot, but that is great knowledge to have. We can't all be gifted sketch artists, but Sylights lets you make quick diagrams and store different lighting setups right in your phone. Very useful!
Hyperfocal distance is a very useful concept for landscape photographers in particular. The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which you can focus your lens while keeping objects all the way to infinity sharp. While a rule of thumb exists that suggests you should focus about one-third of the way into your scene, this is not always the best option. Don't worry, you don't need to crunch any numbers out in the field because of apps like Hyperfocal DOF. It supports more than 1,600 camera models. You input your camera model, focal length and aperture and the app will give you the optimal hyperfocal distance.
This app includes tools for viewing lighting conditions as well as calculating hyperfocal distance, exposure and even includes a gray card function for setting a custom white balance. The free version is ad supported, whereas the "Pro" version for $1.49 is an ad-free experience.
In addition to performing many of the same tasks as The Photographer's Ephemeris, PhotoPills offers tools for calculating hyperfocal distance, exposure times, depth of field, field of view, time lapse and much more. The app also includes how-to articles. If you want a photography companion that practically does it all, this is it.
Long Exposure Calculator - Available for free on iOS
If you want the exposure calculator features of PhotoPills but don't want to pay, Long Exposure Calculator is free and lets you calculate exposure times when using neutral density filters. It's very useful and will help save you from frustrating trial and error out in the field. See below for a similar app on Android.
Exposure Calculator - Available for free on Android
If you regularly work with models and commonly need photo releases, this app is perfect. The app is approved for use by Getty Images, iStockPhoto, Shutterstock and more and allows you to get a customizable release and automatically sync it to various cloud services. It's great for the on-the-go photographer who doesn't want to carry physical model releases.
So we've looked at apps for getting great photos, from scouting to capturing and editing. Now that you've got great shots, what next? These apps are your best bets for sharing your work.
Flickr is not only a great way to look at the work of others, but it's also a great way to share and store your own work. You can upload up to 1TB of photos entirely for free and access all your images from the cloud on your smartphone. Nifty!
Technically Instagram can also be used for capturing and editing images, but its capture and editing tools pale in comparison to the apps we listed at the top of this article. Where Instagram shines is sharing your work with the rest of the world. Around half a billion people have Instagram accounts, making it one of the largest internet communities out there. If you want to share your photos or simply view the work of many pros and get inspired, Instagram is a must have. I've also used this app for scouting locations.
You don't always want to share your photos with the world. That's where Cluster comes in. This free app lets you share images with a specific private group of people, such as sharing family photos with your own family or photos from a party with some friends. You could also use it to share images from a session with a client.
If your camera has Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth built-in - which most do these days - there's a dedicated smartphone app for your camera. Many of them allow for syncing images from your camera to your phone and even offer remote control functionality. If you haven't downloaded the app for your camera yet, you should! You can download camera apps from all the major manufacturers below.
- Canon - Android and iOS
- Fujifilm - Android and iOS
- GoPro - Android and iOS
- Leica - TL App on Android and iOS, Q App on Android and iOS and C Image Shuttle App on Android and iOS
- Nikon - Android and iOS
- Olympus - Android and iOS
- Panasonic - Android and iOS
- Pentax - Android and iOS
- Phase One - iOS
- Ricoh Theta - Android and iOS
- Sony - Android and iOS
By using one or more of the above apps, you can turn your smartphone into a full-featured photography tool. If you have recommendations for must-have apps that were not covered in this article, let us know in the comments. We will be updating this article, but for the most current additional app recommendations from fellow readers, please check the comments below.