[App Review] Photographers: Plan For Better Pictures With PhotoPills


Whether you’re in a familiar location or on the other side of the world, you want to be most efficient in planning times and locations for when to capture the best photos. If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter, you know I’m currently on a backpacking trip around the world. I’m shooting mostly landscapes, and the knowing when and where I can get the best shots is critical.

While the images I take between sunrise and sundown aren’t tough to plan, I quite like shooting after dark as well. If you saw my “How To” post about shooting the Milky Way last week, this post extends on that a bit. I used the PhotoPills app to get an idea where the Milky Way would be in the sky within a 3 hour window. Once I knew that, I had an idea when to start heading out to get setup, how long I’d be on location, and could find the easiest route by foot to get there.

PhotoPills has a comprehensive suite of functions for planning. The one I find most helpful time and time again is the augmented reality view of the sun, moon, stars, and constellations of the sky. When you open the AR screen of the app, you can move your phone around, viewing the real world through the phone’s camera, and a layer over top that uses the compass, accelerometer, and gyroscope to show you exactly where these celestial bodies are and will be at any given time now or in the future.


Because your location on the surface of the earth makes a difference where things will appear, PhotoPills takes that into account, too.

So, let’s say you know you’re going to be in San Francisco on July 10th. You want to capture the sunrise coming up over the bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Before you even leave home, you can use the PhotoPills app to plan this shoot. You can pinpoint certain locations and then view exactly where the sun will rise that morning. You’ll get exact sunrise and sunset times, how much time (down to the minute) that the sun is up for a given day, and more.

Let’s say you want to make a time lapse of the stars moving across the sky. You can use the built-in simulator to plan this shot, as well. The simulator lets you set a specific date, time, and location, and then spin the stars around a central axis (in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the North Star; in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the Southern Crux).

This gives you a general idea of what the app can help you with, but the list of features goes on. From the App Store description:

Map-Centric Natural Light Planner – Photo Plannings Manager – Location Scouting – 10.500 Locations – Sun, Moon Finder – Shadows – Obstacles – Sun, Moon, Twilights, Magic Hours Info – Sun, Moon, Milky Way, Celestial Equator, Polaris, Circumpolar Stars 3D Augmented Reality (AR) Viewer – Sunrise, Sunset Calendar – Moon Calendar – Perigees, Apogees – Time Lapse, Star Trails, Spot Stars, Long Exposure Calculators – Direct, Inverse Advanced Depth of Field Calculator- DoF, Hyperfocal Table – Direct, Inverse Field of View, Subject Distance, Focal Length Match Calculators – DoF, FoV 3D AR Viewers

PhotoPills isn’t cheap by typical app standards; you’ll have to shell out $9.99 for it. Put into perspective though, think about the value of your time and how running around aimlessly is. We’ve all been there. PhotoPills solves that problem and then some. If you’re serious about getting the perfect shot, downloading PhotoPills on your iPhone is just as important as packing your tripod.


[Download Link: PhotoPills for iPhone]

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You should follow Mike on Twitter for more great tech insights and good conversation. Be sure to say hello! You can also keep up with Mike on his personal blog: BackpackingEarth.com on Facebook, or on Google+.

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