Top Five iPhone Apps for the Photographer (Podcast 177)

by | Mar 3, 2009 | Gear, Podcast, Review | 0 comments

There were a few applications that I had loaded on my SmartPhone that really made it a useful tool for the photographer, and they were basically to help me calculate depth-of-field, and the time and location of sun and moon rise and sets. Before I could move to an iPhone with the abilities, I had to find good replacements for these apps. I noticed an app called VelaClock (now Magic Hour), that had been available for the Mac for a long time, and mailed them asking if they intended to add the ability to tell not just the time of the sun and moon rise and sets, but also the location or the azimuth. They told me that this would be available in a future update, and they did indeed add this functionality a few months ago.

There are also <a href=”#download”>download and subscription</a> options at the end of the post.

There was also an application called DoF Calc, which would help with, as you might imagine, calculating the depth-of-field, and hyper-focal distance. At first, this was made available as a Web page formatted for the iPhone, but required a network connection or phone line to update itself. Most of my photography when I really need this is where there is no network and rarely even a phone signal, so it wasn’t a viable solution for a while. Pretty soon though, they released a standalone version, so I was set. I could go to the iPhone and have the applications that I really wanted, and more. Let’s go through the whole five now, and take a look at each in a little more detail.



So, three of my selected applications are of direct use to the photographer. The last two not so much so, but they are great to have. The first I will talk about is ND Calc. This is actually created by a fellow Podcaster, Boris Nienke. If you never use a Neutral Density filter, this may not be necessary for you, but if you do, this can really help with exposure time calculation, especially for the really dark ND filters that cut out many stops of light.

NDCalc has a very simple interface. Basically with two dials in the bottom half of the screen. One of them is to select your shutter speed, and the other to select the density of your neutral density filter. So imagine you have set up your camera and you have selected an aperture of F11 or F16, and you intend to stick a dark ND filter on to your lens to get a really long exposure time, you meter the shot without the filter, and find your shutter speed, which might be say 1/25th of a second. You use the dial on the bottom left to select 1/25th of a second. Then you need to select the density of your filter. If you are using an ND8, which has a density of 0.9, then you would select this from the main dial on the right, and you would then see that your new shutter speed should be a third of a second. To be honest though, an ND8 cuts out just three stops of light, and I’m sure everyone knows how to calculate a three stop slower shutter speed from 1/25th of a second. The easiest way to do this in your head is to half it three times. First from 1/25th to one 1/12, then again to 1/6th, and then again to 1/3, and your done.

NDCalc really helps though when you get out the big guns in terms of neutral density filters. If for example you are using an ND100, which cuts out almost seven stops of light, you would select ND 2.0 with the 100x in parenthesis to the right, and you’ll see that you get a new shutter speed of four seconds. An ND 1000 with a density of 3.0 would make your shutter speed 40 seconds. All of these examples are available on the dial, and I actually asked Boris to add a filter that I have but that was not included, which he kindly did, and that was a 1.5 density filter which is basically an ND 32. Most of the arithmetic can be done in your head, I imagine, but one other very nice touch to the NDCalc application is that once your shutter speed goes over 4 seconds, a countdown button appears at the top of the screen, below the new exposure time, and when you touch the button with your finger, the countdown starts. This means if you are using a cable release without a built in timer, then you can use the iPhone to actually time your long exposure, as well as calculate it. Very simple, but very useful if you do use ND filters in your photography, so I suggest you take a look at this in iTunes. Just search for NDCalc, with no space.

DoF Calculator

DoF Calculator

Next, let’s take a look at DoF Calculator from neyMedia. This is another great application for calculating your photography settings. As you probably know, I like to use very wide apertures in much of my work, for that nice dreamy bokeh, or out of focus part of the scene. The problem with this is that you can actually sometimes go a little too wide, and so it’s nice sometimes to get an idea of just how wide you can go without being so wide that it becomes impractical. You do of course become accustomed to just how wide you can shoot at with your lenses as you use them, but there is another important feature of DoF Calc that I use a fair amount, and that is to calculate the hyper-focal distance to shoot for any given focal length and aperture. If you are not familiar with shooting at hyper-focal distance, you might want to listen to episode 65 of this Podcast, in which I cover it in detail. Basically though, sometimes, especially for landscape work, if you want pan-focus, where pretty much everything in your image is in focus, but you then focus on the trees in the distance for example, you will be forfeiting some foreground detail. Rather than just focusing on something in the distance, you can find the hyper-focal distance for your focal length and aperture, then pre-focus to that distance and shoot away. Here’s an example. Imagine you are shooting a scene that you want in pan-focus and you are using a 35mm focal length. You could use DoFCalc to find out that at 35mm, with an aperture of F8, the hyper-focal distance is 5.35 meters. If you focus your lens at just over 5 meters, everything from 2.7 meters to infinity will be in focus. If the closest subject you want in focus is even closer than 2.7 meters, you can check to see how much you need to stop down to achieve pan-focus including your intended subject. At F16 for example, the hyper-focal distance comes in to just 2.7 meters, and your closest focus is now 1.34 meters.

The relationship is directly related to the focal length of course, with wide angle lenses giving much shorter hyper-focal distances, even at relatively wide apertures, and longer telephoto lenses having hyper-focal distances of many hundreds of meters. At 200mm even at F16 the hyper-focal distance is 87 meters. With a 300mm lens at F16, the hyper-focal distance is almost 200 meters out. All of this though you can calculate right there in the field with DoF Calc, and make the most of hyper-focal distance with your chose lens, so you don’t have to worry too much about whether or not everything is going to be in focus. It does also enable you to just play around and see the relationship for yourself, but if you don’t need to do this in the field, you can use an application like Barnack or the web version of DoF Calc in the comfort of your own home. The beauty of the iPhone app is that you can take it in the field with you and get it right when it really matters. I’ll put a link to a page with details of these apps into the show-notes, but again, you can search for DoF Calc in the iTunes App Store. This time there is a space between DoF and Calc.

Magic Hour

Magic Hour

So, let’s move on now to the real biggy for me when it comes to iPhone Apps for the photographer. This, as I’ve said before is a must for any outdoor photographer. VelaClock (now Magic Hour), from the Vela Design Group, tells you exactly where the sun and the moon is going to rise and set at any given location on the planet, at any day, past, present or future. It also tells you the phases of the moon, and when each of the three twilights, civil, nautical and astronomical twilight, begin for both dawn and dusk. With a recent update, you can now simply use the GPS in the iPhone to find out exactly where you are on the planet, and give you data for that location. You can always see that as your Current Location and you can use the current location to record your home location. You can also add latitude and longitude coordinates to specify an exact location, and record that, meaning you can basically get data for anywhere on the planet. There is of course a large list of place names, and in my experience you can usually find somewhere close enough to where you’re going to make this accurate enough for my use. Then when you get to the actually location of course, you just use the Current Location to get exact data.

If you have a compass with you, you can use the azimuth to find out exactly where on the horizon the sun or the moon will be rising and get yourself in position for the perfect sun or moon rise. If you are planning a trip, you can also now specify any date past, present or future, right there on the user interface, which I also find very useful. There are online resources for doing this sort of research of course, but I find that more often than not, I really want this information right there with me when I’m in the field, so having it right there in my pocket just makes this whole thing perfect for me. I’ll put a link to the VelaClock (now Magic Hour) web page into the show notes, and you’ll notice, at least as of March 2009, that there is a testimonial by me on this page. Note that I am not affiliated with the Vela Design Group in any way. I’m just supporting a product that I like and believe in.

Audio Notes

Audio Notes

I did just want to quickly talk about two more applications that you can get from the iTunes App Store that I find to be very useful for the photographer, though not directly related to photography. The first one is created by someone called Petr Jankuj, and is called Audio Notes [Removed invalid link]. This is basically just a simple audio recorder. It’s what I use on my iPhone to record audio like that that we listened to a few episodes ago, from the snowy beach at the Inawashiro Lake. You can set it up so that it starts to record as soon as you start it, and then when you are done, you just press save to save the audio you just recorded to the iPhone’s memory. To get the file off of the phone you have to set up an FTP server, which is a bit of a pain, but the companion Web site walks you through this. It’s not that difficult to do. Anyway, if you are out and about and want to record a quick audio memo to yourself, so that you don’t forget to return to a certain place, or maybe you want to record the name of a location or subject that you just shot, so that you can properly keyword your images, then this sort of application can be very useful. Again, it’s called Audio Notes, and can be found in the iTunes App Store. 

Finally, there’s one more app that I am really enjoying having on my iPhone, and that is Felaur PDF. This is basically a PDF Reader, but unlike anything else I tried, it can read really big PDF files very smoothly. Even one’s with lots of graphical content. Why is this important for the photographer? Because you can stick your camera’s manuals in your iPhone. I have the 1Ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II user manuals on my iPhone in PDF form, and you can view them with no problems at all. You can even add bookmarks to certain pages that you reference regularly, and these are saved in the phone. To upload your PDFs to the iPhone you can either put them on a Web site and download from a URL or you can do a Google search right there in the application and grab them from the Web. Because I already have a copy of the PDFs on my PC though, my favourite way is to download them directly to the phone from my PC. To do this, you just enter an IP address to your browser, with the phone on the same network using a Wifi connection, and the browser becomes a file manager, with which you can upload and download PDF files to and from the library on your iPhone.

Felaur PDF

Felaur PDF

You can also rename and sort the PDFs into various directories, so I have one for Manuals, and another for Magazines. I loaded a bunch of Professional Photographer Magazine PDFs to the phone too, in case I ever find myself with some time to kill but nothing to read. I have found one issue with this application though, which you should be aware of if you are considering buying it, and that is that the PDFs that you copy to the iPhone can disappear. I had my manuals and magazines on there for a few weeks, when all of a sudden, they disappeared. I don’t know what caused it, but it was pretty annoying to have to put them all back on there. It even destroyed my customized library, which I wasn’t too happy about. Hopefully this won’t be something that happens often, but even with that said, as long as you check that your PDFs are still there before a trip when you might need them, this can still be useful I think. (Note: The disappearing PDF trick hasn’t happened again in the 6 months since recording this Podcast.)

So that’s my top five iPhone apps for the photographer. I hope I haven’t bored those of you that don’t have an iPhone too much. If you have an iPhone or are thinking of getting one, I hope this was useful.

Show Notes

Check out NDCalc with a screenshot, and jump to the iTunes store from this page:

Check out DoF Calc here:

You can find the VelaClock app for the iPhone here, with a link to the iTunes Store:

The music in this Podcast was created and produced by UniqueTracks.

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at


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Michael Rammell

Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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