Saturday, September 27, 2014

Portrait Photography Basics

Portraits are a popular photography subject and one that most hobbyist photographers want to improve at. If you can solve the problem of finding a willing subject, then this post has all the rest of the basic tips you will need!

Join in! Portraiture is this week's challenge for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge.

Tip 1: Focus on the Eyes

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul, and no where is that more true than in portrait photography. You cave "save" a poor photograph in many ways on your computer, but you cannot save a portrait if the focus is wrong. If you are shooting a portrait, regardless of whether that portrait is of a person, pet, or quick moving toddler, you need to have the eyes in focus.

Set your camera options to manually choose an autofocus point. This means that the camera is using a set single focus point to determine where to focus. (In automatic autofocus point selection mode, your camera determines which of all of the available focus points to use when determining focus.) A single focus point gives you control over what your camera is using to set the focus.

You should also pay attention to which autofocus mode your camera is using. In One Shot (Canon) or AF-S (autofocus single for Nikon), your camera will re-focus for each individual shot. If you have a constantly moving subject, you can use AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (continuous-servo AF; Nikon), and your camera will track your moving subject and adjust the autofocus. Or, if you are expecting a mix of moving and still subjects, you can use AI Focus (Canon) or AF-A (auto-servo AF; Nikon), where your camera will adjust focus according to whether it detects a still or moving subject.

The focus point for this self-portrait ended up well behind my eyes, leading to the out-of-focus blur.

Now that your focus point mode is set, you can use the eyes themselves to set the focus. You can either use the center focus point and "focus and recompose" for shooting, or you can choose whichever focus point location works best for your portrait. (You can read more about how to focus and recompose in the post Focus on Focus.) Regardless of which method you choose, using the eyes guarantees that you have the most important part of the portrait in focus.

Tip 2: Follow the Light

Flattering light makes for flattering portraits. But what makes for flattering light?

Consider the time of day, if you are shooting outdoors. Many photographers prefer the Golden Hour, that approximately an hour-long period just after sunrise or just before sunset, when the light from the sun has beautiful golden tones. Shooting during the Golden Hour will add a feeling of warmth and glow to both your subject and your background.

Portraits work best with smooth, even lighting. Dappled or uneven lighting can make for harsh and unflattering portraits. Many portrait photographers prefer to shoot in full shade, so that an even light is falling on the subject. You can shoot portraits in full sun as well, but you need to be aware of how harsher lighting conditions and shadows affect your final look. Try to avoid shooting in any kind of mixed or dappled lighting situations - shooting under a sparsely leafy tree, for example, can create odd patterns of light and dark on your subject's face.

You can also use a tool like a reflector for helping to balance out the lighting in your portrait. A reflector can be as simple as a thick piece of white foamcore board, used to bounce additional light on the shadowy side of a portrait. Or, you can invest in an inexpensive 5-in-1 reflector that provides five different reflective surface options. (Mine has white, black, gold, silver, and a diffuser.) Reflectors are useful tools and fold down into much smaller sizes for carrying and storage. A larger size, like those around 40" inches, is most useful for individual or small group portraits, as you can bounce a larger quantity of light than with a smaller version. You can read more details about how to use a reflector in the pinned article, Tip for Using a Reflector for Portraits.

Tip 3: Use Aperture to Your Advantage

You may think that you need to be shooting in full manual to capture a truly great portrait, but the truth is that many portrait photographers do not shoot in manual mode. They shoot in Aperture Priority.

Aperture priority mode (Av for Canon, A for Nikon) allows you to set the ISO and aperture for your photograph, while the camera chooses the shutter speed. Many portraits are taken with a wider aperture, which will keep your main subject in focus (or at least their eyes) but render the background a pleasing blur. (Read more about Aperture here or specifically about wider aperture in the post What an Aperture of F/1.8 Can Do for You.)

If you are shooting an individual portrait, you can experiment with the very wide aperture values, like f/1.8 or so. Depending on your composition and focal length, you may find that you cannot keep the whole of your subject's face in focus, but as long as you nail the eyes, it can still look great.

If you are shooting groups of people, you may need to narrow your aperture somewhat, perhaps to f/4 or f/5.6 depending on the numbers and whether they are arranging in a similar focal plane (like side-by-side rather than one behind the other). You may need to take some test shots and see if the depth of field (area of the photograph in focus) is appropriate for your given situation.

Tip 3b: Keep an Eye on Your Shutter Speed

The downside to shooting with a more narrow aperture, of course, is that you will need to use a slower shutter speed. Make sure that you keep your shutter speed quick enough to avoid camera shake. (The general rule of thumb is a shutter speed faster than one over the length of the lens, so 1/50th of a second for a 50 mm lens or 1/200th of a second for a 200 mm zoom lens.) But, if you are dealing with people who are fidgeting or younger children who are on the move, you should keep your shutter speed at least as fast as 1/250 to avoid blur from your moving subject. (Read more details about Shutter Speed Guidelines here.)

If you realize that you shutter speed is becoming too slow, then you have a few options. You can raise your ISO value to capture more light (read the downsides in ISO Basics); you can use a wider aperture to capture more light; or you can add more light to your scene (reflectors or flash units) or move to a brighter location. You do not want a slow shutter speed and motion blur or subject blur to ruin your shot.

Tip 4: Watch the Background

Finally, one of the most important (and hardest to learn) lessons for portraiture is to watch the background. If you are shooting at a wide aperture, much of your background will become blur. But to achieve this look, you want your background as far as possible from your subject.

Aim for simplicity in your background. Even as blur, you want to avoid creating distractions or odd patches of light or color that might distract the eye from your intended subject. Try moving your subject or move yourself in relation to your subject to find a less cluttered background. (Read more in the post Remember the Background and Move Your Feet.)

Also aim for even lighting in your background and between your background and your subject. If you are shooting your subject in shade to achieve even lighting, then you will want a similarly shady look to the background. If the background is in full sun instead, it will appear far too bright and overpowering in the final photograph or require a lot of post-processing effort. Likewise, a full sun subject against a shady background might appear overly bright or blown out.

Portrait Photography Basics

These four basic tips can help you make the most of your portrait photography opportunities. The next step is up to you. Find a willing subject (or enlist yourself - see Shoot a Successful Self-Portrait) and starting putting these ideas into practice.

Ready for the next step? Check out these Top Tips for Photography Portraits and Posing and get ready to take your photographs to the next level!

Share a link or a photograph in the comments below, or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

This post is also linked up at Social Media Sunday, hosted by the IBA.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How to Photograph Traffic Light Trails

Traffic light trails are an endless source of photographic inspiration. You can capture amazing colors and patterns, beyond what you can see and anticipate with just your eyes.

Equipment and Settings for Photographing Traffic Light Trails

You can capture traffic trails with a point-and-shoot camera, but you will have more options for settings with a DSLR camera. Whichever camera you choose, you will also need a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release. A tripod is necessary to hold your camera steady during longer exposures, and the remote will minimize any shake to the camera from the shutter. (For more details, read How to Maximize Your Tripod, GorillaPod Tripod Review, and Easy Camera Upgrade: Remote Shutter Release.)

To capture traffic trails, you will need to use a long shutter speed. I recommend shooting in either shutter priority mode (S for Nikon or Tv for Canon) or manual mode, with an ISO of 100. In shutter priority mode, dial in a speed of 15" or 30" (" indicates seconds) to start, and the camera will choose an aperture.

ISO 100, 30-seconds, at f/14

If you are shooting in manual, you will choose both the shutter and the aperture. If you are shooting in brighter or twilight conditions, you will likely need a narrow aperture like f/22. As the night gets darker, a wider aperture like f/8 or f/5.6 can also work well. You may need some test shots to find a combination that works best for your lighting conditions.

Focusing can be difficult when shooting traffic trails, as your subject (cars) is moving, and you are often shooting in low light conditions. Find something else in your photograph that is in the same focal plane as your subject. (In the photograph above, I used the light pole.) After your camera has focused on your substitute, switch your lens into manual focus. Now your focal distance is set, and you can start shooting.

Composition for Traffic Light Trails

You need to think about the non-traffic portion of your image, as well as how you want the traffic trails to interact with the rest of the photograph. A higher vantage point (like the bridge used for the opening image) allows you to capture a longer expanse of trails. Natural higher vantage points (like the hill, below) can also add depth to your photograph, as the light trails recede into the distance.

ISO 100, 20-seconds, f/25

On the other hand, getting in closer to your subject can add detail to your scene. This shot below is taken of the same intersection as the shot above, but I positioned the tripod much nearer (just in front of the temporary construction sign visible above). 

ISO 100, 15-seconds, f/25

The long shutter speed (15 seconds) in the photograph above allowed me to capture both the red and green light. The cars were still for the second half of the exposure, which made them somewhat visible in the final image. The oncoming cars and cars turning through the intersection, however, were in constant motion and therefore appear to have disappeared.

ISO 100, 30-seconds, f/5.6

You can also use traffic trails to create more abstract images by omitting the road and its context. Here, the crescent moon (slightly blurred from the long exposure) is given an unusual setting with the passing lights of the highway traffic.

Getting down low and shooting up can really improve the size and appearance of traffic trails in your photographs. From down low, you can set an angle such that the traffic trails appear to tower over the whole of your composition. This works particularly well if you can set up at a location that has buses or trucks that have lights higher up than your average car.

ISO 100, 30-seconds, f/22

For the photograph above, I set my tripod on its lowest setting and aimed upward. This allowed me to capture light trails across the whole of the image. (The top trail is from a passing bus.) The row of lit trees adds another layer of the interest to the final photograph.

Traffic trails are not just restricted to nighttime, either. Dim or darker conditions can allow you to still use a long shutter speed. The photograph below was shot on a drizzly, foggy morning. The car was traveling fairly slowly on the curves, so I waited until it can just entered the frame. The brighter dips in the traffic trail are the results of the car hitting and bouncing over a pothole in the road.

ISO 100, 25-seconds, f/14

Summary: Shooting Traffic Light Trails

Traffic might be an annoyance when you are trying to get somewhere else, but it can be great for photography! Next time you are stuck in traffic, look around. You might find a great vantage point to come back to and capture some amazing shots!

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Diptych: double the power of your photograph

A diptych was originally a hinged writing tablet. The two halves folded together and closed to protect the waxed writing surface. From there, it became a term used to define artwork of two folded sections and later simply art made of two matching parts. Today, the term diptych is used for a juxtaposition of two photographs that tell a story together. Creating a diptych is this week's challenge for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge.

There are many, many ways that photographers have used the diptych technique. Some of the most common ideas for diptyches include before-and-after, compare-and-contrast, detail-and-the-whole, and unexpected. Searching for the term 'diptych' on Google or Flickr will give you many more ideas too.

Before and After

Highlighting the differences in a before-and-after pairing is a popular reason for a diptych. Most before-and-afters are presented in symmetrical fashion, with both photographs the same size and displaying the exact same portion of a scene or subject. Here, the story comes from the differences between the two photographs and the amount of time or effort that has passed between them. Read the full article for details and tips for shooting a before-and-after series: Better Before and Afters.

This 'internal' type of before-and-after diptych was popularized by the web site Dear Photograph. By lining up a older photograph in its original location, you can present a story of then-and-now in a powerful way. In this diptych above, it is amazing to me to see how massive the trees became in the twenty years between when these photographs were taken. Read more details about how to accomplish this type of shot in the article Rephotography: Dear Photograph.

Diptychs that Compare and Contrast

You can also create a diptych by combining two images that compare and contrast with each other in an interesting way. In the diptych above, I had been having the nagging feeling that spring was coming quite late, and checking back through my photographs from the year before confirmed it. I went out and re-shot the same crab apple tree a year later to showcase the major differences in seasonal timings between the two years.

Showing a Detail and the Whole

Another common structure for a diptych is to showcase a detail about the subject as well as a more complete view of the whole. The detail shot is therefore given context and perhaps made more recognizable. With the diptych above, I combined two shots that were taken at the same time - the wide view of me taking the macro photograph of the flower, below.

With this diptych, I wanted to show both the whole mass of Bohemian waxwings that were gathered in the tree as well as the details of an individual bird. The part and the whole.

Unexpected Diptyches

If you are really looking for a photographic challenge, there are whole subsets of diptyches that feature unusual or unexpected combinations of photographs. Think above and below the water line or behind both sides of a door. Some even include M. C. Escher-inspired interactions between the two images.

If you are at all handy with Photoshop, this is quite a fun rabbit hole to descend. The diptych above was my first attempt at such a challenge. The left-hand photograph came from the set of a play that my students were doing. We had created a paper book shelf, and each student added their own favorite books and book titles. The right-hand photograph was cropped down from a wider shot where I was pulling a book off a shelf in front of a blank wall (next to the actual bookshelf that appears in the final diptych). A short time with masking in Photoshop allowed me to add my arm and real book to appear to be pulling it off the paper bookshelf.

This unconventional diptych was an April Fool's joke for my students. The week before I had moved the computer screen out of the way and took a series of shots of the bulletin board behind it. Then I put the screen back and took a few shots to get the context lined up. Then I cropped the image of the 'behind' the computer screen down and set it as the background on the screen itself. VoilĂ  - see-thru computer! (It was slightly more impressive in person, I promise.)

Try Your Hand at Creating a Diptych

A diptych is a great way to spark your creativity and have a little fun. Take a series of shots and try pairing them in different ways. Or dig out some old photographs and try a before-and-after or rephotography challenge. Whatever you decide, share your results with us! You can share a link or a photograph in the comments below, or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How to Photograph Architecture

Architecture is the topic of the week of Sept. 14th for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge. No matter where you live, you can find interesting architecture to explore in your photographs. This post will provide links to a few great articles on architecture photography to get you started.

How to Photograph Architecture | Boost Your Photography

Architecture and Composition

Architecture photography is all about composition. There is so much to think about in terms of lines, placement, and lighting. One of the biggest things to keep in mind when photographing architecture is that the type of lens you use - and how close or far you are from your subject - makes a big difference in how your subject will appear in the final image.

The image above is from an earlier post on architecture, Photographing Architecture: watch your lines. I shot this series of photographs of our state capitol building by continually backing up until the amount of the building in the frame was approximately the same for each focal length. (The 18 mm shot was taken from the bottom of the set of stairs, while the 46 mm shot was taken from about two city blocks away.) Wide angle lens and shooting close-in to a building will tend to exaggerate the vertical and horizontal distortion and create converging verticals. Stepping back and using a zoom lens creates more 'natural' looking straight verticals and horizontals, but you may not always have a wide and unimpeded view of your subject to make that type of shot possible. (A specific type of lens, known as a tilt-shift lens, allows you to correct for this type of distortion in camera, but such lenses are a significant investment.)

Correcting for Converging Verticals will significantly shrink your usable image | Boost Your Photography

You can also correct for this type of distortion in post-processing, as in the image series above. The top image is the original photograph. The middle image is after a correction for the vertical and horizontal distortion. Notice that some of the image is now gray space that must be cropped. I chose the cinematic crop ratio, shown in the bottom image, to feature the width of the scene. I would have liked to include the entirety of the Sears Tower, but correcting for distortion resulted in the loss of some of the building. Think about shooting wider than you need if you are planning to apply post-processing corrections.

General Tips for Architecture

The article pinned above, 9 Architectural Photography Tips by Natalie Denton appears on Digital Photography School. This post lays out some of the big ideas regarding architectural photography and how best to approach an architectural subject.

A second article by Natalie, Photographing Architecture expands on the original list with a series of suggestions for what to pay attention to when shooting architecture. This is a great place to start to get some ideas for composition, timing, and subjects.

Interior Architecture

Architecture photography does not mean that you can only take your photographs outdoors! Do not forget the variety of subjects provided by indoor architecture photography. Interior photography may be a specialized branch of architecture but one that also holds endless interest and opportunities.

The article pinned above, 6 Tips to Take Your Architecture Photography to the Next Level by Suzi Pratt, focuses on suggestions for interior photography, especially for magazines or lifestyle publications. Think about how interesting it could be to apply these tips to your own interior!

My final tip for photographing interiors, especially your own, comes hard-won from needing to sublet my apartment a few years back. While Suzi mentions 'styling' an interior, you might be amazed at what a difference a few minutes of decluttering can make in your final image. Do not be intimidated - you only need to declutter what the camera can see. Hide a few things behind the couch, and your whole space might suddenly look bigger and brighter!

Summary: Architectural Photography

Architecture provides a variety of opportunities to for photography, considering both exteriors and interiors. Pay attention to lines and lighting, and you will be well on your way to creating interesting and memorable shots.

Share a link or a photograph with us in the comments below! Or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography

  • Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum. The first in a series of introductory posts about aperture. Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum provides an informative overview of aperture, how to use it, and what the deal is with "f/stops." 
  • Zooming vs. Cropping: Perspective in Photography. Zooming with your lens is not the same as cropping a photograph. This post discusses the important role of perspective in photography and lays out exactly how "zooming with your feet" differs from simply cropping an image. (This post was written in honor of my beloved 15-year-old Mazda who was retired shortly after this photoshoot.)
  • Panning in Photography. Panning is a fun photographic technique for rendering a moving subject. The trick to panning is moving your camera at the same relative speed as your subject. Read the full article for all the details.
  • Window on the World. Windows are a fascinating photography subject, but one that need careful consideration when shooting. This post provides tips for shooting through windows, as well as a series of examples that will make you start thinking more about windows, especially when you are traveling.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Getting Started with Macro Photography

Macro photography is an endlessly interesting field of photography. You'd be amazed how much time you can spend photographing your kitchen utensils! While aspiring macro photographers could easily plunk down hundreds of dollars on fancy macro lenses, electrical extension tubes, or focusing bellows, there is a lot of macro photography that can be explored already with the camera you have now. This post will provide an overview of some of our most popular posts on macro photography. (Macro photography is also the topic this week for the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community. Consider joining in.)

How To Details in Make the Shot: Droplet Refraction and Fun with Fizzy Fruit Photography

Macro Photography - How To

Most cameras, including point-and-shoots, have a macro mode or setting. It is usually indicated by a tulip symbol. Macro mode may allow your camera to focus better on a very nearby subject. (This is known as the minimum focusing distance. There is a limit to how close to itself a camera can focus. Read more in the article Why Won't My Lens Focus?) There are pieces of inexpensive equipment you can buy that can change your minimum focusing distance, but equipment will be addressed in the next section.

If you want to take a photograph of something small and get as much detail as possible, then you will want to shoot that object at your lens's minimum focusing distance. Macro photography often works better if you can use manual focusing rather than relying on auto-focus. My guest post Inexpensive Macro Photography: Tips and Tricks on the web site Photokonnexion walks you through the basics of focusing in macro photography. There is an even an action shot of me demonstrating how to "focus with your body."

Once you have the basics of focusing down, the next article to read is Tips to Improve Your Macro Photography. This post starts from the bottom up, including a discussion of the mathematical definition of macro photography (and "lifesize"). There are also several tips about how best to use depth of field, a narrow aperture, and your tripod to achieve the shot you want. Finally, the article concludes with composition advice specific to macro photography.

Another useful post to read is Macro Fakery: Background Creation. This post gives you the inside information about how to 'create' the macro photograph that you want and why you need to pay attention to your backgrounds, both natural and artificial.

The final how to post explains a macro photography post-processing technique known as Focus Stacking. With focus stacking, you take a series of photographs, moving the focus point and area of the photograph in focus just slightly between each shot. You can then use an easy workflow in Adobe Photoshop to combine those images into one, hyper-focused final photograph. The article, Focus Stacking for Macro and Close-Up Photography, will walk you through each step of the process.

Macro Photography - The Equipment

Yes, owning a $500 macro lens would be one way to accomplish macro photographs, but it is not a requirement. If you own a phone or point-and-shoot camera, you can use macro mode and a tripod or steady hand to capture great macro or close-up shots. If you own a DSLR or other interchangeable lens camera, then there are some very inexpensive pieces of equipment (like $10 USD) that can have a big impact on your macro photographs.

Close-up lenses are filters that screw on to the front of your camera lens. They act like a magnifying glass and change the minimum focusing distance of your lens, allowing you to focus on a subject that is even closer to the camera than you could before. The closer you can get your subject, the larger it will appear in the final photograph. There are many brands and types of close-up lenses available, and you can read my glowing review of the Digital Concepts 4-Piece Close-Up Lenses set here.

The other inexpensive pieces of equipment for macro photography (plus close-up lenses) are explained and evaluated in the post Cheap and Easy Macro: comparison and recommendations. You can learn all about extension tubes and reverse rings and see how they compare to close-up lenses, both in ease of use and ability to capture really close-in photographs. That article also provides links to several other, in-depth guest posts on each piece of equipment individually.

Summary: Macro Photography

If you are interested in getting started with macro photography, the first step is to find out what you can accomplish with the camera(s) that you already own. Test out your lenses, find their minimum focusing distances, and see how close-in you can capture a subject. Practice using manual focus, focusing with your body, or even trying focus stacking using a series of shots.

If you like what you see but want more, consider purchasing a set of close up lenses, some extension tubes, or a reverse ring. Each of these can be had very inexpensively and will expand your macro photography repertoire. Perhaps you will find that you are constantly pushing against the limits of what your current equipment can do, and you might considering investing in a true macro lens, like the well-regarded Canon 100mm f/2.8. Or, you may just find that you can keep yourself endless entertained with the equipment that you already have. Macro photography opens up new worlds for you to shoot and explore. You may never have realized how intriguing your kitchen gadgets could be!

Bokeh-licious grater

Share your favorite macro shot below or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to see what others are shooting in macro this week.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Must Have Apps to Assist Your Photography

This post is the third in an occasional series on useful apps for photography. Part 1 covered Must Have Photography Apps and Part 2 covered Must Have Photography Processing Apps. This post will expand the conversation by introducing apps that can assist you in your photography - regardless of whether you are shooting with your phone, point-and-shoot camera, or DSLR.

The Photographers' Ephemeris

Desktop web app shown. Mobile apps contain the same information across multiple screens.

The Photographer's Ephemeris (free for computers, $4.99 for Android, or $8.99 for iPhones and iPads). The Photographers' Ephemeris is a must have app for planning a photography shoot, and one that I have mentioned many times before. The Ephemeris allows you to plot your location on a map and see the angles and timing of sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and moon set. The app has also been recently updated with more features, including the timings for the astronomical, nautical, and civil start and end times for twilight.

The Ephemeris allows you to plan both the timing and location of your shoot, depending on what you want to capture. If you want to shoot a sunset behind a famous landmark or the moon rising above a clear lake, you can determine exactly where (and when) to be to capture that exact event. Read more details in How to Shoot the Moon with the Photographers' Ephemeris.

Golden Hour and Blue Hour


Golden Hour apps (Exsate Golden Hour free for Android or Golden Hour by Roger Moffat $1.99 for iPhones and iPads). These two apps provide some of the same information as the Photographers' Ephemeris but with a focus on the timing for the Golden Hour and the Blue Hour. Both apps contain off-line information, so you can use them in locations without reliable internet or cell access.

The Android app also combines the current weather forecast for your location and summary recommendations about subjects to shoot. There is a map view that you can use, but it is a bit clunkier than the Ephemeris. This is a great one-stop shop for figuring out Golden Hour and Blue Hour timings. (Read more about Blue Hour Photography here.)


Soft Light or Soft Box style apps (Pocket Softbox free with ads for Android , Softlight free with adds for Android, or SoftBox Pro $0.99 for iPhone or $2.99 for iPad). There are several different apps available that allow you to use your phone or tablet as a light source or soft box. If you are using a tablet, you can set small objects on it and use your tablet as a light box directly. These apps work best in darker situations or as an accent to other lighting.


Pocket Softbox for Android allows you to swipe around the screen to change the color of the light - either using the Kelvin scale or RGB color wheel. There is a sliding scale at the bottom for brightness. You can also change the size of the light to a large circle to create interesting catchlights in the eye of your subject. There are a few loaded presets for the basic Kelvin white balances, but you cannot simply type in a color temperature or hex code to get the color you want, you can only find the right color by swiping. (Once found, however, a light color can be 'locked' or saved as a preset for later.)

Softlight for Android provides four sliding scales to adjust the color, hue, and brightness of the light emitted by the screen. Again, there is no way to 'program' in a specific color. (The ads and scroll bars go away after you have selected your color options.)

Soft Box Pro for Apple provides 15 different colors, 15 different softbox shapes, and 15 different grids or patterns to adjust the light. In-app purchases allow for additional options, including an RGB color wheel picker. Brightness can be adjusted across eight stops of light.

My Shot Lists

My Shot Lists (free for iPhone and iPad; no Android version, alas) is an easy-to-use app that includes more than 50 different categories of shots that you can use to create your own shot lists. This app is geared towards travel photographers and includes examples and information about each type of shot as well. You can also add notes to the categories or to your own photos as you go. Read more about Travel Photography and Why to Make a Shot List here.

ISS Detector


ISS Satellite Detector (free for Android$2.75 for the Pro Android version, and not available for Apple, though the free ISS Spotter has some of the same functionality) is a great app for astrophotography. This app alerts you to the position, timing, and brightness of iridium flares and passes of the International Space Station. (An iridium flare is a bright flash of light, often confused with a shooting star, created when the reflective surface of a satellite bounces light back down to Earth.) In app purchases (or the Pro version) allow you add information about satellites, comets, and other famous space objects, like the Hubble telescope. The app also syncs with local weather to offer predictions on viewing conditions. You can set alerts for objects, and the countdown plus compass insures you won't miss one! (Also an excellent way to impress your friends. Who doesn't want to watch the space station pass overhead?)

Summary: Apps to Aid Your Photography

Each of these apps can assist you in your photography, regardless of the type of camera you are using. Apps like the Photographer's Ephemeris, ISS Satellite Detector, and the Golden Hour apps will help you plan and prepare for your shot by figuring out where and when to shoot. My Shot List lets you plan and track your upcoming shoot and also serves as a great jumping off point for challenging yourself in your photography - give a new category or style a try. Finally, the lighting and softbox apps allow you to add light productively and creatively to your scene.

Did you miss the first two app posts? Check out Part 1: Photography Apps (apps for taking better photographs with your phone) and Part 2: Photography Processing Apps. Have another favorite app? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.