Having been an Android user for quite a few years now, I have come to love Google’s Photos app, and couldn’t imagine travelling without it. The biggest advantage for me is that the app backs up all my photos to the Google servers, giving me the peace of mind that all my images are safe. Images can be put into folders to separate events or locations, and if you can even allow it to recognise and group faces if that’s your cup of tea. Google has also put some pretty impressive image editing tools into the app. Along with a number of presets, it includes sliders that have been separated into categories named Light (exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc), Color (saturation, warmth, tint, etc), and Pop (whatever that is).
The great thing about Google Photos is that the web app (photos.google.com) works just like the mobile app. So if you prefer to browse, edit, or organise your photos on your computer, it’s no problem. The app is also very customisable and flexible. I have my set up to only back up when connected to WiFi so I don’t waste my data or get a huge bill when I get home from my travels. You can also select whether the app backs up the “Original” resolution images and uses up some of the many gigabytes Google gives you for free, or uses “High Quality” backups of up to 16 megapixels, which are free and unlimited. I love the “Free Up Space” function, which works by only deleting images from your device which have been safely backed up to Google Photos.
If you allow Google Photos to geotag your images, it makes it far easier to find them in the future. The app will also use that geolocation to automatically create folders and categorise trips for you if you want. As a travel photographer I find this feature incredibly useful. As with all things Google, the search function is insanely powerful. You can search by place, date, face, even type!
Best of all, Google Photos is completely free. If you already have a Google account (if you use Gmail or any other Google service then you already do), then you can just download the app and sign in. If not, it’s free to sign up. You can use it on your Android or Apple device.
If you’ve been immersed in the world of photography for any period of time you will have come across Adobe Lightroom. It is the industry standard for the management of digital images, and its photo editing tools are pretty insane too. In recent times Adobe has been aggressively pushing a cloud-based, mobile-friendly software model, and love it or hate that new direction, you can’t help but love Lightroom Mobile. It does almost everything that the desktop version does, but on your smartphone or tablet.
You can use it to edit images taken with your phone’s built-in camera app, or you can take images from within the dedicated LR Mobile app (including RAW capture depending on your device). You can also import any image into the app from your phone’s directory, which means if you have the ability to transfer images directly from your camera to your phone, then you can start editing them right there on location. Any collection that you create in Lightroom Mobile or in the desktop version can be synced so that you can view or continue to edit them anywhere.
The Lightroom Mobile app is free to download and use but if you want to use the premium features like syncing with Lightroom CC desktop and get free storage (up to 1TB depending on your plan), you will need to subscribe to one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud membership plans. If you don’t use Lightroom on your computer the free version will suffice, but if you aren’t, I’m not sure why because you get A LOT for $10/month. You can find out more on the Adobe website, or just download the Android or Apple version of the app.
Photopills is simply the most useful photography app I have ever used. It’s the only app on this list that you will need to pay for, and that doesn’t stop me enthusiastically recommending it. It is a landscape and travel photographer’s best friend. It’s a swiss-army knife. It makes planning and executing photos fun and painless.
The Photopills app has far too many tools and features to cover in any depth here, but I’ll give you a brief overview. The app helps you to plan photos and timelapses with insane detail by using geolocation technology. It will give you information about the sun, moon, and milky way. If you want to shoot sunset and twilight it will tell you exactly when and where (depending on your location) it will happen. If you want to try some astrophotography and want to know when and where the galactic centre will be on the night of a new moon to make sure the sky is dark, it will tell you that too. You can use the Augmented Reality feature to visualise the sun, moon, or milky way on your phone. You can also plan your photos in the plans manager and save them for later, meaning you can plan for a supermoon in a couple months time and all your info will still be there when the date rolls around.
Photopills has a number of calculators for the inner photography geek in all of us, like exposure, depth-of-field (DOF), hyperfocal distance, star-trails, long-exposure, and time-lapse calculators. Not all of these will be useful, depending on what and how you like to shoot, but some of them are bound to be helpful. It also includes a number of useful widgets that can give you the info you want at your fingertips, like saved plans or a list of info based on your current location.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what this insanely powerful app can do. You could spend $10 on far less useful stuff. I know I have. If you’re not sold on it yet, go read about all the cool stuff it can do to help you make amazing landscape and travel photos. Or just buy the Android or Apple app.
For me, there is no better source of photography inspiration than the photo-sharing website 500px. I can’t think of a site that comes close in terms of the quality of photography and the algorithms used to feed me incredible images by some of the best photographers on the planet. 500px left Flickr in the dust years ago. Some of the most talented and hard-working photographers I follow I discovered through 500px. If I want inspiration, 500px will hit the spot almost every time.
The 500px app is no less useful. It is a vital tool for me as a travel photographer in finding locations and subjects and planning my photos. I will usually create a gallery in the app and start searching for the location or area I am planning to visit, then as I find images of interesting places I save them to that gallery. Often I will save a whole bunch of images without looking at the specific details, then go back later and take a second look at them, noting the name of the beach or mountain or waterfall, etc. I use this information to make a shot-list in that area. I very rarely get to photograph everything on the list, but it’s a good starting point. If there’s a landmark or subject that I’m really interested in I can search again for that specific place and find more images to give me more inspiration and differing perspective.
I have used the app to help me plan a number of photography trips, including the American West Coast, Canadian Rockies, Australia, and of course New Zealand. I’ve even found it useful to find new locations in places I know well, like my hometown of Mt Maunganui, NZ. No matter what sort of inspiration or ideas you’re after, don’t go past 500px for helping to plan your next trip or location. It’s free to download the Android and Apple apps and to sign up.
When it comes to portfolio websites for photographers, SmugMug is one of the best. In my opinion, they are the best. I’ve written about this before in my in-depth comparison of SmugMug and PhotoShelter. One of SmugMug’s big selling points for me is their mobile app. There are many reasons I love this app, like being able to view and upload to my archive from anywhere or sharing images and folders to clients or social media from right inside the app. But the reason I really love it as a travel photographer is that I have my portfolio right there in my pocket everywhere I go. I can show my best work in all it’s high-resolution glory without any of the compression or downsizing you get with Instagram or Facebook. Galleries can be downloaded for offline viewing too, which is great if you don’t have data when you’re traveling or if you’re out of range of cell service.
Of course with the app come all the other awesome reasons to use SmugMug, like UNLIMITED uploads and storage, the ability to sell your photos with e-commerce, and a massive range of customisable portfolio templates that will make your website look badass. If you already use SmugMug, grab the Android or Apple app. If you aren’t, you can get a free 14-day trial and 15% off by using this link.
As promised, there are my five must-have travel photography apps. There are a whole bunch more apps that I couldn’t survive without when on the road, but these are the ones that make my life as a travelling photographer far more simple and stress-free. I’m always on the hunt for new apps to add to my ever-growing collection, so if there’s something you think I’ve missed, or if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment 🙂
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