Cinematography Apps You Should Be Using

July 23, 2013

by Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer


Over the last several months as I have shared various behind the scenes photos on twitter and facebook I have routinely been asked “what app is that?” So I thought it was time to detail out what apps I regularly use as a cinematographer. I have broken them down into three categories: Must Haves, Nice To Have, and Don’t Need, But Fun To Use.

For those of you who may be a little OCD (like me!), I have organized my cinematography apps into two folders: “Cinema (Pre)” for the apps I use during pre-production, and “Cinema (Prod)” for the apps I use during production. But I digress, on to the apps themselves…

Must Have Apps ($66.97 – $91.95)
If I only had $100 to spend on apps for my iPhone, then these are the apps I would buy as I consider them to be essential for the work I do on a daily basis.

Photosynth [Free] (Pre-Production)
Photosynth is THE app to use when you location scout. It allows you to stitch together photos of a location into a 360 degree image that can be viewed from any angle. I have found this to be invaluable when planning my lighting diagrams as I can go back into the app and explore the location to remember exactly where things are placed. And for the price of free, this is an app you cannot afford to miss out on. 🙂

Artemis [$29.99] (Pre-Production)
I bought this app when it was first released, and at that time it was a bit clunky to use, and limited on camera selection. But today, it is much more robust and fully featured. This app will turn your iPhone into a directors finder. I use this app to create my own storyboards when I’m out scouting a location. Not only will you be able to see what your camera will see at a location, but you can log metadata and notes along with the image. It gives you the camera, lens, and angle of tilt. For $29.99, I think it is a steal when compared to the “real thing.”

Sun Seeker [$6.99] (Pre-Production)
This app is a quick and easy sun position mapping application. By using the 3D function, it overlays the sun’s position as well as its path over the iPhone’s camera. As you point and move the camera, you can see where the sun will be and at what time it will be there. It couldn’t be simpler to use.

Shot Designer [Free / $19.99] (Pre-Production)
Shot designer is a great app for planning out the blocking of a scene as well as where the camera will be placed. I use this app to not only plan out camera placement, but also to create my lighting diagrams. While there is a free version I do recommend getting the paid version as it allows for syncing across devices, (iPhone, iPad, Computer) as well as the option to work on multiple scenes at one time. My biggest frustration with this program is how it numbers the shots. It doesn’t allow you to name the shot according to standard industry practice, which is rather silly in my opinion. Fortunately, you can get around this by adding in your own text, but I wish there was an option to number the shots correctly, and avoid confusion when the shot list gets handed off to the script supervisor on set.

pCam [$29.99] (Production)
This is yet another one of those apps I bought the first day it came out, and it has made my set bag a lot lighter, and put my mind at ease so many times. This handy little app does just about any conversion you need to know. Full of camera and lighting charts and calculators, you can figure out your lighting needs, match focal lengths on different formats, and calculate time lapse settings to name just a few of the options. I used to carry around my Cinematographers Manual for these charts and conversions, but now they’re all in one handy app!

HoursTracker [Free / $4.99]
I am always interested in how much time I spend in different areas of production. So tracking everything allows me to better estimate how much time will be involved in a production. That way I can not only be smarter about the jobs I say yes to, but I can more accurately forecast what it will cost. This app is simple to use and allows me to track to the minute the amount of time I am spending on any number of projects. And then when I am done with a project, I can email a detailed report to myself as a straight text file, or as a CSV file. I recommend upgrading to the paid version, as the free version only allows for a limited number of entries.

Nice To Have Apps ($29.99 – $294.98 w/mics)
These are apps that I use less frequently than my must have apps. You may not use them a lot, but when you need them, you really need them…

WeatherBug  [Free] (Pre-Production)
I use this app during preproduction as well as on the day of production to track what the weather will be doing in the week ahead, as well as what it is currently doing the day of the shoot. While not all shoots are outdoors, knowing if the sun will be shining through a window or not can have a big impact on my lighting needs or in scheduling when to shoot a particular scene. The radar view in this app has also saved me a couple of times by allowing me to see when there are breaks in the cloud cover, and plan around that. For the price of free, it is hard to argue that this shouldn’t be in your arsenal.

Shoot Local [Free] (Pre-Production)
Shoot Local is a user generated location scouting app that allows you to view pictures of nearby locations. Since it is user generated, it is only as good as the content that gets uploaded. That means that there can be significant locations that are missing. However, that is where you and I come in. By using this app to scout and mark a location we can add to the database to reference at a future date, or to inform others in the community about great locations to shoot in.

Adobe Kuler [Free] (Pre-Production)
One of the keys to creating compelling imagery is through the use of color schemes. And powerful color schemes begin in the initial stages of preproduction – through the selection of wardrobe, camera filtration, and set/art design. This handy little app is great at analyzing the colors at a location and generating color schemes based off of those stills. So if you don’t have complete control over the location, you can at least know what the color palate is, and work with the selection of wardrobe to fit the color scheme. Having worked with the full, web based version of Kuler, I do find this app limiting in its selection of color schemes…

Rode Rec [Free / $5.99] (Production)
When paired with the smartLav ($60) or the iXY mic ($199) the Rode Rec app turns your iPhone into a dedicated wireless lav and audio recorder. While I’m a camera guy, not an audio guy, I have found these mics to come in handy over the last several months that I’ve had them. The smartLav can be used as an additional, or backup lav mic on a production. And I have also used it to record pre-production interviews instead of taking notes. The iXY mic has allowed me to start to build my own library of natural sound effects, as it is small enough to carry with me wherever I go. Granted, this is not the same as having a dedicated audio person there to record the sounds, but it is hard to beat the ease of use, and convenience of this mic and the app.  Yes, I realize this isn’t technically a cinematography app, but sound goes a long way in helping an image look and feel more professional…

Helios [$29.99] (Production)
This is THE app you want to get if you want the ultimate sun path app. I have found Helios to be more accurate, and more feature rich than SunSeeker. Not only can you see the sun’s path in real time, but you can calculate the length of shadows, see how long magic hour will be, and specify a specific date or location, to name just a few features. Whether you get this app, or SunSeeker will depend on your needs. I find myself using SunSeeker 95% of the time, as it is quick and easy to use. And I use Helios when I have to plan further in advance, or I need to make more complex calculations, like when a show of a building will cause a problem with a shot.

Don’t Need, But Fun To Use Apps ($32.96 – $39.94)
These apps range from novelty apps, to fun image creation apps. I find myself using them regularly on my shoots, but they don’t really help me get work done- just create content.

MovieSlate [$24.99] (Production)
This app is more of a novelty for me. Although I LOVE the idea of it- being able to enter in all that metadata, and have it update. Practically speaking, I have found a traditional slate to be more useful. A traditional slate can be easily thrown in a bag, or set on the ground without a second thought- an iPhone or iPad on the other hand, not so much. With that said, I have found uses for it as an insert slate when I didn’t have an insert slate on hand already.

WiFi SD [Free] (Production)
This app only works with Transcend SD cards. And while these cards do not have the quickest transfer speeds, I have found them useful on set. By using them with cameras like the C100, I can take a picture with the camera and then anyone on production who is on the network can view the shot. Not only is this a fun way to show clients what is going on, but these photos can also be saved to your phone or shared via social media- which is a great way to further engage with your audience.

Light Meter [Free / $0.99 / $4.99] (Production)
As of this writing, I still see light meter apps as a novelty. Having tested them to my physical light meters, I haven’t been 100% satisfied with the results. But I am a fan of the idea. If I can lose one more item from my tool belt, I’m all for it. However, if you follow the recommendations that I make in my write up of light meter apps you can get usable results. If you do get this app, I recommend paying the $4.99 to buy the developer a beer. As developing this app is no easy undertaking, and I’ll gladly buy someone a beer for attempting such a feat and coming pretty close to completely succeeding.

Cine Meter [$4.99] (Production)
The Cine Meter is to the Light Meter as Helios is to SunSeeker. However, Cine Meter is a lot more user friendly then Helios is. Cine Meter goes the extra step and provides you with a waveform reading, false color, and the ability to lock color and exposure information. These features are well worth the price of admission. If I were only buying one of these apps, I would go with Cine Meter. But if I had to save every penny I had, then the free version of Light Meter will get the job done.

PicFrame [$0.99]
I may be alone on this, but I get tired of seeing 1,000 pictures of the same setup, location, or whatever in peoples’ Instagram, twitter, and FaceBooks posts. PicFrame allows me to combine 1-9 photos into a creative collage and then post one photo to whatever social network I choose. And there is even an option for a 1:1 ratio which fits instagram perfectly.

DMD [$1.99]
DMD is an app for creating high quality panoramic photos. While the iPhone now has the ability to do that within the photo app, it uses a cropped portion of the camera, resulting in smaller images. DMD, on the other hand, uses the full camera, and produces a higher resolution final image. So, if size is your thing, then you’ll want to get DMD. 🙂

LensFlare [$1.99]
If you’ve been wanting to unleash your inner JJ Abrams and add ridiculous amounts for lens flares to your photos, then this is the app for you. This app features complete control over the type, color, position, and orientation of the lens flare. And while it may not be appropriate for everything, it is a fun app to have.

iWatermark [Free / $1.99]
Ever since the rights of the photos we take and upload to social media have been called into question, I have been looking for a way to water mark my images. Then, at least that way, if they get used somewhere else, I am getting additional marketing for free. iWatermark is an app that will let you create your own watermark in the app, or you can import a custom watermark that you have created via an external program like Photoshop. At $1.99 for the paid version, I think it is worth it to just buy it. I didn’t even bother with the free version, so I don’t know what the difference is between the two. The one major complaint I have with this app is how you import a custom image. Importing a custom image is a bit clunky, and not very intuitive. (You have to email a PNG to yourself). On a device that is about ease of use, this process is counter-intuitive.

Snapseed [Free]
Snapseed is my go to app for quickly and easily processing my iPhone pictures. While I have used many other iPhone apps that allow for greater control and editing, that defeats the purpose of using an iPhone. (IMO). If I want greater control, I’ll use a proper tool like Photoshop. Snapseed has been my go to tool for a couple of years now. With a bunch of presets that can be quickly modified and adjusted, I have my pictures edited and up on social media in a matter of seconds.

Those are the apps I’m using and recommend. What apps are you using? What do you find to be the most helpful? Is there anything that I’ve missed?

Until Next Time – Get Out There And Shoot!

2 thoughts on “Cinematography Apps You Should Be Using

  1. Great list of apps for photographers who feel that a great camera, lenses & ability to know when to use which lens & camera setting isn’t sufficient to get the photos they need. All the apps in a certain sense are completely unnecessary, but provide a wonderful way for people to avoid having to get things right in-camera — sure is time consuming though! I use Pixelmator over Photoshop if I’m doing design & photo editing for posters & such. It’s the best app just in regard to ease, functionality & power when it comes to stills. The only thing it can’t do is tell you when the sun rises and sets! 🙂


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