PhotoPills - Plan it, shoot it!

Did you like the picture above? That was only possible because I planned the shot using a mobile App called PhotoPills (and Aurora HDR, since it is an HDR to preserve the clouds composing the scene [it added some cromatic aberration though])! The composition, made possible by this app, is so exciting that even made me code a new functonality for this website, the new EXIF overlays! Make sure to move your mouse over the images on this post to see the EXIF information, including GPS coordinates, use your mouse wheel, or trackpad scrolling to zoom in/out on the minimap, located on the lower left side, and you will see exactly where I was when taking the photo! Let me know on my Instagram if you liked that new feature!

PhotoPills is a photography planning app that help me plan my photos ahead of time, so I’m always at the right place at the right time to capture the photos I’ve always dreamed about. For the below shot, I arrived at the location 10 minutes before, took a picture of the Sunset, repositioned, took the picture above, and left 15 minutes after. To my surprise (or not!), there were also lots of other photographers in the location, and most of them using the App as well, some of them even wearing PhotoPills t-shirts!

The App’s main feature is the Planner, where you can pinpoint a location you want to be (the “Red Pin”), the location of the subject (the “Black Pin), and it searches for when in the calendar the Sun or the Moon will be poisitioned accordingly to your needs. PhotoPills website has more detailed info of the App’s functonalities, so make sure to check it out!

The App goes way beyond just planning Sun and Moon pictures. I still didn’t explore all the features, but the ones that mostly caught my attention are a VR functionality that shows you where the Mikly Way is, and a FOV (Field of View) previewer that is very helpful when planning a shot, this is instrumental to know what lens to bring, and helping which lens to rent, if you are spending money on renting a lens, especially prime ones, you can predict the FOV according to a specific focal length.

One aspect that I would like to highlight is that PhotoPills has a learning curve. It is not the kind of App that you will be using right after installing. But it’s totally not complex at all, and I learned that this curve only exists because there are too much information and features in a tiny interface with a limited input, like a mobile phone.

There is a nice YouTube channel called Outdoor Photography School with Brenda Petrella, a very smart person and highly skilled photographer from Vermont, with extraordinary communication and teaching skills. I watched some videos and it quickly ramped me up to plan shots like the ones below, which I hope you like it!

This is a sunrise, early morning, precisely at 7:11AM, with the Sun located at the very top of the One World Trade Center’s antenna. I took it from Jersey City, as you can see in the Map! Try to find where the One WTC is located on the map and check the distance I was from it!

I took a screenshot from this plan and added some notes for you to see. It tells me when and where I need to be to make that picture, which is bullseye, according to the plan.

Image This Moon shot with the American flag over it was taken from the same spot I was while taking the Statue of Liberty picture, it’s the same moon that got right there before it raised to the Statue’s torch. The lens I used was the Fujinon 100-400mm. At 400mm, and it would be impossible without optical image stabilization, even on top of a stable tripod. At that range, every little wind messes things up. This photo has a 0.8 second exposure, showing the wind movement over the flag, while being super still, as you can notice by the flag’s pole.

This one was taken from Brooklyn, I planned it 1 day ahead and discovered a nice spot to take pictures of Manhattan, this is the Empire State Building’s antenna matching with the Sun’s position. I forgot to bring my ND big-stopper filter, so the Sun got a little blurry, because it was still high, with a high brightnes level as well, making my camera struggle on Dynamic Range to represent the very top tip of the antenna, but that’s ok, maybe I can recover that in an HDR…

PhotoPills will put you at the right time and spot to take fabulous shots, which comes with an interesting side effect. Because you will be well positioned, you oftenly will also benefit from golden hours! The below shot was not planned, but the light was nice because I was already in position that offered me superb lighting conditions!

Gladly I brought 2 lenses to this trip! This one was with the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 R WR.

I am super happy to include PhotoPills on every photographic journey of mine, from now on!

And thanks to Diego Nunes for help me creating exifNunes, the Javascript thing that put parts altogether for making the EXIF overlay possible on my website.




Rafael Lopes