Tuesday, September 27, 2011

iPad photography (business) apps

Judging by the number of articles written about the iPad over the past few months, you wouldn't think we would need another. But I think we do.

Most of the articles I've seen are obsessed with using it as a camera. They go on and on about all the creative effects you can buy and use. But my camera is my camera; my iPad is a tool for getting my photography business work done when I'm away from the office.

With that, here's my list of useful apps. Some are directly related to photography; others are applicable to any small business. One word of caution: developers seem to change their prices all the time, so the prices that are listed here are the prices that were posted the last time I checked.

Wi-Fi Finder (Free)

I mostly use my iPad to get online, check email, etc., and you need an internet connection for that. If you don't have the 3G cellular version or if you travel overseas, the Wi-Fi Finder app can help you find Wi-Fi access. Pick a location, and it will display a map with the nearest access points. It will also tell you if they're free or not. And you don't need internet access to use it; you can download the entire world database before you leave home.

It's not perfect. It doesn't seem to be updated very often. It still shows there's free Wi-Fi at the Border's bookstore near my house, which went out of business six months ago. And coverage in some countries, like Iceland, is really spotty. For example, I know there's free Wi-Fi in the café at the top of the Eymundsson bookstore in downtown Reykjavik, but the app doesn't have any access points listed at all for Iceland's largest city.

That flaw aside, when it works, it's much better than wandering around aimlessly trying to find a Wi-Fi signal on your own.

Voice Memos for iPad (listed as 99 cents, but effectively $1.98)

When I'm on the road, I often need to jot down quick notes with details about subjects I've photographed, things I need to do, or ideas. Voice Memos turns the iPad into a voice recorder. You can record quick notes and play them back and transcribe them later when you have time.

It works well, but the pricing scheme is a bit bizarre. The basic app costs 99 cents and it only lets you record and listen to your notes on the iPad. It you want to email your notes to yourself so that you can play them back on a computer or share them with someone else, that will cost you another 99 cents.

Penultimate ($1.99)

For taking notes in your own handwriting, you have a lot of options. I've tried several, but Penultimate is my favorite. It does a great job of capturing handwriting; its pages look stunning. It doesn't translate your handwriting into text, but that's not an issue for me. And it gives you lots of options for sharing or sending a single page or an entire notebook.

Notability (99 cents)

For note taking, Notability is also an amazing app. In addition to taking typed and written notes, it has a voice recorder feature that works incredibly well. I often use it when I'm interviewing someone. It records the conversation so I can go back and pull quotes later while still allowing me to jot down some notes during the interview.

Whichever note taking app you use, I think you need a stylus. I know Apple founder Steve Jobs hates them, but it just isn't natural or comfortable to write notes of much length with your finger. I absolutely hate the Pogo Sketch, which is available behind the counter at some Apple stores. The foam tip is really cheaply made and becomes seriously deformed after only a few uses. It's also incredibly tiny, so if you have larger hands, it can feel like you're trying to write with a toothpick. Models from Targus and Griffin feel like fine pens in your hand and come with a nice, durable rubber tip that glides across the iPad screen.

iWork suite: Pages, Numbers, Keynote ($9.99 each)

These three apps are the iPad equivalents of the word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications you may use on your computer. They're all custom designed for the iPad, so they work well, are intuitive, and have a full feature set. With Numbers, for example, I can easily put together a great looking invoice without having to do any of the math myself. With Keynote, you can put together an attractive photo slide show, although it would be even more useful if you could program the presentation to loop continuously.

The weak part of the iWork suite is that the apps don't share data well with others. It's probably easy if your computer is a Mac, but with Windows the options seem unnecessarily limited. I don't want to have to install iTunes on every PC I may use just to transfer files back and forth.

To get around this limitation, I use Box.net, a service that lets you store files online and access them from any device that's connected to the internet. Once you've created a Box.net account, create a folder, such as Documents, where you want your iPad to store your files. Then in each of iWorks apps, when you want to save a file, select the Copy to WebDAV option. The first time you do this, you'll have to fill in your Box.net account information.

For server, type https://www.box.net/dav//Documents (replace Documents with the actual name of your folder). The double slash is critical. Also fill in your user name and password.

Next, it will ask you how you want to save the file. If you just want a read-only copy, you can select PDF. If you want to edit the file on your PC, you'll have to save documents as a .DOC, spreadsheets as an .XLS, and presentations as a .PPT.

With a tap, the iPad will copy the file you're currently working on to your online Box.net account, which you can then access from any computer. Download the file on a PC, make your changes, and save the revised file back to your Box.net account. You can then open that file on your iPad by going into the appropriate app, tapping the + button from the My Documents screen, and selecting Copy from WebDAV.

Documents To Go Premium ($16.99) is much better at sharing your files with other machines – it can even sync with Google Docs – but I still like working with the iWorks apps better.

GoodReader ($4.99)

For viewing PDF files, GoodReader is an incredible app. PDFs render beautifully and the app makes it easy to take notes directly in the file. You can place sticky notes throughout the document or even draw arrows toward important information. When I travel, I'll often send my trip research to my iPad in a PDF file.

LightTrac ($4.99). Also available for Android ($1.99)

Like a lot of photographers, I like to know where the sun and moon will rise and set before I arrive on a location to maximize my chances of making a great image. LightTrac, a screen shot is at the top of this post, not only gives you the time and angles, it draws them over a satellite view of your chosen location. It really helps you visualize the conditions ahead of time. It beats using an angle finder and astronomical charts. This app works so well, I actually pull out my iPad even when I'm working in the office to use it.

Weather Radar HD Lite (Free)

The weather can make or break a photo, so I use a couple of tools to help me predict what the conditions will be like. I like Weather Radar HD Lite is best for its radar and cloud cover maps, although they can be very slow to load. For hour-by-hour and daily forecasts, I just open weather.com or the National Weather Service in a web browser. The other apps seem to be more trouble than what they're worth.

MultiTide (Free)

Tides can also affect your photo opportunities. MultiTide is a free app that shows predicted tides for many locations along the coasts. The interface is awkward. You essentially have to add a particular tide station as a favorite before you can view the predicted tides there. But it's free and it offers a huge list of prediction locations.

Pad Folio ($9.99)

While the iPad comes with an app to display your photos, I find it cumbersome. There are several photography portfolio apps, but I like Pad Folio the best. It can pull photos from your DropBox account; you have to work through iTunes to add images to many of the others. Re-arranging the order of the images in your slideshow is as easy as drag-and-drop. If you're looking for extensive branding customization, the similarly named PadFolios may be a better choice for you.

Easy Release ($9.99)

Do you need to collect model or property releases while you're out in the field? Easy Release can let you complete those releases on location. The app comes with completed releases, but you're free to customize them. On location, you can fill them out and collect signatures from your subjects. The completed releases are then emailed to you in either the JPEG or PDF format.

Nightstand Central (Free)

Lots of times when I travel, the time on the alarm clock in the hotel room is never right. Or the alarm is overly complicated to set. Nightstand Central turns your iPad into an alarm clock. The interface looks a lot like the home screen on an Android phone and can be dimmed for the night. You have a number of alarm options, including the ability to gradually fade in the alarm sound so that you're not jolted awake.

iBird (Free — $19.99)

While I often photograph birds, I don't always know what they are. I have traveled with guidebooks, but iBird has replaced them. The most advanced version, iBird Explorer Pro, includes 924 species of birds with lots of illustrations, photos and descriptive information. What I like about it, however, is that it's easy to search. The search feature allows you to narrow the catalog down by more than a dozen different traits, including size, wing shape, color, location, and on and on. It makes it easy to quickly identify the bird that you photographed.

There are lots of other options, however. Many of the Audubon guides have been ported over to the iPad, including guides for trees, butterflies, mammals, insects and wildflowers. I think the Audubon guides provide better images and species information, but I find the search features lacking.

So those are some of my favorite iPad photography (business) apps. What are yours? Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section. You can also share them on my Facebook or Google+ pages.

1 comment:

Jamie Shellman said...

Man, using the iPad can really help make things more convenient, no? Aside from photography, people can also use it for business matters. It's nice to have all that software in one place. Very nifty.