Need some inspiration? Or have you got a great photo location you want to share with other photographers? These apps and websites will do just the job
Finding amazing places to explore with your camera can be challenging particularly if you’re after something unusual. Thankfully there are plenty of apps that will help, from those offering simple inspiration and directions to others that will help you plan when to be there and at what time to get a specific kind of shot.
Here are some of the best location-scouting apps to help you find a great place to take your camera…
1 Atlas Obscura
Although it’s not specifically aimed at photographers, Atlas Obscura is hugely useful if you’re after something unusual.
“If you’re looking for something unusual, unexpected and, for the most part, largely ignored by my Instagrammers, Atlas Obscura is a must-have to check…”
Based on a website that’s been around for over a decade, its database of almost 25,000 unique places in the world depends on user-generated content and mostly comprises unusual and obscure travel destinations. We’re talking deserted buildings, weird architecture and things that appear to be out of place.
Some of them aren’t particularly photogenic – they’re only here because they have an interesting backstory – but a great deal of them are must-see, must-photograph places. If you’re looking for something unusual, unexpected and, for the most part, largely ignored by my Instagrammers, Atlas Obscura is a must-have to check before you go … anywhere.
Perhaps because it’s been around for a long time, the database behind the Atlas Obscura website helps the app seem both professional and polished. For example, for each location you not only get directions For Google Maps, but you also get a link to the official website, where appropriate. you can also add any location to a list, make edits to existing entries and even add your own photos. However, you can use the Atlas Obscura app without signing-up or logging in.
If you want to shoot a sunset, sunrise, or a rising or setting full moon then you simply must download the PhotoPIlls app. When you’re in position you can use its augmented reality mode to display on your smartphone exactly where on horizon the Sun and the Moon will be at a specific time. It means you can can get in an exact position at an exact time to photograph, say, the Moon rising between two buildings.
It works really well when you’re in position, but its ‘planner’ page – a map with the exact direction of the Sun and Moon, as well as the times of golden hours, blue hour and even the length of shadows – is excellent for helping you scout out a good location in advance.
As well as being great for getting your angles right for the Sun and the Moon, PhotoPills is also an excellent source of information about meteor showers. Although displays of so-called ‘shooting stars’ tend to be hyped up by the media, the brightness of the Moon can render some of them completely invisible. PhotoPills includes dates for all active meteor showers, but crucially also includes the phase and illumination percentage of the Moon.
MapAPic doesn’t offer you any inspiration or information on new photo locations. Instead it enables you to get as much out of places you’re currently in, you’ve recently been to or that you intend to visit soon. For example, if you’re in location or you’ve recently been somewhere and you’ve taken a photo that includes GPS data – likely from your smartphone or connected camera – then this app will create a new location, and then give you the option to add a photo.
However, the magic comes from its ‘sun insights’ page, which for very specific places will give you the exact times for astronomical night, dawn, the morning and evening golden hours, and the evening blue hour. You can also make notes about the location, back-up your favourite locations to Dropbox and share and print PDFs.
MapAPic is a unique resource for photographers who intend to return to specific destinations. It gives you the exact times on any given date that you need to be in position to get a specific shot. However, given that this app is taking-in incredibly detailed information from all kinds of photographers it’s a shame you can’t browse others’ stored locations.
4 TripBucket Mobile
Recently re-named (it used to be called Roadside Attractions Guide), this app has the tag-line “dream it, plan it, do it, share it”, which neatly summarises what it’s all about. The main way to interrogate its contents is by allowing it to see your location, which it uses to show you large thumbnail photos of attractions and things to do nearby.
However, you can also zoom-in on a map, browse via category or see upcoming events. Scan down the list and it takes you farther from your location. Click on the thumbnail and you’ll see a brief description, a useful gallery of photos, driving directions using the usual smartphone navigation apps, and even the current weather. You can also add your own photos and share each location with others. Annoyingly you have to create an account to get access, but once you’re in it’s really easy to use.
A polished yet relatively simple app, TripBucket Mobile is essentially for travellers looking for inspiration and ideas when planning trips, so it should appeal mostly to travel photographers. It also has a fabulous section of about 100 virtual tours where you can choose a destination or theme – including Tokyo, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the U.S. National Parks – and then see 360º photos of those top attractions. It’s useful for planning potential shots.
5 rGPS (Really Good Photo Spots)
What the aptly-named Really Good Photo Spots lacks in content it makes up for with in-depth detail. It’s a fairly simple database of interesting places, which you can interrogate by asking the app to look for spots around you using your phone’s location, or buy a manual search. You can also add your own spots and create trips, though the latter is a premium feature only.
What makes rGPS different to some of the more travel-centric apps is that not only is it focused purely on photography, but for each location it also gives you the exact GPS coordinates. However, the app does have a fairly rudimentary feel about it, and each page features ads, albeit rather small.
You don’t get a friendly welcome on rGPS. First it asks for your email and a password to sign-up – with no Facebok or Apple/Google auto-signup possible – then immediately asks for £8.99 for a one-year, auto-renewing subscription. That gets you no ads and the ability to both create and save trips, as well as save locations for offline access. That could be useful if you’re away from mobile phone networks and WiFi.
Here’s an app that has a lot of potential, but so far lacks content. A crowdsourcing app that relies on photographers submitting their own photos and details of where they were taken, Photomapper presents a map of the world that you can zoom in on. As you do you see photos for various locations with a small blue number indicating how many shooting locations are included for that city, region or country. You then just click on the thumbnails to reveal small versions of all the photos submitted, with each one including information on the best time to go and details about entrance fees, if relevant.
You’ll need an account with Photomapper to start adding your own photos and tips, but you don’t need to sign-up or login to passively use Photomapper.
For each photo it’s possible to get the exact location of where the photo was taken. It opens using either Google Maps or, on an iPhone, Apple Maps, so you can navigate straight to it. You can also use either Mapbox or OpenStreetMap for the world map.
Discover more brilliant resources for your photography with our recommended photography apps.
Jamie Carter is a journalist and author focusing on stargazing and astronomy, astrophotography, and travel for Forbes Science, BBC Sky At Night magazine, Sky & Telescope, Travel+Leisure, and The Telegraph.