Education Guide

Top 5 iOS apps for Astrophotography

October 10, 2015

Being a photographer can have its perks. Fortunately, we are living in a well-connected world where the internet is the largest library of knowledge right next door, and there is also this ‘new kid’ on the block, that we all have come to know as “Apps.” As Steve Jobs used to say, “there is an app for that”, and being a user of some amazingly useful apps, I totally agree with that saying. So without further ado, let me show you my most favorite, trustworthy and loved apps.

PhotoPills (iOS – Paid)

This is without a doubt, the most comprehensive photography planning app in the world. The excellent features make it an indispensable tool for the serious photographer. The price is steep compared to usual photo apps but then what you get is nowhere else to be found. I was also hesitant to buy it because of its price but I’m just glad that I took the plunge. Now I can’t imagine going out without this app. It has now become my most used app for planning Milky Way photo sessions. Here is a list of my favorite features on this app:

  • Planner: The planner serves several functions such as getting info on sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, calculating the distance between two selected points on the map, augmented reality, and also my favorite feature for helping me with capturing the Milky Way.
    • Milky Way planner: From declination to visibility and much more, this feature enables you to accurately pinpoint the Milky Way on any particular date and time, hence giving you the confidence to get your next Milky Way shot.
  • Moon: This feature lets you see the moon phases throughout the month with more detailed info including moonrise, moonset, brightness and many more aspects of the moon.
  • DOF: A very well designed feature that allows you to accurately get the correct depth of field information for your particular lens and camera combination. You can enter the focal length, aperture, subject distance and teleconverter to see a beautifully illustrated diagram with accurate information on your DOF, near and far limits and hyperfocal distance.
  • Exposure: This feature allows the user to calculate correct shutter speed, ISO or even aperture values based on the settings entered by the user manually. For example:
    •  I’m shooting a landscape scene at ISO 100, f/8 and my camera meter gives me a shutter speed of 1 sec. But I want to get more depth of field using f/13, and I also want that emphasized cloud movement using my 5-stop ND filter. So what would then be my correct shutter speed?  No worries. PhotoPills exposure feature answers that and a lot more.
Below are some screenshots from the app that show the different features I mentioned above.

After looking at the above screenshots and reading the list of features this app comes bundled with, you might be eager to see it in action. Well, you are in luck today.

PhotoPills DOF Calculator

Here is the DOF calculator feature of PhotoPills that you can also find in the app. This should give you a clear idea of how well-designed this app is. Try it out now and be amazed.

Spot Stars Calculator

If you are done playing with the DOF calculator, take a deep breath and have a look at this awesome feature called “Spot Stars” that is part of PhotoPills app. This feature allows you to accurately calculate the exposure time to get tack sharp stars. You might already be aware of the “500 rule” for capturing stars. But this one is scientifically accurate and gives you an edge for nailing that perfect Milky Way or starry sky shot… every single time. Awesome stuff isn’t it. Try it out now.

Well, that’s not all about PhotoPills. There is a lot more this app is capable of, but what you have seen by now should be enough to convince you about its prowess. You can always learn about the rest of its features on their official website

Sky Guide (iOS – Paid)

For anyone who is curious about the mysteries of the universe, this app is pure love. From design, layout to the entire user experience is nothing but the best. I first bought it for my iPhone in 2014 and have been hooked to this ever since. The iPad version looks even more impressive and intriguing. Here are some features that make this app a must-buy:

  • Gyroscope enabled: Having a hard time locating a star, planet or anything else in the sky? No problem at all. Just search for it in the app and use the compass button to let the app guide you where to look. It’s that simple… and truly magical.
  • Night-vision mode: Useful for those astrophotography sessions in complete dark without disturbing other star gazers or photographers around you
  • Events Notifications: The app alerts you about any significant astronomical events such as meteor showers, eclipses etc. It also notifies you about any visible satellite passes including the ISS passes and iridium flares, as per your geographical location. This alone is a super cool feature.

This app is not just for photographers but for everyone who is fascinated by the night sky and has even the slightest interest in astronomy. It’s a beautifully designed app that will keep you occupied for hours even at home.

Sputnik (iOS – Free)

If you are only interested in knowing about the satellite passes from your location without paying for it, this is a great little app that gets the job done. The app allows you to see a schedule of all passes for International Space Station as well as for any iridium flares. So if you want to catch the next ISS pass or increases your chances of seeing an iridium flare, this free app should be on your phone.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (iOS – Paid)

One of the earliest and perhaps the most popular photography planning app out there. Although I have never bought this app, I have been a fan of the idea since I first learned about this app on a photography blog. A huge number of photographers around the world recommend this app. Some key features of this app are:

  • Sun & Moon: You can get accurate information on sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset for any day, time and year, for any geographical location of your choosing… as long as it’s still on planet Earth 🙂
  • Distance & Elevation: The app also allows you to calculate distance and elevation differences between two points of your choice. This can help in planning sunset and sunrise shots more accurately.

Bonus: Now this is a good part. There is also an online browser-based version of this service available for free here, in case you are unable to buy the smartphone app: (iOS – Free)

As the name suggests, this app helps you get accurate information on sunrise, sunset, dusk and dawn based on the location you specify. This was the first app I started using to know about sunset, sunrise timings for planning my shots. It’s not a very pretty app but does the job well. Also, it’s free. They also have a browser-based service that I personally like more than the app. It can be accessed here:

There are hundreds of photo apps available on both iOS and Android platforms. And if there is another great app that you think should be on this list, why not let your fellow shooters know as well. I’d surely be happy to know too.

Happy shooting and make sure to subscribe to receive the latest tips and techniques from me!



Hi, I am Hammad Iqbal, a professional photographer based in Doha. Welcome to the "HI Blog" where I share tutorials, tips and techniques about shooting and post-processing images using Lightroom and Photoshop. Follow my updates by subscribing to my newsletter and discover with me the art of photography and post-processing!

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