Of Course, There’s an App for That!

Jay Holben Smartphones are extraordinary tools if you can stay away from Facebook. There are some great apps that can help the cinematographer and/or gaffer in their daily efforts. Here are a few of my current favorites:


Helios, the handsome Greek god who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day is now in your pocket! The folks at Chemical Wedding created an advanced sun-tracking app called Helios—far and away one of the best pieces of sun-tracking software I’ve seen since Clear Day Software’s SunWhere in the 1990s.

Helios from Chemical Wedding Helios allows the user to plot any given date and any given position, from their current GPS position to a preselected city around the globe to a custom GPS entry, and determine the exact position of the sun at any given moment of the day.

More advanced functions allow you to plot sun direction on a satellite image of your location, a graphical image of the sun path over the course of the day and more.

Not for the casual user, this is definitely a professional application with a lot of wonderful tools.

This app combines a light meter, waveform scope and a false color display for aid in exposure choices. It’s a very accurate light meter, but the waveform has to be used very carefully. It is not for exposure values, but more for determining even illumination, such as in lighting green screen.

Cine Meter from Adam Wilt The primary interface for Cine Meter features a camera image on the left portion of the screen with an indicator for ISO setting, shutter speed/frame rate and f/ stop reading. The right side of the screen features a waveform scope. You can preset your ISO rating and shutter speed/frame rate (interchangeable scales are set in the menu options). To adjusting your ISO and shutter speed/frame rates you simply tap on the lower portion of the display and sliders come up to adjust your settings.

If you understand its limitations (read the epic user’s manual), it’s a great app for a modest price of $4.99. Don’t, however, attempt to use the app without reading the instructions thoroughly and testing it before you take it out into the field and rely on the information it presents.

Catchlight from Ben SyversonCATCHLIGHT

Created by Ben Syverson, Catchlight simply turns the display into a solid white screen to use as a light source. It takes it a step further by allowing the user to color calibrate that light to a number of preset color temperatures from 2,500K to 10,000K or custom create any color in the iPhone spectrum and save that color for later use.

What’s the use of such an application? In this day of uber-low light shooting and ultra-sensitive cameras, the light from the iPhone/iPad is significant enough for fill light, eye light, product lighting and even a key light. Catchlight is easy to use, intuitive and effective.

This app has many interfaces to give you information about the moon. The main interface is a moon summary page that shows the current date; a visual depiction of the current moon phase; text informing you of the moon rise and set times for this date (as well as the sunrise and set times); and the most recent dates for the major phases of the moon.

PhotoMoon from Rivolu Pte. Ltd. The app also includes a calendar that shows the phases of the moon every day of the month, or select any major phase and it’ll give you the upcoming date for that month, and a linear graph showing the moon’s visibility in your GPS area compared to the sun’s visibility (there’s often a lot of overlap).

You can also slide a marker along this screen to see the moon’s compass position and declination at any given moment during that date. The most powerful screen, however, is accessed from the main screen with a sideways swipe. This brings you to a dual-view of a compass and an elevation graph. At the bottom of the screen is a slider where you can select a time between moonrise and set, and a tiny graphic of the moon will appear in the precise compass and elevation positions on the graphs, as well as in text next to them. Using this tool, you can plot the exact position of the moon and know where it will be before it gets there. Will it be obscured by trees or mountains or buildings? Or will you have a clear shot at it? This tool will tell you.

I wish that it also included an active compass and inclinometer, but, alas, it does not. For that, I reach for Clinometer—level and slope finder from Peter Breitling, another useful iApp. Using the incline measurement tool in Clinometer, you sight along the side of your iPhone and the app will give you the precise degree of that elevation. I haven’t found a standalone iApp compass application that is better than my actual Silva Type 15 Ranger compass, so I just use that.

Here’s a tool that you wouldn’t really think about for most cinematographers, but I’ve found it invaluable for scouting and prepping. MagicPlan is a floorplan creation app that uses the phone’s camera, GPS and position sensors to automatically create a scale map of any location.

MagicPlan from Sensopoa You start by pointing the camera (and a position guide) at a corner of the room and then trace along the walls to the next corner, denoting doors and windows. When you end up back at the first corner, the app creates a map with incredibly accurate physical dimensions. Need to create a lighting plan? This app gets you your floorplan nearly instantly.

The app itself is free. If you want PDF or JPG of your floorplan, there are purchase options—a one-time fee for a floorplan ($2.99) or a monthly subscription ($9.99).

Jay Holben is the author of the book “A Shot in the Dark: A Creative DIY Guide to Digital Video Lighting on (Almost) No Budget.”