Five Great iPhone Apps for Travel Photography

Jeff Pflueger: On how to get the most out of your iPhone's camera when you travel

04.26.10 | 11:44 AM ET

I recently tried an experiment: On a trip I really wanted to photograph, I left my camera bag behind and brought only an iPhone.

I wanted to see what I could do with just the phone’s camera.

The results: I saved myself the effort of carrying the 15 pounds of gear on a multi-day backcountry skiing tour deep into the Teton Range of Wyoming. But, sadly, highlights from the wonderful trip with great friends, from sharing fondue in the wilderness log cabin we camped in, to welcoming the new year with a blissful ski among the mighty Tetons, mostly remain as images in my mind. The memories are all photos that could have been. I simply couldn’t capture them with the iPhone as I could have with better equipment.

I’m not going to argue that you can’t make nice images with a smart phone. You can. It’s just harder.

CameraBag (Photo by Jeff Pflueger)

I was frustrated by my experiment. But on one of those days, I turned the phone around and snapped a picture of me and my friends on top of a peak we had just skied up. We were in the middle of a vast wilderness, and I texted the photo to my dad with a note wishing him Happy New Year. Within minutes he wrote back, and it was then that it struck me: The photography revolution that these web-enabled, software-powered phones are ushering in has nothing to do with their minimalist photographic hardware. The revolution has everything to do with the imaginative ways we can now instantly put photos to use.

Focusing on that revolution, here are five of my favorite travel photography iPhone apps, along with some hints and warnings that you might not be aware of.


“Filter” applications—apps that tweak and distort pictures—clog the app store. Some of these apps are good. Most of them are bad. CameraBag has an array of 12 filters—most of them are tributes to the days of film—and they all are pretty good. Filters like “1974,” “Instant” and “Silver” are my favorites.


I know what you might be thinking: I thought we were talking about photo apps. The iPhone Facebook application is a photo app, as are dozens of other social media apps with built-in camera functions that allow you to share your photos instantly. I don’t want to pick favorites among the social media photo apps, but by highlighting the Facebook app, I’m touching on all social media photo apps.

First, you’ll need an account—in this case, with Facebook. Then, just click on the camera icon next to “What’s on your mind,” snap a photo, type in a caption and hit upload. Instant photo sharing.

Beware in our new hyper-networked world. The first time I used the Facebook app for photography, I snapped a photo of a record harvest of wild chanterelles I was picking from a secret spot and clicked upload. Then I panicked. Would legions of mushroom hunters soon be descending on my secret spot? From my testing, the Facebook app does not geotag the images it makes (unlike the iPhone camera). Also, be aware that by posting an image on Facebook, “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any [photos and video] that you post on or in connection with Facebook.” Yikes! With all social media, assume the worst from the Terms of Service: That your 16-year-old daughter could be advertised as a virgin on a roadside billboard in Australia from the photo of her that you upload to Flickr.

AutoStitch Panorama—$2.99

Autostitch Panorama makes panoramas from several images. It has a solid user interface, and a good stitching algorithm. The app requires some heavy processing for your iPhone, so making a panorama takes time. You also will lose your work if you switch to another application or somebody calls you in the middle of all that processing. But when you are done, go to your camera roll and you can email or mms your image to friends and family back home.

Bill Atkinson PhotoCard—$4.99

Computer engineer and photographer Bill Atkinson has a knack for thinking out of the box. With PhotoCard, he once again has seen the simple possibilities others miss. With a slick and simple interface, you can create a personalized postcard from your iPhone camera in minutes. It will be stamped and delivered anywhere in the world for you for a few dollars. Never again will you miss sending postcards back home!


iSynth (Photo by Jeff Pflueger)

Ever wonder how a Google map shows live traffic conditions? In part, because anybody with the “My Location” button pressed on their phone’s Google Map is silently sending data to Google about how fast they are moving. This is called crowdsourcing. Today, crowdsourcing is the biggest void in the iPhone photo app world, but just think about what will be possible by crowdsourcing images from millions of shutter-happy travelers.

iSynth is a harbinger of the photo crowdsourcing revolution soon to come. The app is an iPhone version of Microsoft’s Photosynth, an application allowing people to create and share three-dimensional models built from several images made from different angles—a topic I’ve written about here before. iSynth allows people to view these 3-D models (“synths”) on their iPhone.

The app is free. It’s easier to install than the software required to view synths on a PC or Mac, and it’s more fun because of the touch screen interface. But the coolest thing about iSynth is what iSynth isn’t: You can’t (yet?) create Synths. Using the app gets me excited about the possibilities.

Jeff Pflueger

Jeff Pflueger is a San Francisco Bay Area based photographer and web geek. His adventure travel photographs involving all kinds of outdoor lunacy have been published in National Geographic Adventure, the New York Times, Men's Journal, Sunset and other publications.

14 Comments for Five Great iPhone Apps for Travel Photography

Larry J. Clark 04.26.10 | 3:19 PM ET

Yep.  For me, the camera-equipped portable communications device (I happen to use a Blackberry) isn’t so much to replace the “good” cameras for “serious” photography (or at least “intentional” photography), but to provide another thread of personal communications that happens to be visual.

From time-to-time I shoot a travel picture to friend:  Level 4 of Dulles Daily Parking Garage #1.  A running joke, but we both get it.  Or the shot of a Fiat 500 “painting” done on a matrix of burnt/browned slices of toast at an art show in Paris—after I put the Leica away.  (See?  It does absolutely no good to try and describe the artwork with words, but a picture did it instantly.)

If I abandoned my other cameras for the one in the phone, I’d be killing myself.  But as an additional way to say something—you bet.

Mike Barish 04.26.10 | 4:47 PM ET

You have to include the Joby Gorillacam app in any list such as this. It gives your iPhone camera a self-timer, unlimited “rapid fire,” grid overlay, anti-shake, time-lapse, auto-save and, perhaps best of all, press anywhere to shoot (great for self-portraits). And you can’t beat the price (FREE!). I know, I know, I sound like a commercial or a Joby employee. But it’s just a really great app that deserves inclusion on any iPhone app list. 04.26.10 | 6:24 PM ET

Great list of apps.

For travel light backpacker can this be very helpful. Just carry your iphone with you and forget about the camera…

Happy travelling :D

Donna Hull 04.27.10 | 9:08 AM ET

That was brave giving up your camera equipment in lieu of an smart phone. I’m not sure I could do that. But I appreciate the apps you’ve listed here. There are times when a quick snap of a photo on a smart phone captures the immediacy of a trip experience. Now I have a couple of photo app tools to include to make the photo even better.

David Sole 04.27.10 | 11:30 AM ET

I have iSynth which is of course the free iPhone photo app.  After reading your cool blog post I may consider buying CameraBag which seems pretty neat.

David from Unlocked iPhone

pam 04.27.10 | 11:44 PM ET

I’m totally addicted to Polarize, it makes your snaps go all LofI (another fine app). Both are FREE FREE FREE and super fun.

iPhone App Reviews 04.28.10 | 5:30 AM ET

Wow this what really i am looking for, i loves traveling, i must buy it ..

paolo 04.28.10 | 7:21 AM ET

Awesome, just what I was looking for! My new iPhone just came in, and I’ll definitely try some of the apps you’ve mentioned, and the one that Mike mentioned, too! Thanks :)

Paolo from Charming Sardinia Hotels 04.28.10 | 8:39 AM ET

Great list of apps…thanks for sharing.  AutoStitch Panorama seems like an interesting application, even if it will take a long time to load.

James Clark 04.30.10 | 3:09 PM ET

Great Apps! I hope Apple eventually come out with an iPod touch with a camera, as I dont want/need the phone.

Adeel 05.14.10 | 11:23 AM ET

Nice apps. I want to add another good application named TravelCamera. I have been using this and it’s very usefull. Here is the website;

Levinson Axelrod 05.14.10 | 11:38 AM ET

Thanks for these useful and entertaining applications.

W 05.16.10 | 6:53 AM ET

Wow! Have you any idea how much an iPhone costs! Cameras are cheaper and better quality.

Holiday In Kumaon 05.17.10 | 3:52 AM ET

Facebook app is a must. I love the app. just cant live with out it.

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