3 Useful On-Location Apps for Filmmakers: Sun Seeker, Dark Sky, FiRe 2 Field Recorder
The iPhone and app store is constantly evolving into an important tool for independent filmmakers. From camera manuals, to slates, to light meters, the versatility and ease of the device has impacted just about every filmmaker I know — and it’s here to stay. There are countless iPhone apps out there that can make life on location easier, all without breaking the bank. Click through to check out three that I use regularly.
Ever been location scouting, short on time, and wondered if the sun is going to go down over a ridge before your company move? Ever needed to know how your shadows will look in an hour? Sun Seeker is an awesome app with some really useful features for filmmakers. Yes, it’s true: not everything about a cinematographer’s job is glamorous, and maintaining continuity in the lighting is a technical challenge that is important to add to your skill set. When shooting a long scene on location over several hours, your lighting will probably change completely. Part of your job as a cinematographer is to know where the sun will be at all times so you can anticipate what tools to compensate for shifting lighting conditions.
Sunseeker has a free ‘Lite’ version and a full version for $9 (it’s also available for $6 for Android). I use it enough that I got the full version, which grants access to the ‘ 3D augmented reality’ portion of the app. Eventually you’ll learn to know the sun’s path by heart, but I find this app very useful starting out, especially during the location scouting phase. For example, I can show up to a location where I need to shoot an INT. Morning scene and approximate when the sun will give me the right light. This can help influence your scheduling and make you more efficient on set. I think the app is pretty accurate and hasn’t given me any major troubles yet, though if you’re looking for something more robust & precise (and expensive), you might want to check out Helios.
You should always be aware of the forecast when you’re going to be shooting on location, as weather can quickly become your biggest enemy when shooting with limited time and money. For just $4, Dark Sky self-proclaims: “An accurate short-term weather predictor.”
Created by Adam Grossman & Jack Turner, this crowdfunded app is one I thought I’d give a try after I saw it featured on Kickstarter’s Best of 2012. It takes in weather radar information and notifies you based on your GPS location when drizzle or rain is expected to hit. When shooting an exterior, it’s nice to have a little heads up, a simple vibration telling me: “Rain in 20 minutes,” allowing time to cover the gear or to pack up and be out before it hits.
It’s not for long forecasts — it only gives you updates up to about an hour in advance, so it’s really only useful in immediate applications like location shooting. There’s a ‘radar’ feature which allows you to see storms in real-time with cool animations, or check out the past or projected future of the direction of a storm. I’m not sure what the coverage is like in other areas, but it’s well designed and worked for me very accurately in Southern California. From their Kickstarter page:
Dark Sky isn’t a general-purpose weather app. It doesn’t give you the temperature, humidity, dew point, or windspeed.
If you’re looking for an extremely accurate forecast, you should head over to the NOAA & check out their pinpointed weather map, where you can enter in your latitude & longitude for the weather report.
FiRe 2 — Field Recorder
This app turns your phone into a 48Khz capable field recorder with a boatload of options. I’m constantly using the Voice Memos function on the iPhone to record conversations for notes later, or just as a redundant scratch track when shooting a scene (it’s easy to hide and picks up decent sound, believe it or not). However I was looking for something a little more powerful for this application on set, and I found FiRe.
Coming in at just $6, I’m pretty satisfied with the performance of the app. I had a silly idea to have a ‘director’s boom,’ a Sennheiser MKE400 running into my iPhone’s FiRe app via this 1/8 inch microphone adapter cable. This would act as a microphone I could hide anywhere separately from the sound department in case I specifically wanted a certain sound to use later. It has the ability to record directly to AIFF, WAVE, AAC, and has built-in integration with Soundcloud and Dropbox. You’ll probably want to clear out some space on your phone though, as these files are much larger than the traditional voice memo.
Have you had any experience with these or similar apps? Share in the comments.
- Sun Seeker 3D Augmented Reality Viewer — iTunes
- Sun Seeker — Google Play
- Dark Sky Short-Term Weather App — iTunes
- FiRe 2 – Field Recorder — iTunes
- NOAA – Latitude/Longitude Weather Forecast