Sun Tracking + Apps

Thoughts on the Helios App

Over the past few years I have been using iPhone apps on every project that I have shot.  Sun Seeker has become my go-to app for sun positioning and has been one of the most valuable contributions to my filmmaking arsenal and something I have recommended to everyone.  The app has dramatically changed the process of how I determine the order of shots and allows me to more accurately plan the shoot day out, almost guaranteeing the optimal light for any location.  Even for interior locations, I have been known to calculate the ideal time to shoot a sequence based on being able to bounce the daylight into a room when the sun is in the ideal position.

It’s not that calculating the suns position was impossible before the world of apps, it’s just that it is faster, easier and doesn’t require any complicated charts and measurements.  In all honesty, it was rare to do more than establish our east to west position and  approximate the exact position beyond the 2 or 3 hours in the early morning and late afternoon when the sun was lowest on the horizon.  In my opinion, Sun tracker apps have definitely given filmmakers more control over the end results of their images than pretty much any other “App” since the iPhone was introduced in 2007.

Even though, by virtue of being introduced to Sun Seeker years ago, I have never used the sun tracking app Helios by Chemical Wedding, I thought it was time to give it a shot.

Testing our Helios

Helios is a great sun tracking app.  It does everything it is suppose to and presents the information in a slick, clean presentation that is easy to share with your crew.  It has great potential as a collaborative app for filmmakers to communicate the plan to everyone involved from the gaffer to the UPM and adds no time at all to the process.  Comparing the results of the Helios’ ability to accurately track the sun, I have to admit that it is slightly more accurate than the other apps on the market.  I am, however, not as fond of the graphic presentation of the data as I have been in the past with other apps, namely Sun Seeker.  Some of the data that is available to me on one screen in Sun Seeker seems to be divided into other options/tools within the Helios app.  Perhaps it’s that I am simply use to seeing the elevation, angle of the sun, remaining time of daylight and horizon line within one screen but I felt as if I did have to explore other tools/windows a bit more than necessary to acquire all of the details I needed.  That being said, the ability to quickly email and share the sun position data with anyone is a major win in my opinion and one that I can not believe I have lived without until now.

Final Thoughts on Helios Sun Tracking App

Helios is clearly an app designed for Cinematographers by Cinematographers.  The fact that collaboration is at the forefront of the apps interface is a huge advantage that this app has over similar apps and if you are looking for a sun tracking app, Helios is a solid choice.  The price for the app on the iTunes App Store is currently $29.99 which in my opinion is a bit hefty considering there are other competing apps that deliver very similar results for as little as $6.99.  That being said, Chemical Wedding is a company clearly dedicated the film industry so working within their ecosystem will more than likely guarantee you future updates and other apps that are tailored for our industry.  That has to be worth something in my opinion.