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Home / Essays / 2015 / December / Smart Watches for Photographers

Smart Watches for Photographers

About a decade ago smartphones entered the market and gave us photographers and videographers many new tools to make our daily lives easier (has that ever actually worked out?). Such tools are for example: notes for screenwriters or location scouting, ephemerides to figure out where the sun and moon will be at a certain time, remote controls for cameras and GoPros, and of course the incredibly fast turnaround from shooting something at professional quality to getting it onto social media. Can you even still remember that previously all of this had to be done on big heavy laptops or even on paper?

From there on, the next step are smartwatches. Not only do they add a second display to your mobile computing setup, they also enable new functionality for automation, remote control and reminders that haven't been able before. And we all know it won't stop there and the next "smart" device category is already just around the corner (whether it will be Google Glass or something very different).

In this article I want to show what, in my opinion, a smartwatch like the Pebble Steel (de) or the new Pebble Time Round (de) can do for us photo and video people. Some of those features might not apply to other Android Wear devices or the Apple watch because the Pebble takes its own, different approach to the whole smartwatch thing. The Pebble watches are waterproof which means they can be used in bad weather or wet conditions where the phone should stay safely in a pack or dry bag.

Watchfaces

Custom watchfaces are essentially very simple "apps" that only have the task to display time and some additional information such as the weather. The are not very interactive, i.e. you cannot easily switch modes or go into submenus to trigger actions.

For photography my favourite watchfaces are 24-clocks that represent day and night time graphically on the face. The most popular and fully functional in the Pebble store are "Sunset Watch", "Twilight-Clock", and "SunTime Pro" - all free. The former has the cleanest watchface but takes a few seconds to retrieve or calculate sunrise and sunset times every time you switch to it; the latter displays the most information on the screen including inclination of the sun, battery and bluetooth status, however, it does not show the current phase of the moon. "Twilight-Clock" is somewhere in between and it's the watchface I'm currently using if I want sunlight information. Not only does it show when the sun rises and sets, it also graphically displays when and how long the different twilight periods (civil, nautical, astronomical) are.

Some watchfaces and some of the more complicated apps that act mostly like watchfaces with extra functionality (the most popular being Glance) can display upcoming calendar events. If your are shooting an event and you have to know what's going to happen every hour and where you have to be, a quick look on your watch can give you all this information and notifications (which make the watch vibrate) ensure you don't miss anything important.

Pebble + Tasker

If the "precooked" watchfaces and apps described above are not enough and you're not afraid of either searching for existing profiles or creating your own (essentially very simple programming using a graphical interface) then Tasker can turn your Android+Pebble into a gadget of truly limitless possibilities.

Use PebbleTasker to take photo remotely: PebbleTasker is a Pebble app that can directly run Tasker tasks on the phone. These tasks can be anything you want and they can contain one or many different actions (change volume, screen brightness, send a text, play music, lock the screen, etc). If used with a task that takes a photo (I'm sure video options exist as well), your smartwatch becomes something like the GoPro remote and you can use it to set the phone up in one place, then trigger it from up to about 10m away. Of course, Tasker can also be used to implement various self-timers so that the photo will be taken 2 or 5 or 12 seconds after pressing the button.

Use AutoPebble and Tasker's geolocation features to bring location aware menus onto your watch: Tasker can trigger tasks when the phone is in a certain location (either determined by cell phone tower, Wifi network, or GPS). AutoPebble can be used to push selection menus or lists of options to the watch. To do this, the Tasker task first has to have an item that opens the AutoPebble app on the watch, then shows a list of items. Each item in this list can be programmed to send a code back to the phone on normal and on long-press. Each code can then in return trigger another Tasker task using the Event Profile that listens for a code.

Say you want to record the ideal time for a photograph in a certain location while out scouting: when you get to the location, Tasker will vibrate the watch and display a list of actions, one of them being "record time and orientation". When the button for this item on the watch is being pressed, Tasker can then create a note (in Google docs or Evernote or any other note taking app with Tasker integration) with the current time and the orientation using the compass in the Pebble or the phone (I'm not 100% sure if the compass information is accessible within Tasker so the phone compass for GPS journey direction might have to suffice). Another similar possibility would be useful for film photographers: present a list of aperture values and then, when one has been selected, a list of shutter speed values, to record data about photos taken on a film camera without having to take the phone out and with automated geotagging.

Highly functional Watchfaces

Finally, both concepts of simple watchfaces and complex apps can be tied together using apps that mostly act like a watchface but can show additional information or integrate other apps using direct button actions or menus. My current main app that is on the watch 90% of the time is Glance. It displays time, weather and missed texts/calls in a clean and nice looking watchface, and the buttons bring up a list of notifications, past text messages, appointments and a PebbleTasker page to send commands to the phone (as described in the previous sections).

Conclusion

The possibilities are endless and my examples are only a few of the scenarios where the phone+watch combination would come in handy. Since I've just started using a Pebble, I'm sure I'll discover many more use cases in the future, some really useful, some more gimmicky. I'd be very interested in what other photographers have come up with.

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