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March 9, 2015

Photographer Stephen Alvarez: What’s on my Start screen

Which Windows Phone apps does award-winning National Geographic photographer and world traveler Stephen Alvarez find most handy for his Lumia 930? Take a look.

If photography were an extreme sport, Stephen Alvarez would be its most well-known athlete.

Since he signed on with National Geographic, he’s tunneled the world’s deepest caves, sailed the Pacific on a traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe, and explored the razor-sharp pinnacles of Madagascar’s stone forests.


In partnership with Microsoft, he’s also capturing the Seven Natural Wonders of the World with Lumia. So far, he’s photographed the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, explored Rio de Janeiro, scaled Mount Everest and traveled to Victoria Falls, between Zambia and Zimbabwe, to document the world’s largest falling sheet of water (nickname: “The Smoke That Thunders”).

Given his penchant for world travel–he’s on the road up to 180 days a year–what tools and apps does Stephen have on the Start screen of his Lumia 930?


Skype is an app that Stephen uses every day. Whether he’s at home in Tennessee or traveling abroad, he often has to chat with people in different time zones. Skype helps bridge that distance.

“It’s the app that I open the most often,” Stephen said. “I use it every day for texting or calling and it’s almost as important to me as the phone function [on my Lumia].”

OneNote also has prime space on his Lumia Start screen. From scribbling grocery lists to taking notes out in the field, OneNote is an indispensable tool.

For example, when he was in Africa and needed to jot down notes such as his guides’ contact info or descriptions for photo captions, he taps OneNote.

“It’s really great to have that notebook right there,” Stephen said. “When you’re dealing with non-English speakers, they can just type information right into the app.”

In particular, he loves OneNote’s microphone function, which he uses “all the time” and is especially handy when inspiration strikes.

“Whenever you have a moment of inspiration, it never comes at a good time. You’re in line at the supermarket or out on a run,” Stephen said. “So I’ll dictate the idea in OneNote and transcribe it later.”

6tag is another oft-used app. In fact, Stephen said, “I use it hourly.”

He uses the popular Instagram client to post pix to National Geographic’s official Instagram page (@NatGeo); @thephotosociety, which is the Instagram page for National Geographic ‘s contributing photographers; and his personal Instagram page (@salvarezphoto).

HERE Maps. “I don’t know how anyone did anything before they had mapping software on their telephones,” Stephen said.

He finds the app useful when flying into a foreign country to literally get the lay of the land. “I was in Costa Rica last week and I used HERE Maps to help me get to the venue I needed to go to,” Stephen said. “I’ve also downloaded maps for Botswana and Zambia so I can use them offline once I’m there.”


Photos and OneDrive. Having Photos and OneDrive on his Start screen only makes sense for a photographer as prolific as Stephen. That photo, by the way, is of an ice cave in the northern Cascades of Washington State, where he was on a photo expedition with Microsoft recently.

Stephen finds Expensify the easiest app to log and submit travel costs. The app has optical-character recognition so when you take a picture of a receipt, the text can be extracted and sent to a report.


He also uses MixRadio “all the time” and Cortana helps him stay on track, such as reminding him when to leave for an appointment given current traffic conditions. And then there’s Uber.

Like many Americans, Stephen drives a lot. So he appreciates it when he doesn’t have to get behind the wheel, such as when visiting Microsoft headquarters.

“I use Uber a lot when I go to Seattle. It’s such a good use of technology,” he said. “I drive an awful lot for work, so when I don’t have drive, I’m pretty happy.”

Want to learn more about what Stephen’s up to? Head over to the Microsoft Stories site for a great write-up on him and how he takes smartphone photography to the next level.

Readers, what do you think of Stephen’s Start screen on his Lumia?