How to photograph the night sky on a phone
No more fuzzy gray blobs
You can’t stop gazing at the luminous full moon—you need to share this with Instagram. So you pull out your phone, aim at the heavens, and capture…a fuzzy white blob. The firmament is one of the hardest targets to snap on a phone. Why? A smartphone’s camera lens is wide, and it automatically sets the exposure to capture the dark sky instead of the bright objects in it. To up your phone game, try adding some additional technology. These tips will help you photograph celestial bodies near and far.
Want to take your astrophotography game beyond your phone? Check out our guide to photographing the night sky like a pro.
Shoot the Moon
Before you adjust the settings on your phone, fix the setting around it. Go to a dark area to avoid light pollution, clean the camera lens with a soft cloth to remove any smudges that might produce a glow effect, and use a tripod and a remote trigger to stabilize the phone. (Did you know you can use your headphone remote to take a photo?) On an iPhone, focus on the moon by tapping on it, and then swipe down to reduce brightness.
Trace Star Trails
As Earth spins on its axis, the stars overhead appear to move in curves. The paths they follow are called star trails. Apps that let you customize your camera settings can take long exposures that will reveal them. The NightCap Pro app is particularly easy to set up because it has “star trails” as a preset mode. As you do for moon photos, minimize light pollution, keep the lens clean, and stabilize the camera.
Capture a Planet
To nab bright planets such as Saturn and Jupiter, snap them on the eyepiece of a telescope and reveal details with stacking software. First, use an app like ProShot or Manual to take multiple photos in RAW format. Then combine the images with a computer program such as Deep Sky Stacker. This works best if you have a mount that holds your smartphone to the scope. Or hack one together with wood, a hose clamp, and some rubber bands.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of Popular Science, under the title “Snap the Night Sky on a Phone.”