Taking pictures of the night sky or Astrophotography is one of the many items in the bucket list of aspiring photographers. And there’s no blaming them, for it does produce some spectacular looking photos. It does, however, require a bit of skill and practice to fully master it. But with the Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras that we have nowadays, that isn’t much of an issue.
However, not everyone has a DSLR. Some don’t afford it and most don’t need it. It is considered to be something that only true photography enthusiasts possess and that’s kind of true. But does that mean you can’t take amazing pictures of stars if you don’t have one? Well, fortunately for you guys, no. You may now wonder what is it that almost everyone has and can take good quality pictures?
The answer is Smartphones. They surely have come a long way, to the point where in most scenarios they even take pictures that look like they’re taken from a DSLR. Samsung Galaxy S10, Google Pixel 3, Apple iPhone XS and Huawei Mate 20 Pro are currently the best camera phones out there. If you do everything right, you can end up with a photo that looks something like this:
Things You’ll Need
- Phone Tripod Stand: This ensures your phone stays in place that you’ve chosen as per your composition. Since we’ll be doing long exposure shots, it’s vital for the phone to stay in its place. You can also substitute with anything else that does the job without issues. The main purpose of to hold the phone steady in a certain position.
- Smartphone With Manual Camera Mode: Having manual control over the camera settings is a must. You should be able to manually control the Shutter Speed, ISO, and Focus. Most smartphones nowadays come with a Pro Mode in their stock camera apps that allow you to do that. You can also use third-party apps like Camera FV-5 on Android and ProCam 6 on iOS.
I wish I could stress this enough, but choosing the right location is the most important thing to get the best possible picture. You need a place where the sky is clear and there is minimal Light Pollution. This may be bad news for you city dwellers out there as night pollution is the highest in or near big cities.
However, you can check the night pollution in or near your area through this map. The red and pink areas highlight high amounts of light and are not ideal for this. However, areas away from big cities, mostly in the countryside, are indicated by yellow or green. They are good enough for this. Just pick the one nearest to you and easiest to reach.
Now that you have your ideal location, time to set up your camera. Open the camera app and have everything in manual mode. Unfortunately, you can’t change the Aperture on smartphone cameras as it’s fixed. You can, however, change it on Samsung’s Galaxy S10/S10+, Note 9 and S9/S9+. If you’re using any of these, go for the highest possible number otherwise just let it be. For smartphones with multiple cameras, go with the widest possible Focal Length as it will enable you to capture more detail in the frame.
With that done, now to the settings that matter the most. Let’s start with ISO. It is the digital light sensitivity of your camera sensor. The higher the ISO, the more your sensor is sensitive to light. Higher ISO’s may seem ideal for low-light photography, however, it does come at the cost of noisy pictures. Since your phone’s sensor is nowhere near sophisticated as the one in a DSLR, going too high with the ISO can ruin your image. I’d recommend not going more than 1600.
Next, adjust the Focus Manually. This is important as our phone cameras come with autofocus that may be handy when taking normal daytime pictures. However, while taking a shot like this, the autofocus may change at the last second and fail to focus where you intend. The trick is to focus your camera to infinity. There’s either an infinity loop sign (∞) or a picture of a landscape/mountains while adjusting focus. Set it accordingly and make sure it’s locked there.
Lastly, the Shutter Speed. It’s the time interval the shutter of the camera remains open to expose the sensor. The higher it is, the longer that interval is. You need it to be at least 15 seconds. Most phone cameras have 15 as the highest setting. However, if your phone can go higher, do try it.
Taking the Picture
With everything done, now you’re ready to actually take the picture! Prop your phone on the tripod or anything that’ll keep it stable. Position it in such a way that the sky is framed at least in the top half of the frame. You can also have a silouhette of an object or a person to make the picture that more dramatic.
When that is done, set a timer of at least 2 seconds. This is to eliminate any camera shake that may be introduced when you press the shutter button. By having a timer, the camera will have some interval to stabilize after you’ve touched it. After you press the shutter button, wait for the picture to be taken. If your shutter speed is 15 seconds, your camera will need to be left alone for 15 seconds after the shutter button is pressed to take the picture.
There you have it! You’ve successfully taken a picture of the night sky. Note that this may take multiple attempts to perfect. You may need to fiddle with some settings as all phones are different and can’t take the same picture with the same settings. Feel free to do so to get the best picture you like.
If you want to get creative and have a thing for editing then enable RAW image capturing from the settings if it’s possible. This helps you transform the picture to your liking post-production in software like Adobe Lightroom.