Heading out into the beautiful outdoors and staring into the endless night sky can make you want to capture that moment forever. With the right planning and online resources, you can actually do just that with only a smartphone. No need for fancy equipment, you just need to become educated in the right techniques and you’ll be capturing the milky way in no time.
Planning For Astrophotography
Half the battle when capturing star landscapes is planning out your trip to make sure that when the time arrives you have the perfect setting.
Dark Sky Communities
There are areas around the country that are designated as dark sky communities that have gone above and beyond to preserve the night sky through outdoor lighting ordinances, dark sky education, and strong citizen support.
Going to one of these dark sky communities would be your best shot at capturing not only stars but possibly the entire milky way.
New Moon Phases
But they aren’t going to do much if you happen to plan your trip around a time when the moon is showing. The light from the moon, even a sliver of the moon, is enough to cause dimmer stars to fade away.
That’s why you want to head outdoors anytime between 5 days before and 5 days after the new moon. When the new moon phase is happening you won’t be able to see it in the night sky.
Leaving you to take pictures of the stars without any light interference. There’s a handy website that shows the phases of the moon on a calendar so you can plan accordingly.
You’ll also want to check the weather to get the best possible conditions for your night photography.
But if there are a few clouds that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get some incredible imagery as clouds can add to the dynamics of the photo.
Even if there are winds predicted you’ll want to check on wind speeds to see if the clouds will be intermittent throughout the night and you’ll get a break to take some good shots.
Locating The Milky Way
One of the last considerations you’ll make for taking beautiful pictures of the night sky is exactly where the milky way might be in relation to your geographic location.
Although the step isn’t necessary if you have the ability to capture the milky way in your photo then you would probably want to plan your trip to make sure you catch it.
There is a free downloadable software you can put onto your computer that will show you where the milky way is, and other celestial events, depending on the date and location you enter.
Stellarium is a beautiful way to navigate the night skies and celestial events in 3D to visualize what your photos might look like.
Night Apps For Your Phone
Even if you have a phone with low light capabilities or manual mode you’ll want to consider downloading a couple of apps to test out different shots for your iPhone or android astrophotography.
Neuralcam – When you download this app you’ll be able to capture several frames and the app will automatically piece them together to create one beautiful image
Night Camera HD – For a little more sophisticated option the Night Camera HD lets you set light exposure up to one second, have a separate residual light, and ISO enhancement. You’re also able to save your images in PNG format and change your settings to luminosity, luminance, and RGB histograms to check over or underexposure.
NightCap – This app distinguished itself by allowing you to record videos and 4K time-lapse videos. It also has a built-in star mode, meteor mode, star trails mode, and more options.
Gcam MOD – Google Pixel phones have some of the best cameras on the market and it’s no surprise that an app has been created that allows you to take those settings and use them for your own android. It comes with a night mode setting you can use to take your star photos.
Camera FV-5 – This professional camera app allows you to adjust your settings to account for ISO, aperture, Focus, and other elements. You can change the exposure in order to capture better night sky photographs. And you can save those photos in a variety of different formats.
A Better Camera – This app also comes with manual editing options not found in regular smartphones but it also has a night mode with controls like shutter speed, multi-focus, and ISO option.
How To Take Pictures Of Stars With Your Phone
Avoid zooming in when you’re taking night sky photos because they will lose their quality and end up grainy.
But you’ll need to make sure you’re keeping the phone still because the long exposure shots you’ll be taking will be sensitive to any movement.
Get a Tripod
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take any good photographs of the night sky by holding the phone with your hands.
You’ll need to get some kind of tripod so that your phone is held still while the photograph is being taken.
You don’t need an expensive tripod though. Any one will do as long as it has the ability to pivot so that you can aim the camera towards the night sky.
Using A Telescope
Another trick to capturing amazing night sky photos with your phone is to bring your telescope along.
Holding your phone’s camera up to the telescope’s lens and you’ll be able to see planets, stars, or other celestial events up close and crystal clear.
They even have attachments you can use to keep your phone connected to the telescope to provide more stability.
Switch to manual mode on your phone so that you have more control over your photos. If you’ve downloaded an app then you’ll want to go into your settings.
You’ll want to increase your shutter speeds to as long as you can. At least 8 seconds or more so that you can allow enough light into the camera on a dark night to get the stars.
And test the ISO levels from 400-800 to see how your pictures are ending up. Remember that you can always adjust the picture settings using a picture editing software.
Knowing what kind of celestial events are going to be happening at different times of the year could impact when you want to take your trips to the outdoors.
And being able to catch these celestial events on your phone could turn a normal star picture into a unique photo you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Take the time to comb over the celestial events and compare them with the different resources in this article to see if you’ll be able to see them from your location.
There are plenty of free resources online that will help you to take the perfect star photos with just your smartphone. No need for fancy equipment or high-dollar cameras, you just need the right planning and you’ll have photos you can show off to your friends and share on social media.