Interested in night sky photography, but feel you don’t have the right equipment? With the swift progress of smartphone technology in recent years, you’ve got a camera to capture that perfect Milky Way photograph right there in your pocket. Here are some tips and tricks to help you take a picture of a beautiful starry night using nothing but your smartphone.
Plan your photo session around the new moon
Before you set out to take that perfect picture, you’ve got to set the perfect date first. The best photographs of the night sky are taken under a moonless sky, as the light from a bright full moon can distort and obscure other features present in the night sky. Because of this, you’ll want to pick the night of a new moon to best capture the details of the distant stars above.
If you struggle to keep track of the moon’s phases, you can look up lunar calendar websites to know which date to choose. Alternatively, you can download a moon phase tracker app – it might come in handy if you’re trying to make a habit of night sky photography.
Make sure to go somewhere less illuminated
As mentioned above, bright light can ruin a perfectly good picture of the night sky. This extends to artificial light; as such, you’ll want to find the perfect photography location, far away from light pollution. A good location for night sky photography would be a good distance from urban lighting and closer to nature, like an empty field or a clearing in a forested area.
When heading to your chosen spot, remember to bring along necessities like flashlights and portable power sources for your Xiaomi phone. You wouldn’t want to get into any unnecessary trouble or danger so far from the city, especially late at night.
Turn off your flash
For those who might have some experience with night-time photography, you might think it beneficial to use your smartphone’s flash feature. Flash photography can help in other night-time shoots, as the illumination helps to define subjects that might otherwise be drowned in darkness.
However, this advice does not hold true for astrophotography; instead, the opposite does. The flash may needlessly obscure features of the night sky and will not positively affect the subjects being photographed due to the great distance between the lens and the object. Simply leave the flash off to best capture the stars above.
Invest in a tripod
Aside from your smartphone, you’ll also need to bring along a tripod. The reason for this is that taking night sky pictures requires your camera to take in the distant, fine light present in the sky: as such, you’ll need to have your camera be still for around 20 seconds to 1 minute per shot. Since that’s longer than most people can stay perfectly still comfortably, a tripod will help you keep your phone stable as you take the photographs.
Additionally, if you’re purchasing a tripod for this purpose, you might want to look into one that has a remote shutter. Using a remote shutter might make it easier to keep your phone perfectly still and keeps you away from accidentally interfering in the shot.
Source: Unsplash/ Greg Razosky
Make sure your smartphone has a Pro mode
To take quality Milky Way pictures, you need to ensure your gadget’s camera can be adjusted to maximise its potential. Certain parameters are particularly important to capturing such photographs, chiefly among them ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. The Pro mode on your Samsung phone allows you to modify these values to increase your chances of catching the perfect night sky picture.
Additionally, a Pro mode allows you to adjust your focus manually. As the distance between your camera and the image of the sky you wish to capture is huge, this feature of the Pro Mode helps you properly focus on what you want to capture.
Play around with the shutter speed setting
The speed of your smartphone’s camera shutter needs to be maximised to get the best pictures of the night sky. As described above, a good night sky shot typically takes about 20 seconds up to 1 minute for proper exposure to take place. As mentioned above, accessing your phone’s Pro Mode allows the shutter speed setting to be modified, maximising the potential for a perfect night-sky image.
It should be noted, though, that not all smartphones allow the shutter speed to be properly maximised. If your phone caps out at a relatively quick shutter speed of 20 seconds, you may want to look into photography applications which allow for 1-minute shutter speeds.
Use your ISO sensitivity to your advantage
In addition to shutter speed, the ISO sensitivity of your camera application must be manipulated to achieve a perfect starry night photograph. Higher ISO values will yield brighter and clearer images of the stars in the Milky Way. An ISO value of between 1600 and 3200 is optimal to get the most out of your smartphone camera.
However, setting your ISO value too high also could be detrimental to your goal. As you increase your ISO value, you’re inviting more unwanted noise and pixels into your photography, which may ruin an otherwise gorgeous picture of the Milky Way. Though you want to keep your ISO value within the above-mentioned range, you should keep it as low as possible within the range for the best results.
Set your pictures to high quality
Across most native smartphone camera applications, you will find settings that allow you to manipulate the quality of the photographs you take. Increased picture quality will best capture every detail and feature you’ll want to show up in your night sky pictures. Try to set your photography app to the highest quality available on the native ratio of your phone’s camera for the best results.
Another option you should take to increase the quality of your smartphone night-sky pictures is to set the file format of your Milky Way images to RAW. RAW files contain more information about contrast, light, and colour and respond incredibly well to photography editing applications. As you’ll definitely be editing your images to get the most out of what you’ve captured, it’s best to set your pictures to the RAW format so the information will benefit you the most.
Hopefully, these tips will assist you in pursuing your astrophotography interests. In addition, many astrophotographers report that the act itself can feel emotionally cathartic, and the results inspire immense pride. So, good luck, and may the stars be ever in your favour!