THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO TAKING PICTURES THAT ARE OUT OF THIS WORLD
The night sky is magical, there’s no doubt about that. So why is capturing its beauty on the humble smartphone camera so difficult?
We’ve all been there. The full moon is out in full force, and it’s never looked closer. Or the sky is flooded with bright stars and even the odd planet. This would make a brilliant picture, you think. But as soon as you look down at the photograph you’ve taken on your smartphone, the magic almost completely dissipates.
In many ways, this makes stargazing all the more magical: it’s something that will be impossible to imagine if you weren’t there to see it with your own eyes. But, equally, when you live in a city flooded with light pollution, sometimes those pictures can serve as a reminder for the world that exists outside of the urban landscape.
If you’re not quite ready to indulge in a fancy camera, check out these tips for taking beautiful pictures of the night sky on your smartphone, provided by nature photographer and outdoor adventurist, Damon Alexander-Cole.
KEEP YOUR PHONE AS STILL AS POSSIBLE
“No matter what you’re taking a photo of, your subject needs to be still - as does your smartphone. A tripod can come in really handy for making sure you’re able to take photos that won’t be compromised by a shaky hand or loss of balance. I’d also advise getting a Bluetooth camera shutter, or even using the self-timer option on the camera app.”
DO NOT ZOOM IN ON YOUR SUBJECT
“When you use digital zoom, it costs you megapixels, which essentially amount to detail, and you want to be sure to keep as many as possible. For example, if you zoom into a subject, you’ll crop into the sensor and use much less megapixels, say six rather than 12. This negatively affects image quality massively and, when you’re capturing tiny stars, every bit of crispy clarity helps.”
CHANGE YOUR SHUTTER SPEED
“The longer your shutter speed, the longer your camera is taking to capture the image, letting more light in.
“If you imagine that you were standing outside at night and opened and closed your eyes very quickly, you’d see much less detail and take in much less information than if you opened your eyes for, say, eight to 30 seconds. That’s essentially how shutter speed works.
“Using a modern smartphone with the ability to change the shutter speed, or an app for long exposures (I recommend the app Manual for iOS and Manual Camera for Android) will help you get much clearer shots of the starry sky.”
AVOID LIGHT POLLUTION
“Light pollution can really hinder a great photograph of the night sky, so you need to avoid it. Get out of the city and into the countryside, somewhere as dark as possible. Any lighting sources will skey your stars and reduce the contrast of the bright lights on a dark background. In the same vein, you should also avoid using flash, which contributes to light pollution.”
LEARN TO EDIT YOUR PHOTOS
“Editing images doesn’t have to be complex, but it can significantly improve your shots. One great editing tip is to use the night sky as your background and place a silhouette in the foreground to make the sky stand out.
With this, I would recommend taking two photos and merging them in the mobile app PicsArt, or something similar, by taking a long exposure photograph focusing on a starry sky and another of a silhouette of a subject, maybe a mountain, a tree, or a human looking up at the sky. Then, pull the sky image into PicsArt and layer the mountain over the top, removing the background using the eraser tool. This will create one unique photo, like the one below.”
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
“While not being able to get the perfect shot of a beautiful view can be frustrating, try not to have crazy expectations of your smartphone camera. They’ve moved on leaps and bounds over the years, but unfortunately, you can’t replace a good DSLR or mirrorless camera. Still, you can create unbelievable creative shots of the night sky following these tips.”
"THE NIGHT SKY IS MAGICAL, THERE’S NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT. SO WHY IS CAPTURING ITS BEAUTY ON THE HUMBLE SMARTPHONE CAMERA SO DIFFICULT?"