Learn to photograph the night sky on an iPhone with NightCap Pro
First, if you haven’t done so already, learn our 3 Golden Rules for great low light photography as this covers the basics.
When you’ve done so, we’re ready for the first challenge, stars!
1 Stars ( )
As well as Night Mode NightCap Pro has 2 extended exposure modes. You access them by tapping the star button:
The available modes will appear:
We’re going to use Night Mode and Long Exposure mode so turn both on.
In either extended exposure mode, the app works in “bulb” mode, meaning that you tap the shutter once to start taking the photo, then tap a second time to finish taking the shot. This way you can leave the photo to expose for as long as you want.
We can also brighten the photo using the Light Booster feature: Turn this on too. The light booster brightens the photo without losing detail. You can adjust the brightness in the in-app settings.
With Long Exposure and Light Booster active we’re ready to take a shot. An exposure time of 10-15 seconds works well for stars, so tap the shutter to start, wait 15 seconds, then tap again to save the photo. Here’s an example of what’s possible:
2: Star Trails ( )
This time we’re going to use the other extended exposure option, Light Trails Mode:
Light Trails mode works just like long exposure mode, except that any moving lights will paint lines.
Capturing star trails is easy, all you need to do is turn on Light Trails mode, tap the shutter button to start capturing, then wait at least 15 minutes before tapping the shutter again to save the photo.
The longer you wait, the longer the trails will be – you can see them forming on screen. This is a 90 minute photo, pointing north (the star in the centre is Polaris, the Pole Star):
3 Meteors ( )
Meteors (or shooting stars) are also easy to photograph, especially during a meteor shower. The technique is the same as for star trails, and apart from that all you need is patience.
There’s plenty of information on viewing meteors and an excellent timetable of meteor showers at Meteorwatch.
Turn on Light Trails mode and start it capturing. Any shooting stars that pass in front of the camera will be captured. Here’s one we caught by accident while taking a star trails photo:
4 Satellites ( )
Some satellites orbit the Earth and can be seen easily at night – they look like a moving star, and don’t flash like a plane. The biggest, brightest and best known is the ISS (International Space Station).
There are some good sites and apps that will show ISS (and other satellite) viewing times for your location:
Meteorwatch (excellent info on up-coming ISS passes for the UK, plus details of meteor showers and more)
Sputnik! Free app by Applicate
GoISSWatch – International Space Station Tracking. Free app by GoSoftWorks
Satellites look great if you capture their trail as they pass across the sky, so use the star trails technique again (Light Trails mode on), but make sure you’re pointing in the right direction!
5 Nebulae ( )
It’s possible to photograph nebulae, galaxies and other deep space objects with an iPhone and NightCap Pro, but these objects are small and very, very faint so to capture them you’ll need a reasonably big telescope and an adaptor to attach your iPhone to it.
Matt at iAstrophotography has written about how he took this great photo of the famous Orion nebula with his iPhone at iAstrophotography.com.
Not got NightCap Pro yet?
Thanks for the detailed info. What would you recommend I use to hold the iPhone still for longer exposures?
There are many smartphone telescope adapters on the market. They cost around £20
Any suggestions for android app that would do this?
Unfortunately, no. The developers have decided to only work with Apple devices as there are far too many Android devices to develop the app for. The app utilises a lot of the devices hardware so it would have to be different for each device and isn’t commercially viable for them at present.
I’ve just purchased the pro version and don’t find the night mode icon, that with crescent moon.
Is there other option currently to obtain the same?
Thanks for this – have tried tonight to play with the app without the benefit of this. iPhone is not flat so can’t do anything for a while!