Keen to know how you can take better night shots? Here's our resident astrophotography expert Tim Burgess with top tips on how to shoot amazing photos this month...
Your phone’s camera may be small, but it’s more than capable of capturing some impressive shots of the night sky. This month the night sky’s full of cool stuff to observe and photograph so, as Vodafone Social’s resident astrophotography expert, I thought I’d share some of my best tips on how you can get great photos of the moon, stars and more throughout April.
To the moon and back
This month the moon will make a great subject to shoot, which you can do with your phone through binoculars or a telescope. Hold or prop your binoculars in position and manoeuvre your camera to get a good view. As the moon is very bright, you’ll need to download an application that lets you adjust the exposure and focus – NightCap Pro on iOS or Long Exposure Camera 2 on Android work well. For the best shots, you’ll need to know when the moon is waning during the month. Why waning you ask? Read on…
Waning for a great photo
The different phases of the moon are easily defined by the different shapes of its sunlit portion as seen from Earth.
When the Sun and Moon are aligned on the same side of the Earth, the moon is new, and the side of the Moon facing Earth is not illuminated by the Sun – i.e. you can’t see it. As the moon waxes (when the amount of illuminated surface as seen from Earth is increasing), the lunar phases progress through new moon, crescent moon, first-quarter moon, gibbous moon, and full moon. The moon is then said to wane as it passes through the gibbous moon, third-quarter moon, crescent moon and back to new moon.
The best time to capture the moon for a photo is when its not full. Why? Simple: as the moon starts to disappear through the rest of the month you’ll be able to see much more detail on the vanishing edge, with craters and surface scars.
Long exposures: Starry, starry night
But it’s not just the moon out to play in the night sky. Constellations such as Orion – belt and all – and Ursa Major (most commonly known as The Plough, but also known as The Big Dipper and Great Bear) are very prominent at the moment, with the latter being a great way to locate the Pole (North) Star. There are plenty of apps that also help you locate all the constellations in the night sky, like SkyView Free, which is available on both Android and iOS.
Trivia time: did you know that the Pole Star is not actually the brightest star in the sky? It’s actually only about 50th brightest, while the brightest things we can see at night are probably Venus, Jupiter or a satellite.
It may not be the brightest but the Pole Star is the point around which all other stars in the northern hemisphere circle, and this makes it a great target for very long exposure star trails – brilliant pictures like the one below. The Nightcap Pro app comes into its own here, allowing for exposures many minutes long. You can get a great image by setting the exposure time to about an hour and keeping your phone exactly still. Just make sure your battery’s charged or have a charger at the ready – the last thing you want is the battery dying mid-exposure, as you’ll lose the image you waited so long to capture.
Star Trail courtesy of @andy_stones using Night Cap Pro on the iPhone 6
Long exposures: Tim Peake fly-bys
The International Space Station also graces the sky on regular occasions. Download the NASA app on iOS or Android to find out when and where you need to look up, and use NightCap Pro’s dedicated ISS mode to catch the ISS passing overhead. The Space Station will draw a single white line across your image as it moves across the sky, while other lights in the sky such as aircraft, satellites and meteors will also draw interesting lines across your photo. The ISS passes 250 miles overhead at 17,500mph, and it’ll vanish over Eastern Europe in mid April, so get snapping.
A steady hand
For all of these shots, keeping your phone still is massively important. You can use a small tripod or cradle your phone on a jumper or in your arm to keep it in the same position whilst the long exposure picture is taken.
It’s a good idea to bring your headphones, which can be used to take a photo remotely by pressing the volume buttons. This is a great to way reduce camera movement as it allows you to take a photo without actually touching the phone.
Applications, such as NightCap Pro and Slow Shutter Cam (£1.49 from the App Store) allow you to use the volume controls on headphones to start the exposure, removing the need to touch your phone at all and ensuring you don’t nudge it – ruining the photo you’ve so carefully set up. All you need to do is select the highest possible Picture Quality and turn on the Volume Shutter. If you forget your headphones and still want to keep your phone stable, you can always use the self-timer so that the photo capture starts after you’ve touched your phone, which will also reduce camera movement and allow you to get that perfect shot. Whatever you’re snapping this month, have fun and share your efforts with us on @VodafoneUK.
Become a pro… Fancy yourself as an award-winning smartphone photographer? Check out the best that the 2015 Mobile Photography Awards had to offer here.