NightCap and NightCap Pro Tutorials

Learn to take amazing photos with your iPhone and NightCap Pro with these tutorials. From the basics of using the app to photographing the night sky (including stars, meteors, and the ISS!)

Aurora Photography: Photograph the Northern Lights on your iPhone with NightCap

The aurora is an amazing sight, and if you’re lucky enough to see the Lights you’ll want a photo or video to remember the occasion. With NightCap it’s easy! There’s just one important rule:

Use a tripod, or find some way to keep your device perfectly still.

Photographing the night sky means keeping the lens open long enough for the camera to absorb enough light, so it’s important to keep your iPhone or iPad still to prevent blurring.

Read on to learn how to take a great photo or a stunning time lapse video!

Taking photos

The easiest way to capture the Aurora well is to use NightCap’s Stars Mode. First, open the camera options by tapping the star icon:

Turn on Stars mode (a green icon means it’s turned on). You’re now ready to take a photo – just tap the shutter and wait about 15 seconds.

If the lights are faint, try turning on Light Boost too, it can really help bring out them out. The “sun icon” button turns Light Boost on. You can adjust the Light Boost strength in the settings screen.

Time lapse

The Northern (or Southern) Lights can look stunning in motion, but because they can move slowly and are very faint at times they’re difficult to capture well in a standard video. Time Lapse solves both of these problems, by producing a video that’s much faster than real life, and also allowing the camera to use long exposures to make the picture brighter.

Recording Time Lapse with NightCap is very easy, you just need a little patience. Here’s how.

First, switch to Time Lapse mode by tapping the camera icon at the top of the screen. The icon will show a camera with TL for time lapse when you’re in Time Lapse mode.

Next, open the camera options (by tapping the star button) to set the time lapse up.

There are three settings you need to set here:

1. Time lapse speed. The best setting depends on how fast or slow the lights are moving, but 120x (4 seconds exposure time) gives good results in most cases. For slow moving lights use a higher setting, for fast moving lights use a slower setting.

2. Turn on Long Exposure mode. This produces far better quality in very low light and reduces noise (image grain) a lot.

3. You also need to turn on Night Mode (the moon icon). When you record video or time lapse, this puts the camera into a special mode that produces much better results that are much brighter at night.

You can also change the quality if you wish. 4K is best quality but uses a lot more storage.

Finally, if the lights are faint, turn on Light Boost (the sun icon). This boosts image brightness. You can adjust the strength of the light booster in the settings.

Now you’re all set. Just tap the shutter button to start recording, and again to finish.

Tips

Please note that time lapse video records much more slowly than normal, so it’s important to leave the camera running a while. At 120x, it takes 20 minutes of recording to produce 10 seconds of video. If you plan to record for a long time, it’s best to connect your device to a power source such as an external battery.

You can use a remote shutter control. Turn on the volume shutter control in the in-app settings (it’s the last option in the list). This lets you use the volume buttons to trigger the shutter. You can also use any headphones with a volume control (including the ones that came with your iPhone) or any bluetooth shutter release that’s compatible with iPhone.

Batteries drain much faster in very cold conditions and iPhones can turn themselves off for protection if they get too cold. So if it’s extremely cold, try to wrap your device up to protect it from the cold. It’s best to set everything up first so you don’t need to touch the screen then use a remote shutter control.

Night Mode is only available for video and time lapse mode, as photo mode uses AI technology to give you the best possible results.

Please note that results will depend on many factors, including which iPhone or iPad model you use, sky / weather conditions, and how bright the lights are.

How To Photograph The Solar Eclipse On Your iPhone or iPad

Images kindly provided by Jim Opalek, using NightCap and a solarscope during the American total eclipse of 2017.

Eclipses are rare, and total eclipses are often a once in a lifetime experience. Our guide will show you how to set up NightCap Camera on your iPhone or iPad to take a sequence of photos automatically, so you can focus on watching the eclipse and not the screen.

The screenshots with these instructions show the iPhone interface, but will work exactly the same for the iPad too.

Please note:

  • The iPhone/iPad camera is very small, and while you should get good photos it won’t be comparable to DSLR cameras with big, expensive lenses. Also, the lens gives quite a wide view which means the sun will be quite small in your photos.

Essential advice

  • Use a tripod, or some other way to keep the device still during the eclipse.
  • Protect the camera lens with a solar filter. Lenses focus the sun’s energy to a point. You can start a fire with a magnifying glass. The camera’s lens is a lot smaller and is unlikely to cause a fire, but you should still protect the camera during the eclipse as you’ll be leaving it pointed at the sun for at least a few minutes.
  • If you plan to leave the camera running for a long time time, we recommend putting something in front of your device to shade it (remember to keep the camera clear!) An iPhone or iPad in direct sunlight will get hot, and taking photographs also creates heat. It won’t cause any damage but if it gets too hot it will turn itself off and you won’t be able to take any photos!
  • You’ll be setting everything up in full sun, and the sun will be right behind your screen. That will make it difficult to see what you’re doing. Consider making a shield around your screen to block the background light so you can see easily.
  • If the sun will be very high in the sky in your location, that means your device will be pointing almost straight up. Check your tripod will work at that angle, and how easy it is to see and use the screen too.

You should remove the solar filter from the camera just before totality so the camera can get clear photos during the period of darkness. Replace the filter afterwards.


Taking a sequence of photos automatically

You’ll want to watch the eclipse, not the screen. Set NightCap Camera to take a sequence of photos automatically, and you can concentrate on the eclipse while the app records it. NightCap Camera has an Interval Programmer that lets you do this. Here’s how to set it up.

1. Open the in-app settings

Just tap the button with the cog icon:

Tap the cog icon to open the in-app settings

2. Turn on the Interval Programmer.

This sets the camera up to take a sequence of photos automatically.

Interval Programmer settings

3. Set the Interval Programmer options

The 3 numbers under the interval programmer set the sequence up. Set them to:

  1. Shots to take: Infinite (∞). When it’s set to infinite shots, you just tap the shutter to start taking photos and again to stop.
  2. Exposure time: 3 seconds. This will take a 3 second exposures.
  3. Interval between shots: 0 seconds. This means the camera takes photos continuously, without waiting between shots.

4. Set quality to JPEG or HQ JPEG.

HQ is slightly higher quality, but uses 2-3x more storage space. Standard JPEG is fine for most people.

Set photo quality to JPEG or HQ JPEG

Why not TIFF? It’s technically better, but the difference is very minimal and it takes a lot more time to save, meaning it delays taking the next photo and we might miss a good shot. It also uses far more storage space.

You can close the Settings screen now by tapping the cog icon.


iPhone 7 Plus only: Use the 2x camera

If you’re lucky enough to have an iPhone 7 Plus, use the 2x (zoom) camera. This will give you much better photos, as the sun will be 2x bigger.

Use the 2x camera to get closer views (iPhone 7 Plus only)


Turn on Long Exposure mode for best quality

Long Exposure mode takes lots of photos extremely quickly, and blends them together. This produces very high quality photos, and eliminates a lot of image noise in very low light. It does however require a tripod to avoid blurring the shot.

Open the Camera Options panel, where you’ll find the special camera modes.

Tap the Star icon to open the Camera Options panel

Turn on Long Exposure mode. This will give better quality if the image is very dark during totality.

Long Exposure mode produces detailed, low noise photos in very low light


Set exposure and focus

Lastly, tap on the sun to set the focus and exposure point. Zoom in to make sure it’s correctly focused (you can slide your finger left and right near the bottom of the screen to adjust if not). Then lock focus (tap the “FOC EXP WB” button to show the locks, then tap FOC. A green light means it’s locked and won’t change during the eclipse.)

Tap on the sun to set the focus and exposure point

Remember to turn off exposure lock if you’re not using manual control. Dark red dot means off, bright green means on.

Make sure exposure is not locked (the light should be dark red next to EXP). During the eclipse the light level will change from daylight to very dark, so it’s essential that the camera is free to adjust or you’ll get black photos during totality.


Adjusting the picture if it’s too bright or too dark

Depending on how bright the sun is, you may need to reduce ISO or exposure using the manual camera controls to see clearly. If you haven’t used manual controls before, don’t worry – it’s very easy and you can simply adjust until it looks good.

Simply slide your finger up and down on the left side of the screen to adjust ISO or the right to adjust exposure. Up increases the value and brightens the image, down does the opposite.

ISO and exposure both adjust photo brightness, but in different ways. There’s a simple rule to follow:

  • If you want a brighter photo, increase exposure first. Increase ISO once you get to maximum exposure.
  • If you want a darker photo, decrease ISO first. Decrease exposure once you get to minimum ISO.

Note that adjusting the exposure will lock it in place and the camera will no longer adjust automatically during the eclipse. You’ll need to adjust it as necessary, or unlock exposure to go back to automatic mode.


Taking photos

Once you’ve got everything set up, taking the photos is simple. Just tap the shutter button once to start taking photos, then tap it again after the eclipse has finished.

You’ll see the shutter button repeatedly activate and count through the 3 second exposure as it takes photos, and you’ll see the photo counter at the top slowly increase. You’ll also hear the shutter firing – a beep means the next exposure has started, and the shutter noise means it’s finished taking a shot.


General tips:

  • Set your device to Airplane Mode! A phone call or email can cause vibration, spoiling the photos, and could stop the app from recording.
  • Make sure you have no reminders or calendar appointments set during the eclipse too!
  • Check you have a full battery before the eclipse. It’s worth attaching an external battery or plugging into the mains if you want to be extra safe.
  • Make sure you have plenty of storage space free too. To check, open the Settings app, and go to “General”, then “Storage & iCloud Usage”. The “Available” number under “STORAGE” tells you how much space you have left. If it’s less than 2GB you might want to delete some unused apps, videos or music to make a bit more space available.
  • Try this out as a “dry run”. A bit of practice before the actual eclipse will ensure you get it right on the day.
  • If you plan to take photos manually instead of using the interval programmer, use a remote shutter control. Tapping the shutter button can cause vibration, which could spoil the perfect shot.Any headphones with a remote (including the ones that come with iPhones and bluetooth headphones!) can be used, and any bluetooth remote shutter control compatible with iPhone should work. You need to turn on volume shutter control in the in-app preferences, then just press the volume up or down buttons to take a shot.

Turning on Volume Shutter lets you use headphone volume controls or a bluetooth shutter control as a remote control


Taken a great eclipse photo with NightCap Camera?

Please let us know, we’d love to see! You can email us at support@nightcapcamera.com or tweet us at @nightcapapp.

Photograph the Moon on your iPhone with NightCap Camera

The moon is difficult to photograph on an iPhone. The moon is very small, and also very bright against a dark sky and this confuses the camera resulting in a too-bright moon, a grainy sky, and poor focusing. NightCap Camera can help – just follow our simple guide and learn to take far better photos.

1. Magnification will really help!

The iPhone camera has a fairly wide angle lens, which helps in most situations but makes the moon look even smaller than it is. With an iPhone alone the moon looks like this:

Moon by Michael Barnes (twitter: @ml_barnes)

Moon by Michael Barnes (twitter: @ml_barnes)

At best, using the 2x lens on an iPhone with dual rear cameras and cropping the image it looks like this:

The moon, taken with an iPhone 7 Plus’ 2x lens

But with the aid of a pair of binoculars or small telescope it can look like this:

gallery astronomy

Moon by Brian Sudol, Twitter: @sudbri (Taken through telescope)

You can simply hold your iPhone camera up to the eyepiece of a telescope or binoculars, but it can be difficult to get it lined up. Telescope and binocular adaptors are available to keep your iPhone in place.

If you have an iPhone with dual back cameras, you can switch to the 2x camera. This will help lots!

2. Turn down ISO

The reason the moon is hard to photograph is that it’s actually very bright, but surrounded by very dark sky. That confuses the iPhone camera, because it tries to get the background bright enough to see – which it can’t do. The result is an over-exposed moon (usually a white blurry blob) with a grainy background. It’s often out of focus too!

Here’s a typical example (it’s really the moon, and not the sun or a flash light!):

The moon – over exposed

Let’s fix that.

Start by reducing ISO. This is camera sensitivity, and if it’s too high it’ll be bright and grainy. We want darker and less grainy, so we’ll turn it right down.

Slide your finger downwards on the left hand side of the screen. This reduces ISO. Set it to the minimum (25-64 depending on iPhone model).

3. Adjust exposure

Now slide your finger up and down on the right side of the screen to adjust exposure (brightness) until the moon looks grey instead of white.

4. Focusing

Last thing we need to do is focus (FOC). It should be set to 100 (infinity). This usually happens automatically, but if not just slide your finger to the right in the bottom half of the screen to set it to 100.

If you’re using a telescope or binoculars, this can affect focus and 100 may not be correct. In this case simply adjust it until it’s nicely focused (zoom in to see more clearly while you focus).

That’s it!

You can now take a photo or video, and the moon should be as clear and detailed as it can be.

Learn to Light Paint on your iPhone with NightCap Camera

Artist Darren Pearson (whose work has been featured by Apple) has produced some amazing light paintings using his iPhone and Apple Watch with NightCap Camera. He’s also very kindly produced a tutorial video showing how it’s done, so you can try it yourself!

He’s also done a written tutorial, so if you’d prefer that you can find it here. Please note that focusing has changed in NightCap, and you will usually want to set it to 100 unless your subject is pretty close to the camera.

Getting Started with NightCap Camera

NightCap Camera is designed to make taking great photos easier, especially in low light. This guide will teach you how to take better photos and videos when it starts to get dark.

Overview of NightCap Camera controls

Please note: the screenshot videos below are from an older version of NightCap and button layout may be slightly different.

Taking Photos

There’s just one important rule to follow if you want better photos in low light:

Hold Still

When you hold still, Aidie (the AI camera control system at the heart of NightCap) can work her magic. If the photo looks dark or grainy, hold your iPhone or iPad still and you’ll see the picture brighten up and get clearer. Then tap the shutter button gently so you don’t move the camera, and you’re done!

Aidie

Just hold still for a brighter, clear photo

If you find conditions are still too dark, try turning on the Light Booster:

Light Boost instantly brightens photos

Light Boost instantly brightens photos

 

Taking Videos

NightCap Camera is designed to take better video in low light too – you don’t even need to hold still, just tap the record button to start recording.

If it’s still too dark additional tools are available to help:

1. Light Boost Light_Boost

The Light Booster brightens the image, which can really help in some situations.

Light Boost instantly brightens photos

Light Boost instantly brightens photos

If you want to, you can adjust the strength of the Light Boost feature. Just open the in-app settings by tapping the Gear icon, then drag the slider next to the Light Boost icon to the right for stronger or to the left for weaker.

2. Night Mode NightModeButton

Night Mode does a couple of things that can really help in low light.

First, it tries to put the camera into a special mode that’s much more sensitive to light. This isn’t available on all devices, and it tends to use lower resolution than normal, but if your device supports it you’ll get much better performance from the camera.

Second, it allows the camera to use a lower framerate. That means video isn’t as smooth as normal, but it also helps to get much better performance from the camera.

3. Noise Reduction NoiseReductionButton

If the image is a bit too noisy, you can turn this on. It reduces the graininess of the image, but can reduce detail too. Like the Light Boost feature, it can be adjusted from the Settings menu.

Not got NightCap Camera yet?

Manual camera controls

Automatic cameras are great, but by setting the camera up manually you have far more creative freedom and can take more interesting photos. Here’s how, with NightCap Camera’s quick and easy manual controls.

Using manual

You don’t need to switch to manual mode. Simply touch the camera view and the manual controls will display automatically:

NightCap Pro's manual controls

Swipe over the camera view to view and use the manual controls

When you make a manual adjustment, it’s applied instantly and that setting will be locked. For example if you adjust focus, focus will now be locked in that position until you change it again or unlock it. Exposure and ISO are linked, so if you adjust either then both will be locked.

The locks indicator on the lower right shows which settings are currently locked – on the screenshot above FOCus and EXPosure (and ISO) are locked.

 

Going back to automatic mode

To return to automatic focus, exposure, or white balance you just unlock the settings (tap the FOC/EXP/WB button to open the locks panel then just tap to lock/unlock each setting).

 

What do the manual controls actually do?

There are 4 manual controls:

1. Focus

Focus simply moves the camera lens, adjusting the “focus point”. A camera focuses on objects at a certain distance, where objects at that distance are clear and “in focus”, and objects much closer or further away are blurry and “out of focus”.

Adjusting the focus manually

Slide your finger across the bottom of the screen – left to focus on closer objects, and right for more distant objects. 100 will focus on ‘infinity’, perfect for landscapes or stars.

 

2. Exposure

Exposure time (sometimes called “shutter speed”) is the length of time the camera is exposed for. The longer it’s exposed to light, the more time there is for light to enter the camera, and the brighter the photo will be.

Manual exposure

Adjusting the exposure

Exposure time on the iPhone is limited to a second or less, so exposure is normally displayed as a fraction of a second: 1/2s or 1/10s.

To set exposure, slide your finger up and down on the right hand side of the screen. It’s up for longer exposure (brighter) and down for shorter (darker).

 

3. ISO

ISO refers to how “sensitive” the camera is. As ISO goes up, the camera gets more and more sensitive to light, so the image gets brighter.

There’s a catch though: as the camera gets more sensitive, it picks up more noise and the photo gets more and more grainy. It’s always better to use low ISO and longer exposure if you can, but when that’s not possible turn up ISO to get a brighter picture.

The same photo taken at ISO 32 (left) and ISO 2000 (right)

The same photo taken at ISO 32 (left) and ISO 2000 (right). Exposure time was reduced in the high ISO photo to give it the same brightness.

iPhones and iPads typically allow up to 2000 – 3000 ISO, but NightCap has an “ISO Boost” feature (available in the in-app settings menu) that lets you go 2x (low setting) or 4x (high setting) higher. The photo will become very grainy at very high ISO, but if you use Long Exposure mode it will remove most of the image noise.

Slide your finger up and down on the left side of the screen to adjust – up goes higher / brighter.

 

4. White Balance

The colour of “ambient light” (typically the light from the sun or indoor lighting) varies a lot. Sunlight has a “warm” yellow tint, but if you’re in a shaded area the yellow sunlight is blocked and the light comes from the blue sky, giving you a “cool” blue light. Yellow sunlight tends to be associated with warmth (and by association, feelings of happiness) and blue shadows tend to associate with coldness and sadness.

Your eyes naturally adapt to these changes in light colour, and things only look blue or yellow when you suddenly go from one extreme to the other.

Cameras must adapt too, or your photos would all look unnaturally blue or yellow. The iPhone does this automatically, and manages it very well (especially on the latest models), but the automatic system can get confused by some types of lighting, and sometimes you can improve a photo by tweaking the white balance.

White balance interface

Adjusting white balance

You can “brighten up” a picture on a cloudy day by making the colours “warmer”. You can do this by sliding your finger to the right in the top half of the screen.

If you want to “cool down” a photo simply slide to the left.

 

Practice, practice, practice

Learning what the manual controls do is an important step to improving your photography skills. This tutorial gives you an overview of what the controls do and where you might use them, but like any other skill the best way to get better is through experience.

Try to take every photo with some manual adjustments, and experiment with the various controls. You’ll soon get the feel of what they do, and you’ll soon find you know what to do to get a tricky shot just right!

Not got NightCap Camera yet?

NightCap Camera: Advanced features

You can take some great photos with NightCap Camera without touching anything but the shutter button. But if you want to get the best from the app, it’s worth learning how to use the extras like Long Exposure mode and Light Trails mode – you can take amazing pictures with ease once you know how!

NightCap Camera interface screenshot

The NightCap Camera interface

Long Exposure and Light Trail modes

These two special modes work by taking lots of photos very quickly, blending them together to produce a single photo at the end. This way they can take pictures that have virtually unlimited exposure time. They work best with a tripod.

To take a photo in Long Exposure or Light Trails mode, simply tap once to start, and again to finish the shot. With NightCap’s live preview you can see exactly how the shot will look.

Tap the Star button to open the camera tools:

The camera options menu

These photos show the difference between the modes (tap to view full size).

Left: Normal. Centre: Long Exposure (movement blurs and smooths out). Right: Light Trails (camera records anything bright, creating impressive jets).

Left: Normal. Centre: Long Exposure (movement blurs and smooths out). Right: Light Trails (camera records anything bright, leaving trails).

 

 

Long Exposure mode Long_Exposure_mode

This mode is useful for “motion blur” and for taking very clear photos in low light.

Standard photo, normal rippled water reflections Standard photo, water reflections are rippled by the waves Long exposure mode smooths out ripples in water for glassy reflections Long exposure mode smooths out ripples in water for glassy reflections
Standard low light photos can be grainy Standard low light photos can be grainy Long exposure mode reduces graininess Long exposure mode reduces graininess

 

Light Trails mode Light_Trails_mode

This mode is designed to capture moving lights, so for example moving traffic at night will paint lines across the photo.

Night time traffic paints trails of light

Night time traffic paints trails of light

Light Trails mode is great for capturing any bright movement, including things like lightning an fireworks. At night you can use it to photograph star trails (leave it capturing the night sky for at least 10-15 minutes and you can see the stars painting circles in the sky):

Taken by @grainge

Taken by Grainge (Twitter: @grainge)

See our Night Sky iPhone Photography tutorial for more amazing things you can do with Light Trails mode.

 

Exploring the Settings menu

Open the Settings menu by tapping the gear icon. You’ll find a mix of app settings and additional tools here.

 

The 3×3 grid

Turn this on to display a 3×3 grid over the camera view. This helps to compose your photos nicely – line up major objects or lines (such as the horizon) with one or more of the lines. This is a very common way to get better photo composition, and is known as the Rule of Thirds (you can read more about it here).

 

Geotagging

Geotagging simply means that your photos are “tagged” with the location they were taken in. Geotagged photos will be listed in the Photos app by the place they were taken in, and can be viewed on a map if you wish.

Remember that if you turn this feature on any photos you share with other people or on the internet will identify your location at the time the photo was taken.

If you turn on Geotagging, NightCap will request permission to access your location. This information won’t be used for anything other than tagging photos.

 

HQ JPEG and TIFF

This setting changes the quality and the type of file NightCap saves when it takes a photo.

Normally standard JPEG will be fine. This is very good quality, and the photos won’t take up too much storage space on your iPhone or iPad. But if you need higher quality for some reason:

HQ JPEG saves JPEG files at the highest possible quality setting. JPEG is a “lossy” format which means it always loses some image quality when saving, but with this setting the loss is very slight. Files can be a lot bigger with this option (1.5-3x more than standard JPEG).

TIFF is a “lossless” format. This means perfect quality, with no loss at all. The downside is that photos take much longer to save, and take much more storage space (6-10x more than standard JPEG).

 

Self-Timer

The self-timer simply adds a delay between when you press the shutter and when the photo is taken. This is useful if you want to be in the photo – it gives you time to move into position after pressing the shutter.

 

Interval Programmer

This feature is very powerful, and very easy to use too. It simply lets you set the camera up to take a sequence of photos. You set the number of shots and the interval between them, and NightCap will take the photos automatically when you press the shutter button. The interval programmer can be used for a number of things:

  • Taking a timed long exposure photo, for example if you’re taking a photo of star trails you can set it to capture a single one-hour exposure in Light Trails mode
  • Taking a sequence of photos at a fixed interval

There are three settings, tap each one to show a slider underneath to adjust:

1. Number of photos to take. You can set it to take between 1 and 9 photos, or slide all the way to the right for “∞” (infinity, or unlimited photos – tap the shutter button to finish taking pictures).

2. Exposure time for Long Exposure / Light Trails mode. If you’re using Long Exposure or Light Trails mode, use this to set the duration of the exposure. You can set it between 1 second and 60 minutes. This setting is ignored in standard camera mode.

3. Interval between photos. This is the length of time to wait between shots. You can set it between 0 and 60 seconds.

The interval programmer works with the self-timer if you want to start it capturing after a delay.

 

ISO Boost

“ISO” simply means how “sensitive” the camera is to light. The more sensitive it is (higher ISO), the brighter the picture will be. There is a downside though: the more sensitive it is, the more “noise” the camera will pick up. This makes photos at very high ISO  very grainy.

iPhones and iPads have a limited ISO range, typically up to 2000 on recent devices. NightCap’s ISO Boost feature lets you extend this. Low allows up to 2x higher (ISO 4000), and High allows up to 4x higher (ISO 8000).

The High setting can result in very grainy images, but if you use Long Exposure mode with it you can take very good quality photos even in extremely poor light.

 

Volume Shutter

The last setting lets you use the volume buttons (including the remote control on headphones) or a bluetooth shutter control to take a photo instead of tapping on the screen. Simply turn it on to use the volume buttons.

Not got NightCap Camera yet?

How to photograph fireworks with an iPhone and NightCap Camera

Fireworks can look amazing in a photo, but the iPhone’s automatic systems can struggle to get them right. Learn to get it right with a few easy adjustments in NightCap Camera!

Fireworks. Photos by Chris Becke

Photos by Chris Becke (Twitter: @BeckePhysics )

For best results use a tripod or put your device somewhere stable so it doesn’t move. If you can’t do that, don’t worry – you can still take great photos of fireworks.

1. Setting up

For best results you should use a tripod or have some way of keeping your device still, but if not, don’t worry – you can still take excellent handheld photos.

Setting up with a tripod ( LightTrailsButton )

NightCap  has a special long exposure mode that’s ideal for fireworks: Light Trails mode.

Light Trails menu option

Light Trails mode preserves any moving lights, and fireworks will “paint” onto the photo for as long as the camera is left capturing.

First, tap the star button ( StarButton ) to show the camera tools, and turn on Light Trails mode ( LightTrailsButton ).

Setting up for handheld photos (no tripod)

The standard camera setup works best for handheld use, so just stay with the default settings (no special camera modes active).

2. Adjusting the picture (both tripod and handheld)

Since it’s normally quite dark, the camera will automatically use slower shutter speeds and higher ISO (camera sensitivity), but when a firework goes off it’s suddenly quite bright. The result is often an over-exposed firework and/or a grainy photo because ISO is too high, and it might be out of focus as autofocusing doesn’t work as well with sudden brightness changes.

We can fix this easily with the manual camera controls.

ISO

The first step is to reduce ISO (camera sensitivity). Slide your finger down on the left hand side of the screen to reduce it as much as possible (the lowest possible ISO varies by device, but should be under 100). Lower ISO makes the photo darker as the camera is less sensitive, but it also reduces graininess (image noise).

Exposure

Once you’ve set the ISO, adjust the exposure by sliding your finger up and down on the right hand side of the screen. There’s no fixed rule to this, just adjust it until the picture looks good.

If you’re using a tripod and light trails mode, it’s best to under-expose, so the picture is a bit on the dark side.

Focus

While we’re adjusting the manual controls, let’s set the focus to 100 (infinity / distant objects) by sliding your finger to the right in the bottom half of the screen. This stops the camera from trying to refocus frequently and ensures a crisp photo.

3. Taking the photo

This part depends on whether or not you’re using a tripod, so be sure to read the relevant part:

Using a tripod and Light Trails mode

If you’re using a tripod, tap the shutter once to start the shot, then tap again to finish exposing. You can expose the shot for as long as you like, the longer you wait the more the fireworks will build up. NightCap has a live view so you can see exactly how it’s going and finish when it looks good.

Fireworks. Photos by Chris Becke

Photo by Chris Becke (Twitter: @BeckePhysics )

Experiment with both the shot duration and the exposure time (using the manual controls), you can get very varied results!

Handheld (no tripod)

Hold steady to avoid blurring the shot, and tap the shutter.

Photo by Chris Becke (Twitter: @BeckePhysics )

Photo by Chris Becke (Twitter: @BeckePhysics )

Taking it further

You should get some great photos by following those three steps, but if you’d like to take it further and learn more, read on!

Shutter speed effects (tripod and Light Trails mode only)

In Light Trails mode, the app combines many shorter exposure photos into one image. If the shutter speed is very fast, then you’ll get a “gap” between each exposure. You can use this to get different effects with fireworks. Here’s a comparison so you can see how it works:

Firework shutter speed comparison

Left: a slower 1/11s exposure time, resulting in solid streaks of fire. Right: a fast 1/150s exposure, resulting in a ‘dashed’ effect.

If you reduce exposure to get the dashed effect, you might need to increase ISO to brighten the image.

Recording a Time Lapse video

Time lapse videos of fireworks can look spectacular, especially if you’re recording with a tripod (or can keep the iPhone still). Simply turn on time lapse mode, and turn on Light Trails if you’re using a tripod. You can adjust the recording speed and quality too.

Using the Interval Programmer to take a series of photos (tripod and handheld)

This is a useful technique that works for both tripod and handheld photography. Instead of taking a photo when you see something good (and often missing the shot!), try taking a sequence of photos. With a sequence, you can quickly pick the best ones and delete the rest.

NightCap includes an interval programmer that will do this for you automatically. Tap the Settings button ( SettingsButton ) to show the settings screen, and turn on the Interval Programmer:

IntervalProgrammer

You need to set the 3 numbers below it:

Intervalometer-number-of-shots (Number of photos to take): (infinity, keeps taking photos until you stop it)

Intervalometer-exposure (Exposure time): experiment to see what works well for you, but typically between 2-5 seconds. The longer this is, the more fireworks you’ll see in the photo.

Intervalometer-interval (Interval between photos): 0s, so you don’t miss anything

Once you’ve set the interval programmer, close the settings and simply tap the shutter button to start capturing automatically. When you’ve finished, tap the shutter again to finish.

Not got NightCap Camera yet?

Photograph Stars, Meteors, Satellites and even Nebulae with your iPhone and NightCap Camera

ncp Star trails and shooting star 2 15854000355_0beee96f11_k Photo by Grainge (Twitter: @grainge ) Photo by James Parker (Twitter: @JP_Astronomy ) Photo by Matt at iastrophotography.com

The golden rule: Keep your iPhone still.

For best results, use a tripod. Even a cheap smartphone tripod will be fine. If you haven’t got one, you’ll need some way to hold your iPhone in place while you take photos.

Contents

  1. Using NightCap Camera’s special camera modes
  2. Photographing stars
  3. Photographing star trails
  4. Northern lights / southern lights / aurora
  5. Meteors
  6. International Space Station (ISS) and satellite flares
  7. Nebulae

1 Using Special Modes

NightCap Camera includes 4 special camera modes designed to make photographing the night sky easy, in addition to Long Exposure and Light Trails modes:

The camera options menu

To access the special modes make sure you’re in photo mode and not video or time lapse, and tap the Star button: StarButton This will open the Photo Camera Options panel.

2 Stars ( StarsButton )

To photograph the stars, simply turn on Stars Mode. Stars Mode sets the camera up for you with the best settings for stars, so all you need to do is put your device in a tripod or a firm position pointing at the part of the sky you wish to photograph and tap the shutter.

After pressing the shutter the app will start a 3 second timer (to avoid blurring if you move the device slightly when tapping the button), then it’ll take a 10 second exposure. Wait until you hear the shutter sound or see the shutter button go from red (capturing) to white (ready).

Here’s an example of what’s possible:

ncp

3 Star Trails ( StarTrailsButton )

Capturing star trails is easy, all you need to do is turn on Star Trails Mode, tap the shutter button once 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 of the circles is Polaris, the Pole Star):

Star trail photo by Andy Stones (Twitter: @andy_stones)

Star trail photo by Andy Stones (Twitter: @andy_stones)

4 Aurora / Northern Lights / Southern Lights

We now have a dedicated Aurora tutorial (tap here to open). 

5 Meteors ( MeteorButton )

Meteors (or shooting stars) are also easy to photograph, especially during a meteor shower.  There’s plenty of information on viewing meteors and an excellent timetable of meteor showers at Meteorwatch.

To photograph meteors, just turn on Meteor Mode, point your device at a clear patch of sky, and tap the shutter button. The app will take a photo every 5 seconds until you tap the shutter again to finish.

While it’s capturing, the app will automatically scan every photo for potential meteors. It rejects any that are ’empty’ and saves the rest to the camera roll. You can then review the photos to see what it caught.

Please note that Meteor Mode will save quite a lot of photos (typically between 30 and 150 per hour, depending on sky conditions). A clear, dark, starry sky will give best results, while trees and planes will result in more photos being saved.

Here are some meteors captured with Meteor Mode:

Meteors photographed on iPhone

Left: A large, bright fireball. Center: A common shooting star, long but not very bright. Right: A short, bright meteor.

6 ISS / Satellite Flares ( ISSButton )

Many 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. To do so, turn on ISS Mode, point your device in the direction the ISS or satellite is expected to pass, and be tap the shutter to start the photo (be sure to start before the pass is due to begin!) Once the ISS or satellite has passed, tap the shutter again to finish.

gallery astro

ISS by James Parker, Twitter: @JP_Astronomy (ISS mode)

7 Galaxies, nebulae ( LongExposureButton LightBoostButton )

It’s possible to photograph nebulae, galaxies and other deep space objects with an iPhone and NightCap Camera, but these objects are small and very, very faint so to capture them you’ll need a reasonably big telescope (ideally with a motorised mount that tracks the movement of the stars automatically) 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.

Photo by Matt at iastrophotography.com

Photo by Matt at iastrophotography.com

 

Not got NightCap Camera yet?

The 3 Golden Rules for great low light photography with NightCap

Looking for the NightCap Pro tutorials? Click here.

Do you want to take great photos with your iPhone even when it’s dark? Use NightCap and follow our 3 simple rules and it’s easy.

Standard iPhone camera (left), NightCap (right). Results with NightCap Pro’s special Long Exposure Mode are even better!

cam-nc-comp

Rule 1: Use Night Mode

Night mode opens the camera up for longer when you take a shot, letting in a lot more light. That produces a brighter, clearer photo.

nc-night_mode

 

Rule 2: Don’t Move

Because the camera stays open for longer, if the iPhone moves during the shot it will blur the photo.

If you have a tripod, use it, and if not consider purchasing one – pocket-sized tripods with iPhone adaptors work very well. If you haven’t got a tripod place your iPhone on a solid surface such as a wall or table where it won’t move.

 

Rule 3: Focus

Focusing is slow in low light, and it’s frustrating when the camera re-focuses just as you’re ready to take a photo!

Locking the focus will help. Tap on the screen to set the focus point, and the camera will focus where you tapped. A focusing target appears too – the light tells you when the camera is busy focusing (red) or has focus (green). Once it turns green and you’re happy with the focus, tap the FOC button to lock focus.

 

Not got NightCap or NightCap Pro yet?

NightCap: [nightcap]

NightCap Pro: