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!)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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:
2. Turn on the Interval Programmer.
This sets the camera up to take a sequence of photos automatically.
3. Set the Interval Programmer options
The 3 numbers under the interval programmer set the sequence up. Set them to:
- Shots to take: Infinite (∞). When it’s set to infinite shots, you just tap the shutter to start taking photos and again to stop.
- Exposure time: 3 seconds. This will take a 3 second exposures.
- 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.
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.
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.
Turn on Long Exposure mode. This will give better quality if the image is very dark during totality.
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.)
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.
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.
- 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.
Taken a great eclipse photo 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:
At best, using the 2x lens on an iPhone with dual rear cameras and cropping the image it looks like this:
But with the aid of a pair of binoculars or small telescope it can look like this:
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!):
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.
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).
You can now take a photo or video, and the moon should be as clear and detailed as it can be.
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.
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. (more…)
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.
You don’t need to switch to manual mode. Simply touch the camera view and the manual controls will display automatically:
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!
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!
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. (more…)
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.
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!