You can’t stop gazing at the luminous full moon—you need to share this with Instagram. So you pull out your phone, aim at the heavens, and capture...a fuzzy white blob. The firmament is one of the hardest targets to snap on a phone. Why? A smartphone’s camera lens is wide, and it automatically sets the exposure to capture the dark sky instead of the bright objects in it. To up your phone game, try adding some additional technology. These tips will help you photograph celestial bodies near and far.
Before you adjust the settings on your phone, fix the setting around it. Go to a dark area to avoid light pollution, clean the camera lens with a soft cloth to remove any smudges that might produce a glow effect, and use a tripod and a remote trigger to stabilize the phone. (Did you know you can use your headphone remote to take a photo?) On an iPhone, focus on the moon by tapping on it, and then swipe down to reduce brightness.
As Earth spins on its axis, the stars overhead appear to move in curves. The paths they follow are called star trails. Apps that let you customize your camera settings can take long exposures that will reveal them. The NightCap Pro app is particularly easy to set up because it has “star trails” as a preset mode. As you do for moon photos, minimize light pollution, keep the lens clean, and stabilize the camera.
To nab bright planets such as Saturn and Jupiter, snap them on the eyepiece of a telescope and reveal details with stacking software. First, use an app like ProShot or Manual to take multiple photos in RAW format. Then combine the images with a computer program such as Deep Sky Stacker. This works best if you have a mount that holds your smartphone to the scope. Or hack one together with wood, a hose clamp, and some rubber bands.
There is no shortage of apps that will let you look for celestial objects, and there are some great augmented reality apps that will let you point your phone or tablet to the night sky, so you can see faraway stars and constellations. Cosmic Watch is less obviously educational. Instead of letting you search for a star or a constellation, or turning your phone into a viewer to find the stars in the night sky, the Cosmic Watch is a beautiful curiosity - looking at it, you'll learn how the planets and constellations moves through the sky, but it won't tell you where to look to find them.
Last week, we were blown away by a photograph from Mike Mezeul II depicting a storm over White Sands National Monument. We looked in a bit more on Mezeul’s portfolio and were amazed at what we saw.
Starting tomorrow morning, all five* visible planets will shine down from the sky in the morning twilight. Head out about an hour before sunrise, and look toward the southeast.
The four bright ones—Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus—are pretty easy to spot, if you’ve got a star chart in hand. Venus, for
example, will be the brightest thing up there (apart from the moon). Mercury is a little trickier, because it’s easily lost in the light of the soon-to-rise sun.
The planets should be visible from just about anywhere on the globe (though not from the North Pole), and the view will last until mid-February, if tomorrow’s too cold for you. And if you’re a night owl rather than an early bird, you’re in luck: The five planets will all be aligned in the evening sky come August 2016.
What makes all five visible at once? It happens because of the planets’ positions along their orbits. At the moment, these five all happen to lie to the right of the sun, when viewed from above the solar system. That means, as the earth spins, they’re all visible in the sky just before sunrise. You can think if it as a line of six, with Jupiter the first to rise and the sun rising last—and marking the end of the morning stargazing session.
*Yes, in total there are eight planets, but Uranus and Neptune are too dim to see without a telescope and Earth is the one just there at your feet. So we’re just talking about the big five of stargazing: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.