Super tips for night sky photography

Super tips for night sky photography

Getting out under the canopy of stars is always a great treat for me. Using a fair amount of iPhone apps helps in my quest for Milky Way and other night sky phenomenon. There’s a drawback that can be overcome from their use. Read on for some night sky photography tips!

Night vision

Eyes are amazing tools with which we work. They do their job automatically and we hardly even notice. Until you get under the night sky and try to watch the stars in all their glory. In darkness, pupils dilate, allowing you to see more detail in the world. Pupils in your eyes contract when presented with bright light. Even if you have the brightness on your phone turned low, white light will show as very bright in relation to the surrounding darkness. “So, what’s the problem? Pupils dilate again once the light is turned off, right?” Not as quickly as you would like. They need time to adjust and open wide again affecting your night vision for about 15 — 20 minutes. How to deal with that?

Red light

Without going deep into the science of rods and cones and which receptors do what, let me show you a solution. Red light allows you to see without the pupils getting squeezed down. When you use the red you can see what you need to without causing problems. You still want this light to be subdued, but you do not need a lot of light to make the small adjustments which you need. As a side tip, practice making all the adjustments on your camera by feel. Often, I will sit with my camera and close my eyes and practice finding buttons and changing settings by feel. Our minds are amazing tools and we can program them to help us in many ways.


There are various lights which we need to work in our night sky photography. I highly recommend having a headlamp. A headlamp makes it easier to carry your gear leaving your hands free. Most headlamps come with multiple settings for white and red light. White for walking to your location and possibly your initial setup. Red for once you are in place and need a quick peek at something without destroying your night vision.

Find the Accessibility settings
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Choose Display & Text Size
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Find Color Filters under Display & Text Size.

Phone apps

Apps on your phone are an integral part of night sky photography. Weather, Sky apps for finding constellations, and Augmented Reality all assist in knowing where to point your camera and when. But your phone is white light-based and using these tools can mess with that night vision. Unless you set your phone to a red light mode. Here’s how. You’ll need to dig into your settings and find “Accessibility.” On the iPhone, the next menu item is “Display & Text Size.” Scroll down to Color Filters and click the “On” button. Tick the Color Tint check. Select the red pencil at the top to choose the color.

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Turn Color Filters on and choose the red color.
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Viola! Resulting red light screen. Tone down brightness further using regular brightness setting.

Once red is selected, you can go to your main settings and lower the brightness. Note that at the end of the night you might want to return your settings to white and regular brightness. Why? Because the next morning, in the full light of day, your phone may be so dark you have trouble reading your screen. I thought my phone had died until I figured that out! I don’t have the exact directions for setting Android phones but I understand it is similar to the iPhone settings.

Let me know your tips and tricks for working under the night sky canopy. I’m always looking for ideas to share with my readers and night sky workshop students.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob