Friday, January 18, 2013

Take Star Photos and Make Star Trails Using iPhone 5

Finally, a way to take star photos and make cool star trail images using your iPhone. This will take true iPhone astronomy and astrophotography to the next level! I learned about a new app called "Night Modes" from Steve Owens' Dark Sky Diary blog. The app takes advantage of the iPhone 5's improvements in low-light, and includes up to 1 second true exposure time (not just simulated exposures). The app promises "15 times more light gathering capability compared to the Camera app!" Night Modes ().

Update: Take even longer iPhone star trails using Night Cap with infinite interval photos

star trails on iphone
Proof of concept: 29 stacked images, each at 1 sec, ISO 3200, only using iPhone for photos, stacked photos using StarStaX software
stars and jupiter photo on iphone
Single exposure with iPhone 5 using Night Modes app

You have to keep the camera very still while using the app, because the autofocus is delayed by the long shutter. I recommend using a tripod and the headphone volume shutter button, but you can also set the phone on the ground and walk away because the app includes a timer up to 10 seconds.

iphone star circles
66 stacked images over a 20 minute period using unmodified iPhone as the camera

I'm not usually the type to make excuses, but the severe wind advisory could be a reason why my star trail lines aren't smooth.

starstax screenshot
Screen shot of the images loaded into free StarStaX software

Here is a look at my set up:

iphone tripod
Using the headphone shutter (+) volume remote, I manually took 29 shots

iphone shutter release
iPhone headphone (+) volume button works as a shutter release

tripod mount for iphone
Simple binder clip holds the iPhone in position

tripod mount for iphone
Bent binder clip with a little athletic tape to prevent scratches


  1. Love your binder clip hack - great idea.

  2. Thanks John! The idea came from but it was a great solution until I eventually bought the Glif tripod mount ($20) that is much more stable in the wind.

  3. Wow. But can it capture the milky way using the app?

  4. The iPhone camera has a maximum shutter time of 1 second, and max ISO of 3200. I think the Milky Way is just too faint to show up. The ISO is high enough but you would need maybe a 5-10 second exposure. I haven't seen anyone successfully do it but that doesn't mean it's impossible!

  5. Well that's unfortunate. If there's an app for that settings is it possible? Or am I left to buy a DSLR camera to capture the Milky Way?
    BTW, I saw your Milky Way photos, I must admit, I'm jealous! They're stunning. I hope someday I get to capture photos of the Milky Way myself. :)

  6. Hi again! I just want to share my Milky Way photo using my iPhone! I've managed to capture it with "Long Expo" app. It's kind of blurry but I guess it's better than nothing. Heheh.

  7. Taken at Santa Ignacia, Tarlac, PH. June 29, 2014. 10:27 PM.

  8. That's amazing! Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. Actually, that is not true. With NightCaps app and an iPhone 5, you can open and close the shutter manually. So, yes, you can indeed capture the Milky Way.

  10. I know you can adjust a lot of the settings in NightCap, but the manual control over the physical shutter is limited to a range of 1/15 second to 1 second (at the bottom). Is there something I'm missing? Can you explain how to make it longer than 1 second?