How to master astrophotography with your Google Pixel

Google Pixel 7 Pro

How smartphone astrophotography works. How to take a great photo of the night sky with a Google Pixel.

Smartphones Google Pixel have earned their reputation in photography, especially for portraits and other low-light shots. In 2018, Night Vision arrived on Pixel cameras and Google has continued to improve it since, especially with the astrophotography mode. The technical explanation behind this feature is as follows: the visual noise that makes the shots so grainy is reduced. This noise can be minimized by increasing the light the device receives in the dark.

You can use a higher exposure to increase the amount of light, but hand movements (shaking and such) and movement of celestial objects will create very noticeable blurs. Not to mention the trees, the clouds or the path of the moon. To combat this, Google created a system that captures multiple images at different exposure levels, stacks them, algorithmically removes motion disturbances, and ultimately delivers a sharper photo of the starry sky.

These features may make astrophotography seem easy. After all, you don’t have to deal with all the camera settings in manual mode. However, to capture the best images of the night sky, there are certain steps you need to follow. Here’s a brief explanation of everything that’s going on, how to prepare, and what hurdles you’ll need to overcome to get great shots on your Pixel – don’t panic, astrophotography is also possible on iPhone -.

In a post on the Google Research blog, the team behind the astrophotography on the device explains how it works. First, the camera takes 15 long exposure shots, with a limit of 16 seconds per shot, and merges them. These shots capture 250 times more optical data than a normal photo. Then, via an artificial intelligence called “convolutional neural network”, the device automatically adjusts the contrast and reduces the noise on the photo, this to make the celestial objects more prominent.

In very low light, such as the night sky, special processing is also needed to obtain a sharp image on the screen when shooting and to be able to adjust the camera’s autofocus. Google has come up with algorithms dubbed “post-shutter viewfinder” and “post-shutter autofocus” to combat this. Both make astrophotography much easier for the user. Without them, you’d only see a gray, blurry mass when pointing your camera at the night sky and end up with an out-of-focus photo.

As long as the moon is bright enough, Google Pixels will deliver sharp, crisp images of starry skies, especially when mounted on a tripod. They also produce clear and vivid images of landscapes at dawn or dusk, in case you want to change your view and perspective.

Getting a great shot of the night sky takes planning. Start by checking the weather and making sure the clouds will be out. Next, choose a location with as little light pollution as possible (vehicles, buildings, etc.). For this, you can use an app like Light Pollution Map. You can also use an app like PhotoPills to plan your photo shoots. Sky Safari can even tell you the visibility of stars and constellations on a given day.

Once ready, mount the phone on a tripod and place everything on a solid surface, launch the camera app and point the device up to the sky. Google recommends users reduce screen brightness and enable dark mode to reduce light pollution. To take the photo, follow these steps:

  1. In the Pixel Camera app, scroll right on the row above the trigger button and select Night Vision. You can select the main sensor or the ultra-wide.
  2. The device will automatically recognize the night sky and start an astrophotography mode. You will see the “A” icon appear in a bubble in the upper left corner of the screen.
  3. Tap the down arrow in the bubble and place the focus on “Far”.
  4. Tap the trigger button and wait for the countdown to end. Do not touch the device during the process.
  5. Enjoy your beautiful shot.