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19 Practical Astronomy Apps for Stargazing

|Software|13 Comments

In this post, I’ve rounded up a list of useful astronomy apps for your mobile phone or tablet. If you’re looking to inject a little more astronomy into your iPhone or Android Device (I personally use a Samsung Galaxy S10), the following list of apps should come in very handy.

I’ve reached out to the astrophotography and astronomy community on twitter to find out which astronomy apps are the most popular. I was absolutely astonished to find out just how many amazing astronomy apps I hadn’t heard of before, that I now use and enjoy on a daily basis. 

In particular, there were some incredibly useful weather forecasting apps I was not taking advantage of (such as Astrospheric) to help plan my astrophotography sessions in the backyard. 

Astropheric Android App

The Astrospheric Astronomy Weather Forecast App (Android).

For other apps, such as Stellarium, seeing how many other people were using the app in the astrophotography community helped validate its relevance and practicality in 2020. 

For each mobile app on this list, I have stated whether it is available in the Apple App Store or the Google Play store. Some of these astronomy apps are only available for one or the other. 

I have also included the publisher of the app, category, and description of the application so you can get an idea of what to expect before downloading it. I have not included the price of the app (because this may change), but have included whether it is currently free or not. 

stargazing apps

Astronomy Apps for Stargazing

Whether you use these resources to assist you in stargazing at the cottage, or a quick observation session with your telescope, these astronomy apps can improve your overall experience. They can help you better prepare for the weather, and find out when key astronomical events are taking place. 

Key Uses:

  • Astronomical Weather Forecasts
  • Planning a Telescope Observing Session
  • Planning a Photo Project (Astrophotography)
  • Tracking the Movement of the Planets
  • Aurora Alerts
  • ISS Passes
  • Identifying Galaxies and Nebulae
  • Preserving Night Vision
  • Aligning your Telescope
  • Learning About Astronomy

Due to the evolving nature of mobile apps and the sheer number of new astronomy apps popping up each day, I have not used all of these astronomy apps personally. Consider this post to be more of a round-up of the most popular apps, with good reviews and ratings throughout the astronomy community. 

The goal of this post is not to rate the apps against each other, but to provide a useful resource for amateur astronomy enthusiasts. I’ve included a brief description for each app from the author, and you can click the app name for more information about each one. 

Without further adieu, here is a list (in no particular order) of the best astronomy apps for your iPhone or Android phone. 

Stellarium

Stellarium

  • Created By: Noctua Software
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planetarium
  • Paid or Free: Free, Paid Pro Version

Description:

“Stellarium Mobile is a planetarium app that shows exactly what you see when you look up at the stars.

Identify stars, constellations, planets, comets, satellites (such as the ISS), and other deep sky objects in real-time in the sky above you in just a few seconds, just by pointing the phone at the sky.

This award-winning astronomy application has an easy to use and minimalist user interface, that makes it one of the best astronomical applications for adults and children who want to explore the night sky.”

Stellarium is an extremely popular planetarium app for mobile phones. I also enjoy the desktop and web versions when planning my astrophotography imaging sessions at home. 

Polar Scope Align Pro

Polar Scope Align Pro

  • Created By: Dimitrios Kechagias
  • Operating System: iPhone
  • Category: Polar Alignment Tool, Utilities
  • Paid or Free: Free (In-app purchases)

Description:

“Polar Scope Align will calculate the position of Polaris or σ Octantis in your Polar Scope reticle for your location (using your phone’s GPS or entering a location), allowing a quick and accurate polar alignment.

It is one of the few programs that are accurate in lower latitudes by correcting for atmospheric refraction (so expect results to agree only with precise software and not most simplistic “polar align” apps).”

I have good things about this polar alignment tool for equatorial telescope mount owners. I have been using a similar app called Polar Finder (listed further down the post) for many years on my Samsung Galaxy S10 (Android) phone. 

SkySafari 6 ProSky Safari 6 Pro

  • Created By: Simulation Curriculum Corp.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planetarium, Education
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

SkySafari 6 Pro will revolutionize your astronomical viewing experience. It has the largest database of any astronomy app, includes every solar system object ever discovered, offers unparalleled accuracy, flawless telescope control, Augmented Reality (AR) mode, and provides the very best experience under the stars when you depend on it.”

I downloaded SkySafari 5 Pro with plans to use the functionality with my ASIair camera control device and telescope mount. I must admit, I have put this task off for a long time and have not tried it out yet.

PhotoPills

Photopills

  • Created By: PhotoPills S.L.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Photography, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“Unlock your creative potential! Discover how to easily turn any Sun, Moon and Milky Way scene you imagine into a real picture… and start shooting truly legendary photos every time you pick up the camera!

Whether your passion is to capture beautiful landscapes, immortalize the infinite night sky, surprise the bride and the groom in their happiest day… or to travel the world, PhotoPills will make you love exploring new artistic possibilities to tell visual stories in a way it wasn’t possible before.”

Here is a recent video shared by the PhotoPills team about how to use the app to help plan a Milky Way photography session.

Clear Outside

Clear Outside

  • Created By: First Light Optics
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Weather Forecast, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Reliable weather forecasts for astronomers with an emphasis on cloud cover. Updated hourly. Frequent hourly updates are important because often the clear spell between showers provides excellent seeing and 30-minutes under a clear sky with a grab-&-go telescope is pure gold!”

Clear Outside has been my go-to resource for the most accurate (and sometimes depressing) astronomy weather forecast for the night. It’s not perfect, but in most cases, it’s pretty realistic.

Astrospheric

  • Created By: Daniel Fiordalis
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Astronomy Weather Forecast
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Astrospheric is the most advanced forecasting service for North American astronomers. Using the amazing astronomy data produced by the Canadian Meteorological Center, NOAA, and more, Astrospheric quickly produces a highly accurate 48-hour forecast for any location in the continental United States or Canada.”

This one was new to me, and so far, I absolutely love it. You can dig deep into the weather map layers to get a better idea of the type of cloud cover in your location. As stated in the description, this app is currently only useful to North American users. 

meteoblue

Meteoblue

  • Created By: meteoblue
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Weather forecast, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Meteoblue shows high precision weather forecasts combined with a beautiful, simple and easy to use design. Weather forecasts can be requested for any place on Earth easily and comfortably.”

I recently installed meteoblue for a realistic weather forecast to help me better prepare for upcoming stargazing sessions. For all of the weather forecasting apps to function properly, you’ll need to allow the app to know your location. 

I enjoy this weather app over a more traditional one (such as the weather network). Where this app really shines is with the satellite imagery. You can watch developing cloud patterns and movement. Highly recommended!

NightCap

NightCap

  • Created By: Realtime Dreams Limited
  • Operating System: iPhone
  • Category: Photography
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“NightCap Camera is a powerful app that takes amazing low light and night photos, videos and 4K time-lapse. Long exposure produces beautiful photos in low light and unique Astronomy modes capture the stars, Northern Lights (Aurora) and more!”

Star Walk

Star Walk

  • Created By: Vito Technology Inc.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Education
  • Paid or Free: Free, In-App Purchases

Description:

“Star Walk is the most beautiful stargazing app you’ve ever seen on a mobile device. It will become your interactive guide to the night sky, following your every movement in real-time and allowing you to explore over 200,000 celestial bodies with extensive information.”

SkyView Lite

SkyView Lite

  • Created By: Terminal Eleven LLC
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planetarium, Education
  • Paid or Free: Free. In-App Purchases

Description:

“SkyView® Lite brings stargazing to everyone! Simply point your iPhone, iPad, or iPod at the sky to identify stars, constellations, satellites, and more.”

I recently installed this astronomy app on my Android phone, and the first thing that impressed me was the augmented reality function. Rather than placing a planetarium overlay that covers the screen, SkyView places a translucent overlay over the camera view of your phone, and I must say, it’s really cool. 

The presentation of the constellation overlays and descriptions are beautifully done. Expect the “Lite” (free) version of the app to deliver messages about upgrading quite frequently. 

The Moon – Phases Calendar

The Moon: Phases Calendar

  • Created By: Vitalii Gryniuk
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Moon Phase Calendar
  • Paid or Free: Free, Paid “Pro” version

Description:

“Moon Phases Calendar – universal lunar calendar for any Locations from 0001AD to 2100 years.

The lunar calendar is one of the oldest calendars in modern society. A lunar month can only be 29 or 30 days long. This is different than a solar-based calendar, where the length is arbitrarily fixed.”

I have had a number of moon phase calendars installed on my Android phone in the past, and they all seem to work well enough. The problem with some of them, however, is the number of ads placed in the app, and the UX design.

I found this one to have the nicest design out of all of the moon phase apps available, with easy access to a monthly calendar (available in the Pro version).

Gas Giants

  • Created By: Software Bisque
  • Operating System: iPhone
  • Category: Planetarium, Education
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Gas Giants lets you peer through a simulated telescope to observe Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and their major moons, as they appear right now, or at any date and time.”

This is a very cool app created by the team responsible for the Paramount line of equatorial telescope mounts. This is great for anyone planning to photograph planets and would like to see their current view (great red spot, moons, tilt of Saturn, etc.)

ISS Detector

ISS Detector

  • Created By: Derk Vrijdag
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planning, Education
  • Paid or Free: Free, In-App Purchases

Description:

“ISS Detector will tell you when and where to look for the ISS. You get an alarm a few minutes before a pass. You will never miss it. ISS Detector will also check if the weather conditions are right. A clear sky is perfect for spotting.”

I know there are a lot of people interested in capturing the space station passing overhead. To do this, you must know exactly where and when the event will happen, and this app can help you plan for that moment. 

I’ve caught a limited number of space station passes myself, but would love to start paying more attention to this activity. 

ISS pass

Use this app to send you an alarm before an upcoming ISS pass. 

NightShift: Stargazing & Astronomy

stargazing app

  • Created By: Waddensky Astronomy
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Education, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Nightshift is the ideal free night sky app for the experienced amateur astronomer as well as the casual stargazer. Nightshift helps you find perfect nights for stargazing, assists you in observing your favourite planets, meteor showers and deep-sky objects and keeps you up-to-date about the celestial events in tonight’s sky.”

I originally included the SkyWeek app from Sky & Telescope on this list, but realized that it has not been updated in some time. The NightShift stargazing and astronomy app is a great replacement.

It delivers useful information at a glance including the sunset time, observing conditions, moon phase, visible planets, and even meteor showers. I really like this app, but it’s only available for Android users at the moment.

stargazing and astronomy app

NightShift is one of my favorite new astronomy apps (Android only).

DarkLight

DarkLight

  • Created By: Petro Julkunen
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Astronomy Observing Aid
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“DarkLight app allows you to use your phone as a source of light in the dark without your eyes having to adjust for light. This simple, quick and easy app allows you to analyze the lighting conditions via light sensor, and displays the information on the screen when required.”

If you’ve ever been to a star party with strict rules about white light, you’ll know that having an app like this on your phone is essential. You can also help preserve your night vision when doing some casual visual observing with your binoculars or telescope in the backyard.

Polar Finder

Polar Finder

  • Created By: TechHead
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Polar Alignment
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“This utility helps you solve this problem by graphically showing you the current position of the Polaris. The application tracks and draws the position of the Polaris (or Octant) in real-time and also displays its hour-angle, the local sidereal time, current local time and the longitude of the place.”

I’ve been using Polar Finder for many years to aid me in the polar alignment process of my equatorial telescope mounts. It’s a simple app that does its job. It gives me the position of Polaris for my location, and I just need to replicate the view through my telescope mount. 

My Aurora Forecast

My Aurora Forecast

  • Created By: JRustonApps B.V.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Aurora
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“My Aurora Forecast is the best app for seeing the Northern Lights in Canada and the rest of the world. Built with a sleek dark design, it appeals to both tourists and serious aurora watchers by telling you what you want to know – whether that is exactly how likely you are to see the aurora borealis or details about the solar winds and high-resolution sun imagery. With this app, you’ll be seeing the Northern Lights in no time.”

Seeing the northern lights can be an exhilarating experience, and can be very rare depending on your location. It is an astronomical event that you definitely want to receive a heads-up (literally) about. If you care about space, not knowing about a beautiful aurora display in your area until after it has happened could be a painful experience!

Heavens-Above

Heavens Above

  • Created By: Heavens-Above
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Education, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free, Paid Pro Version

Description:

“When can I see the ISS? What’s that light in the sky? The official Heavens-Above app provides you with precise pass predictions for the ISS, visible satellites and radio satellites.”

DSO Planner Pro

DSO Planner Pro

  • Created By: Leonid Vasiliev, Alexandre Koukarine
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Planning
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“DSO Planner is an astronomy observation planning tool with excellent star charting capabilities made by active and experienced amateur observers with a passion for visual observations. It has large integrated deep sky objects databases and provides an opportunity to create any number of user own object databases.”

Final Thoughts

I hope this list of astronomy apps has given you at least 1 new useful tool for astronomy and astrophotography. My absolute favorite app is probably Stellarium, but that is probably because I have been using it for so long and am very comfortable with it.

I really enjoyed putting together this list of stargazing apps, because I found a bunch of great new astronomy apps in the process. My favorite new apps (to me) were Astrospheric, and NightShift. 

The best astronomy app for you will likely be something that works especially well on your operating system, and that fits your specific needs. For software recommendations specifically related to astrophotography, please visit the resources page

Have I missed an important astronomy app? Please let me know in the comments. 

Complete List:

  1. DSO Planner Pro
  2. Heavens-Above
  3. My Aurora Forecast
  4. Polar Finder
  5. DarkLight
  6. NightShift: Stargazing and Astronomy
  7. ISS Detector
  8. Gas Giants
  9. The Moon – Phases Calendar
  10. SkyView Lite
  11. Star Walk
  12. NightCap
  13. Meteoblue
  14. Astropheric
  15. Clear Outside
  16. PhotoPills
  17. SkySafari 6 Pro
  18. Polar Scope Align Pro
  19. Stellarium

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Photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse

|Tutorials|7 Comments

Are you hoping to capture a photo of the total lunar eclipse on January 20, 2019? If so, you are not alone. Amateur photographers and astrophotography enthusiasts around the world will do their best to take a pictures of the lunar eclipse in January using a wide variety of camera equipment.

These days, every full moon and lunar eclipse has some sort of epic name attached to it, and the total lunar eclipse in January 2019 is no different. The media has nicknamed this astronomical event the Super Blood Wolf Moon 2019. That’s right, don’t forget to add the “Super”. 

Catchy names aside, a total eclipse of the moon is a truly breath-taking astronomical event that anyone can appreciate. Over the years, I have photographed a number of total lunar eclipses, and I plan to do so again on January 20, 2019. There are many ways to photograph the total lunar eclipse this January, but for the best results I recommend using a DSLR camera and a small refractor telescope on a tracking mount. 

lunar eclipse photography methods

The total lunar eclipse on January 20-21, 2019 is the only total eclipse of the moon in 2019 around the world, with a partial lunar eclipse happening on July 16 in isolated parts of the world. 

To capture a detailed portrait of the moon like the image above, a long focal length and a tracking equatorial mount are required. However, it is also possible to produce a comparable close-up image using a digital camera or smartphone through the eyepiece of a non-tracking telescope using the eyepiece projection method.

In this post, I’ll share some tips for photographing this celestial event using both basic and advanced astrophotography equipment. 

What is a Lunar Eclipse?

Do you understand why a lunar eclipse happens? There are two types of lunar eclipses: partial and total. I am happy to say that the event on January 20-21 is the extra exciting one.

As you know, the Earth orbits the sun, and the moon orbits the Earth. During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth is sitting directly between the sun and the moon. Although the moon is being covered in Earths shadow, some sunlight still reaches the moon. 

When the moon enters the central umbra shadow of the Earth, it turns red and dim. This distinctive “blood” color is due to the fact that the sunlight is passing through Earth’s atmosphere to light up the disk of the moon. 

What is a lunar eclipse?

A diagram of what happens during a total lunar eclipse – NASA

Unlike a solar eclipse, observing a total lunar eclipse is completely safe to do with the naked eye. This natural phenomenon can be enjoyed without the aid of any optical instruments, although binoculars can really help to get an up-close view of the action.

Where and When will it Happen?

The total lunar eclipse will take place on January 20-21, 2019, with the total phase visible from North and South America. From my vantage point in Ontario, Canada, the maximum eclipse will occur at 12:15am on January 21. To find out when the total lunar eclipse will take place from your location, you can check out this eclipse map on Timeanddate.com.

City Penumbral begins: Maximum: Duration:
Los Angeles Jan. 20 at 6:36pm Jan. 20 at 9:12pm 5 Hours, 11 Minutes
Denver Jan. 20 at 7:36pm Jan. 20 at 10:12pm 5 Hours, 11 Minutes
Chicago Jan. 20 at 8:36pm Jan. 20 at 11:12pm 5 Hours, 11 Minutes
Toronto Jan. 20 at 9:36pm Jan. 21 at 12:12am 5 Hours, 11 Minutes
St. Johns Jan. 20 at 11:06pm Jan. 21 at 1:42am 5 Hours, 11 Minutes

There are 7 stages of a total lunar eclipse, and many amateur photographers like to capture the event in each stage. This can later be made into a composite photo showing the transition of the moon as Earth’s shadow covers it. A time lapse video is another excellent way to capture each stage of the eclipse.January 2019

The maximum eclipse stage is when most photographers want a great shot. This is when the the moon turns “blood” red and the surrounding night sky becomes much darker from our point of view on Earth. It is an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to witness this moment.

lunar eclipse path 2019

Lunar Eclipse Path – January 20-21, 2019 – NASA

Stages of the total lunar eclipse:

  • Penumbral Eclipse begins
  • Partial Eclipse begins
  • Full Eclipse begins
  • Maximum Eclipse
  • Full Eclipse ends
  • Partial Eclipse ends
  • Penumbral Eclipse ends

An interesting thing happens when the moon is completely eclipsed by the shadow of Earth. Not only does the moon turn to an eerie reddish hue, but the stars and constellations surrounding the moon begin to appear as they would on a moonless night. Capturing a scene like this requires careful planning and execution.

Tips for Photographing the Total Lunar Eclipse

There are numerous ways to photograph a lunar eclipse, but here are 5 methods I techniques I suggest you try out:

  • Point-and-shoot digital camera through a telescope eyepiece (eyepiece projection)
  • Smartphone camera through a telescope eyepiece 
  • DSLR camera and wide angle lens on a stationary tripod
  • DSLR camera and telephoto lens on a tracking mount
  • DSLR camera attached to telescope (prime focus) on a tracking mount
  • Dedicated astronomy camera attached to telescope and tracking mount

    total lunar eclispes

    A photo of the “Super Blood Moon” eclipse I captured from my backyard in 2015

All of the methods described above are capable of incredible lunar eclipse photos. However, the ones that leverage the full manual control of a DSLR or dedicated astronomy camera will have more creative control over the types of shots available.

 

Wide-angle nightscape images that include a large portion of the night sky including an eclipsed moon can be done using a DSLR and tripod. For a 30-second exposure, a tracking mount is not necessary. At a focal length of 18mm or wider, star trailing will begin to show after about 20-25 seconds, so just keep that in mind. 

To capture the stars and constellations in the night sky, an ISO of 800 or above is recommended. However, this exposure will likely record the eclipsed moon as a featureless ball of light.

To properly capture both the starry sky and a detailed moon, you will need to capture exposures of varying lengths and blend them together into a composite image. This is because the moon is much brighter (even while eclipsed) than the surrounding starry sky.

A composite image can be made be masking the area of your night sky exposure, and blending in a shorter exposure of the moon with surface details. This technique will take some time and experience to master, but the results can be amazing.

I’ll share a few more astrophotography tips a little farther down the post.

Using a DSLR and Telescope

A telescope can provide an up-close view of the eclipsed moon, and will allow you to take pictures of the moon using your camera or smartphone. The prime focus method of astrophotography is best, as the camera sensors focal plane is aligned with the telescope. You can directly attach a DSLR camera using a T-Ring adapter to utilize the telescopes native focal length.

t-ring adapter

A DSLR camera and T-Ring Adapter attached to a telescope

The prime focus method requires that the telescope tracks the apparent rotation of the night sky to avoid any movement in your shots. To learn more about the process and equipment involved for deep-sky astrophotography, have a look at a typical DSLR and telescope setup.

If your goal is to capture an up-close view of the moon during the eclipse, there are many benefits to this technique. A small refractor telescope will have the adequate amount of focal length (magnification), offer precision focus, and a stable base to attach to an equatorial telescope mount. 

To record the lunar eclipse with a DSLR camera, no filters are necessary. A stock DSLR camera is best as the additional wavelengths available with a modified camera are unused in moon photography.

camera settings for lunar eclipse

Camera settings used for my lunar eclipse photo

Without a tracking equatorial mount, a 2.5 second exposure like the one above is impossible. Even 1-second of movement at this focal length will record a blurry image if the telescope or lens is not moving at the same speed as the moon.

The benefit of shooting a longer exposure during the maximum eclipse, is that you also record the starry sky behind the moon. To do this in a single exposure on a normal full moon is not possible as the dynamic range is too wide.

A dedicated one-shot-color astronomy camera is more than capable of taking a brilliant photo of the eclipse as well. The computer software used to control these devices have countless options to control the Gain and exposure settings of theses cameras. 

For projects like this, I personally enjoy the freedom and simplicity of a DSLR. Camera settings such as ISO, exposure and white balance can easily be changed on-the-fly as the eclipse is taking place.

Using a Telephoto Camera Lens

A telephoto camera lens with at least 300mm of focal length will also work well. At longer focal lengths like the ones necessary for a close up of the moon, you must use a fast exposure to capture a sharp photo of the moon. This is because the Earth is spinning, so you’re essentially trying to photograph a moving target. 

The image below was captured using a Canon EOS 70D and a Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 Lens. 

partial eclipse phase

The final stages of the partial eclipse phase are challenging to photograph because there is a bright highlight on a small portion of the moon. For the photo below, the camera settings included an ISO setting of 6400, and a shutter speed of 1/8.

A tracking telescope or camera mount such as the iOptron SkyGuider Pro (pictured below) is recommended. An equatorial mount that is polar aligned with the rotational axis of the Earth will allow you to take longer exposures, and get more creative with your camera settings.

Owners of astronomical telescopes for astrophotography usually own a GoTo equatorial mount. This allows the user to enter any celestial object into the hand controller, and the mount will automatically slew to that object once it has been properly star aligned.

An iOptron SkyGuider Pro camera mount with a DSLR and 300mm Lens attached

The key to capturing details of the moons surface in your lunar eclipse photo is reach, and exposure. By this, I mean that you need enough magnification to show the detailed craters of the moon’s surface, and a fast enough shutter speed to not blow out any of the highlights in your image. 

To do this, a precise exposure length must be used. One that preserves the data in your image while also bringing enough of the shadowed areas forward is ideal. For my photos, I found an ISO of 200 and an exposure of 1/200 to work quite well. This was enough to showcase a starry sky behind the eclipsed moon.

I use Adobe Photoshop to process all of my astrophotography images, including photos of the moon and our solar system. Adobe Camera Raw is a fantastic way to edit your images of the lunar eclipse because it gives you complete control over the highlights and color balance of your image. 

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Camera Raw offers powerful tools to edit your photos of the Total Lunar Eclipse

With the camera connected to the telescope (prime focus astrophotography), experiment with different exposures and ISO settings in manual mode, using live-view to make sure you have not under/overexposed the image.

The shortest exposures will only be useful during the partial stages of the lunar eclipse, as the lunar eclipse is beginning and ending. As I mentioned earlier, this is a challenging phase of the even to capture in a single shot, as the shadows and highlights of the image are from one end of the spectrum to the other.

When the moon enters totality, you will need to bump up your ISO, and/or your exposure length to reveal the disk of the moon as it becomes dimmer. Use a timer or external shutter release cable to avoid camera shake if possible. Ideally, you’ll keep the ISO as low as possible for the least amount of noise. With an accurately polar-aligned tracking mount, exposures of 2-5 seconds will work great.

Using a Smartphone or Point-and-Shoot Camera

Another way you can photograph the moon is to use the eyepiece projection method of astrophotography. To do this, you’ll simply position your digital camera or smartphone into the eyepiece of the telescope. This method usually requires a far amount of trial and error, but you may be quite surprised with your results.

An eyepiece smartphone adapter may help to steady your shot of the lunar eclipse. Although you’ll have much less control over exposure and record less detail, this technique can be used with a non-tracking telescope such as the Apertura AD8 Dobsonian I reviewed in late 2018. 

The moon is one of the few subjects that is easy to photograph with a non-tracking mount, although the transition phases of the eclipse will be more difficult. I recommend capturing the lunar eclipse during its maximum phase if you’re using this method. You likely won’t be able to capture a well-exposed image  using the cameras auto-exposure mode.

Experiment with your cameras manual settings that allow for variations in shutter speed. 

Without Using a Telescope 

If you are simply using a point and shoot camera, or a DSLR and lens on a tripod, you can still take photo of the lunar eclipse. This is often a great way to capture the landscape and mood of the moment. The photo below was captured back in October 2014 using a CaDSLR Canon EOS 7D and a 18-200mm lens.

The wide angle tripod shot was photographed at 18mm, while the inset image was captured at the lenses maximum focal lengh of 200mm. 

Total Lunar Eclipse - Moon Photography

Just like I mentioned when using a phone camera, you’ll want as much manual control over the camera settings as possible. “Auto” mode, flash, and autofocus won’t work on a photo of the total lunar eclipse. Adjusting individual parameters such as exposure length and ISO is essential when photographing objects at night. 

Practice taking shots at night beforehand, so that you are ready when the eclipse happens. Ideally, find a location that includes some interesting foreground and background details to capture a dramatic scene on the night of the event. 

I hope you enjoy the total lunar eclipse in January with your friends and family. If the weather cooperates, I will be photographing the event from my backyard using a DSLR camera and telescope. 

Related Posts:

My Best Astrophotography Tips for Beginners

Choosing a Camera for Astrophotography

How to Take Pictures of the Moon

Helpful Resources:

 In-the-sky.org’s calendar of Celestial Events for 2019

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Screen Calibration

|Image Processing|4 Comments

When I purchased a new laptop computer back in 2016 for image processing and video editing and was quickly reminded of the importance of having a well-calibrated computer monitor.

The brightness of my new laptop screen was intense. It appears to be about 25% brighter than my well-calibrated 23 Inch external IPS monitor.  

When it comes to editing and viewing astrophotography images, the screen you’re using can really change the appearance of your results. If it’s too dim, you may not see all of the hidden imperfections in your data.

This results in astrophotography images that are less than pleasing to the eye. I’ve had to re-process many of my own photos in the photo gallery after discovered that they did not look the way I intended them to on different screens.

Screen Calibration for Astrophotography

If you have been processing your astrophotography images on a dim monitor, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you see them on a bright screen for the first time.

This can be a bit of an unsettling moment, especially if you’ve never been through this exercise before.

When you upload your image to the web, you have to accept the fact that people from all over the world may view your work on monitors and screens that display images MUCH different than yours.

Having a monitor that is too bright will show all of the impurities in your background sky.

One of the most extreme examples of the “bright screen effect” is to view your image on a mobile phone with the brightness tuned all the way up. Most people do not leave their mobile screens at this intense level at all times, but its interesting to see a potential worst-case scenario.

astrophotography tutorial

A common tactic beginners use (myself included), is to decrease the brightness or contrast of the image to “hide” the imperfections present in the background sky.

Noise, color blotches, and a generally poor signal-to-noise ratio turn to black. Unfortunately, this method degrades image quality and you lose an incredible amount of detail in your image. Don’t hide your sky!

It is wise to make sure your computer screen is giving you an accurate rendition of the image you worked so hard to capture. There are many ways to calibrate your computer monitor settings, including online tools and dedicated devices that can match specific color profiles.

The device below (Spyder5 Colorimeter), helps you share and print your images with the look you intended.

colorimeter

The Dataclor Spyder5Pro color accuracy device

A colorimeter will usually have a room light sensor that measures the lighting conditions of your room. If there has been a change in lighting in the room, it alerts you to modify your calibration settings for optimal color accuracy.

This creates a unique color profile for each of your monitors, and it can help you get a better match between your photos on screen and in print.

Why should you calibrate your monitor?

By spending a little time adjusting the calibration settings of your monitor, you can help ensure that the colors and brightness of your astrophotos are represented accurately.

I’ve never used a Colorimeter myself, but I have spent a lot of time adjusting settings manually to find the right balance. When I decide to start printing my photos, I think the Colorimeter is a good idea.

In terms of photography, screen calibration can have a dramatic effect on your online experience whether you are processing astrophotography images or not. You can ensure that you are seeing the images displayed on screen as they were intended to be viewed.  

This is especially important for creative professionals such as Graphic Designers, Photographers and Video Production teams.  

The idea is to have your monitor conforming to a preset color benchmark such as the sRGB or Adobe RGB color space.

screen brightness for astrophotography

 

How do your astrophotography images appear on other screens?

How to Manually Calibrate your Screen for Astrophotography

The first step towards adjusting your computer monitor display settings is by using the interface on the unit itself. Some models have more in-built control options than others. 

If you use an external monitor like me, it will have a set of controls, usually at the front and under the screen.

My ViewSonic LED monitor has the typical bare-bones contrast, brightness, and color mode. You’ll want to make sure that you do not have any ambient lighting in the room affecting your views, so close the blinds and turn off the light.

Do not calibrate your monitor in a bright, sunlit room, or with reflections appearing on-screen.

For accurate results, face your screen head-on, with your eye lined up with the top of the screen.

Calibration Tools and Adjustments

It is necessary to have some reference material on-screen that will let you know if you’ve pushed your settings too far one way or the other.  See the grayscale chart from APCmag below:

screen calibration tool

You should be able to distinguish between each shade of white/black

Using the Color Calibration Feature in Windows 10

If you are using Windows 10, they have a nifty color calibration walk-through that is great for making adjustments called Display Color Calibration.  

It will take you through a number of tests to see just how far off your display is.  They call it “color” calibration, but it’s really an overall screen calibration test.  

You can get to it by following this command path:  Start Menu > Settings > System > Display > Advanced Display Settings > Color Calibration.  The following calibration images are used in the Windows color calibration test.

Have you Checked Your Gamma Today?

“Gamma defines the mathematical relationship between the red, green, and blue color values that are sent to the display and the amount of light that’s ultimately emitted from it.”

Adjusting the gamma on your screen

In the image above, you should not see any overly obvious “dots” within the circles.

The Brightness Effect

As I stated earlier, having a display that is too bright can absolutely wreak havoc on an astrophoto that has been stretched too far. I know about this phenomenon all too well, as I like to stretch my data to its full potential (and sometimes go too far).

The tell-tale signs of an astronomical image that has been stretched too far, or with serious gradient and vignetting issues – is a muddy, green/brown background sky.  

The sky may appear to have a nice neutral dark grey or black on your dim monitor, but on your nephews brand new ultra-backlit iPhone, it’s a multicolored mess. 

Even images on APOD can appear to diminish in quality under the scrutiny of an overly bright display.

Here’s an image you can use as a guide.  You should be able to distinguish between the mans shirt and the background.  The black “X” in the background should be barely visible.

monitor calibration test

 

Contrast – Don’t Overdo it

Using the image below, adjust the contrast settings of your monitor so that the background appears black and not grey. If you have lost details in the white shirt the man is wearing, such as the buttons and creases, you have pushed the contrast too far.

adjusting contrast

My Best Advice

My advice is to process the image on image on a screen that has been calibrated as best as possible.  If you have access to an overly bright, unforgiving display – maybe have a look at your image on that as well.  

It can be useful to see an exaggerated version of your subject and fix any issues that really jump out at you.

It may be helpful to view your processed image on several different screens (including your phone) to get a feel for the middle ground. I usually preview my images on at least 3 monitors before posting online.

Take a look a few example astronomy photos taken by professionals on Astronomy Picture of the Day. Use the color, levels and background sky you see in their photos as a guideline. Chances are, the photos you see here will look great, no matter which display screen you view them on.  

Horsehead Nebula

This is because they have taken the precautions needed to ensure that their images are an accurate representation of scientific data, including screen calibration.  Many of these astrophotographers have dedicated calibration tools to help them keep their displays accurate.

I have had many issues with uneven sky backgrounds in the past, primarily due to the lack of using flat frames.

The dim monitors hide this messy background making the sky to appear a nice dark grey or black. There is value in viewing your images on a variety on screens to learn how to better process your images.  

I hope that this write-up has opened your eyes to the importance of screen calibration when processing astrophotography images.  

As for getting your night sky photos printed? I’ll save that for another post.

Watch my Astrophotography Image Processing Tutorial (Photoshop)

 

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Astrophotography in the City

|Backyard|1 Comment

Saturday Night Under the Stars

Astrophotography in the City

Last weekend I posted a new video to my YouTube channel titled DSLR Astrophotography – A Night in the Backyard with my Camera. It is now Early-April, and we are in what amateur astrophotographers call “Galaxy Season”, as we transition from the Winter Constellations like Orion and Taurus, to the Summer Milky Way objects.  In between, there are some fantastic deep-sky objects to observe in the Spring Constellations Leo, Coma Berenices, and Bootes.

The forecast called for clear skies on that crisp, cold Saturday night in Southern Ontario, and I was ready to image some deep-sky objects with my camera and telescope.  After a late dinner, it was a race against the clock to photograph my first subject of the evening, the Waxing Crescent Moon. If you want to jump straight to the video, you can find it at the bottom of this post.

Live-View DSLR Through a Telescope

Using the Canon 70D’s live view screen for telescope observing

Crescent Moon Astrophotography

 

I barely had time to get the beautiful Waxing Crescent moon into my telescope’s eyepiece before it became obscured by the surrounding trees in my neighborhood!  I shot a live-view video of the moon (with Earthshine visible) with my Canon EOS 70D DSLR through the telescope.  This may be of interest to anyone wondering what the view is like through an 80mm refractor telescope.  You need an adapter to attach the camera to the telescope, which you can buy online here.

After I focused the Moon and experimented with different ISO settings and exposure lengths, I snapped a couple of shots before moving on with the rest of my night.  You can have a look at the equipment I use for astrophotography here.

 

Earthshine Moon

The sky from my backyard

Next, I wanted to provide some examples of the dark-sky quality from my backyard.  Living in the central part of town has its advantages, but dark skies are not one of them!  I experience heavy light pollution from all directions.  This makes using a light-pollution filter on my camera necessary for long exposures.  Currently, I use the IDAS LPS clip-in filter on my Canon Rebel Xsi DSLR.  This allows me to capture exposures of up to 5 minutes from my backyard.

 

Astrophotography in the City

The night sky from my backyard on April 9, 2016

 

The Big Dipper Asterism

Looking towards the Big Dipper in Ursa Major

Deep-Sky Target: Edge-On Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices

NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy

Once the moon had set, I promptly prepared my deep-sky astrophotography rig for a night’s worth of photons on my photography subject.  I settled on NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy because of it’s size, magnitude, and current location in our night sky.  The Needle Galaxy is an edge-on spiral galaxy that resides about 30-50 million lights years from Earth.  This handsome galaxy is the current photo in my 2016 RASC Observer’s Calendar hanging in my office at work, perhaps that is what gave me the idea!

Astrophotography in the City - Needle Galaxy from my backyard

NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy

Photographed on: April 9/10, 2016

Total Exposure Time: 54 Minutes (18 x 3 Min. Subs @ ISO 1600)
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ-5 Pro
Camera: Canon 450D (modified)
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

This interesting NGC object shows up rather small in my 80mm telescope, as many galaxies do.  A larger telescope with a focal length of 1000mm or more would be a better choice for this DSO.  I also had a bit of a challenging evening out the background colour of this image.  Flat frames would have made this issue much easier to deal with in post-processing.  With just under an hour of exposure time, it is safe to say that I will need to add more time to this image to bring out the colour and detail.


AstroBackyard on Youtube

I am completely blown away with the response to my YouTube Channel has received.  Thank you to everyone who has subscribed, I look forward to many new astrophotography videos in the future!

Beginner Advice:

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Selective Processing for More Detail

Staying Inside – Image Processing

The unseasonably cold weather and precipitation we have experienced here in Southern Ontario have given me the perfect opportunity to go through my old astrophotography images and reprocess the data.  I have been advancing my image-processing skills by studying current astronomy images taken by the pros.

Being a creative professional myself, I have always understood and appreciated the power of inspiration. I am always interested in new image-processing techniques, Photoshop tutorials and new software that can enhance my work.  Through selective processing, I have been able to squeeze out the most amount of detail from my astro images.

Western Veil Nebula

The Western Veil Nebula – I reduced the stars to show more contrast in the nebula

My latest take on The Swan Nebula is my favorite version yet. Through selective processing, I was able to tame the background stars, while intensifying the gorgeous pinks and reds in the nebula itself.  

I also recently reprocessed my wide-field image of the Western Veil Nebula, with a focus on reducing star size, and overall image contrast and color. The “witch’s broom nebula” is a tough process, especially if you have to deal with a severe gradient behind all of those stars. After assessing the gradient in Photoshop, (mostly due to heavy light-pollution) I can easily even out the sky background using the Gradient Xterminator plugin.

I am quite pleased at my latest results of the Eagle Nebula as well. I went through my astrophotography folders from the past 4 years (like I said, it’s been cloudy!)  and found a set of almost 2 hours of frames on M16 that I had not previously used!  

I combined all of the data together from May 2012, and May 2013 in DeepSkyStacker to create an image with over 3 hours of exposure time.  I decided to keep the extremely wide-field view captured by my 80mm telescope, rather than cropping the photo around the nebula.

This image really benefited from the selective processing technique. By reducing the stars on a separate layer, I was able to keep all of the detail found in the nebula.

Eagle Nebula - 80mm Telescope

Wide field image of the Eagle Nebula with my 80mm telescope

Image Processing Techniques

One of the processing techniques I have been implementing into my photos is to process different elements of the image separately. By this, I mean to process the background, the stars and the nebulosity on their own.  

I am able to do this by selecting each element of the image and stretching the data without affecting the other areas. For example, I can boost the vibrance and saturation of the nebula or galaxy without adding additional noise to the background of space and stars.

As I have stated many times, I prefer to tame the stars in the image to be as small as possible. Normally, I would run the “make stars smaller” action to the entire image in Photoshop.

This actually starts to diminish the precious detail in your deep-sky object that you worked so hard to capture! Many other actions that are intended to correct issues with the background space and stars can take away from your subject as well.

You can also manually Remove the Stars Completely from your image using photoshop.

Swan Nebula - 8 Inch telescope

My latest version of the Swan Nebula

Selective Processing

There are several ways to accomplish the selective processing technique to your astronomy photos.  You can create multiple adjustment layers of your image in Photoshop, and apply the various actions to each element of the image on a separate layer.

I use the Select and Mask tool to refine my selections before applying effects. This ensures that each new adjustment layer is blended naturally into the final image.

 Once you have applied your desired settings applied to each layer, you can use layer masks to combine all aspects of the photograph into one.  This means you will likely have layers for:

  • The Background Space – With a balanced black-point set

  • The Background Stars – Small, sharp and with lots of accurate colour

  • The Brighter Stars – Soft, or with Diffraction Spikes and Color

  • The Deep-Sky Object – Full of luminance, color and detail

  • The Core or Brightest Area of the DSO – reduced to show detail, not blown out

Selective Processing - Astrophotography

Processing the nebulosity separately from the background stars in Photoshop

You can also process the selected elements of your images as separate documents.  Sometime I prefer to do this to really focus on achieving the best possible result for my focus area, without the temptation to poke around at another feature.  

Once you have processed each version of the image with your focus area maximized, you can then combine the images using layer masks.  The blending and layer masking is definitely the most delicate stage of the process.  You can really make a mess of an image by failing to inspect all areas of your image before flattening.

I find it helpful to use a reference image of your deep-sky target. This is the best way to make sure you have not overstretched your image data, and that your colors and details are an accurate portrayal of that particular deep sky wonder. I often look for inspiration on APOD!  

To stay connected with me and my latest astrophotography images, please follow my Facebook Page.  I hope you are all excited about the wonderful deep-sky targets that will be gracing our night sky the coming months, I sure am!

Resources:

Astrophotography for Beginners – The Basics

How to choose an Astrophotography Camera – My Advice

Top 5 Telescopes for Beginners – My Advice

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