The Stars, Naked Eye and iPhone Astrophotography

What do you do when you’re outside and you look up and see the luminaries shining? Like many, you stare in awe, gawking in wonder and amazement.  You want to capture the moment, etch and emblazon the starry scene into your mind, but you don’t have star gazing equipment 😑. No worries.  You can still take an amazing photo with your iPhone and endlessly relive the moment.

Figure 1. Sirius and Wezen Stars in Canis Major in Columbus Park, Bronx, NY. Taken with the iPhone 12 Mini, 4/2/23, 10PM


See, “How to take astronomy photos with just your iPhone” by Andrew Orr, posted August 3, 2022 online at  Standing in Columbus Park (MS 45) on E.189th Street and Bathgate Ave., Bronx, NY, enjoying the night sky, I looked up, looking south west, and what did I see?  Two bright luminaries appearing vertically diagonal to one another, see Figure 1.  I opened my “Planets” app (Planets 5.0 2019 Dana Peters,, pointed it at the stars I was looking at, and it identified them as Sirius at the top right, and Wezen at bottom left, in the constellation Canis Major.  Due to light pollution all the stars in the constellation were not visible.  Fortunately, Sirius and Wezen were shining bright enough that my iPhone was able to capture their beauty despite the light pollution.

Figure 2. Stars of Orion’s Belt at 188th St and Bathgate Abe, Bronx, NY. 4/2/23, 10:32 PM.

However, I was not finished stargazing and a half hour later, walking along Bathgate near E 188th St., I looked up and the three stars of Orion’s belt were faint but visible.  It was another one of those OMG moments 😊.  What do you do?  You take a photo to capture the scene.  Although it was dark in the park when these photos were taken, light pollution makes the background sky appear lighter than it actually was when the photos were taken.  As a result of the light pollution, only a portion of the Orion constellation was visible, the three stars as seen in Figure 3. 

Figure 3. Canis Major and Orion Constellations from Sky and Telescope’s Interactive Sky Chart.

Above is an image from showing the constellations Canis Major and Orion partially visible when I photographed them with my iPhone 12 mini on April 2, 2023 at 9:59pm and 10:30 pm.

Andrew Orr from Apple Insider advises that “night mode” is preferable when taking photos of the stars and that night mode turns on “automatically…when the iPhone detects a low-light environment…”  This feature in the iPhone allows the user to take a quick picture with exposure lasting for a few seconds depending on the darkness.  The capture time can also be manually configured.  Orr says that this method is “the most affordable setup to take night sky photos with an iPhone” and “it’s not available on all models”.  He lists the iPhones that support night mode: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max.  He has some other useful tips including keeping the iPhone still when taking an image and using “software to capture images.”  He also wrote that you’ll get better results if you utilize a telescope designed to work with smart phones, and to also use a tripod. See,

In Figure 4, the moon is seen surrounded and almost enveloped by clouds.  I took this photo because it reminded me of what a stellar nursery might look like.  The moon looks like a proto-star being born, with its winds blowing the clouds of dust and gas away from it.  However, the orb is not a proto star.  It is our moon.  The clouds that are visible were formed from water molecules in earth’s atmosphere and not dust and gas from outer space.  However, the photo resembles what a forming proto star may look like as it pushes the dust and gas away from it.

Figure 4. Photograph of the Moon enveloped in clouds looking East, 4/3/23, 9:24 PM, Columbus Park, at Bathgate Ave and E 189th St.