The other weekend I had a chance to do some awesome iPhone astrophotography of Messier 42, better known as the Orion Nebula. I drove about an hour and fifteen minutes northeast from San Diego to just outside a small town called Julian. The slight elevation and surrounding mountains cut down on a lot of the San Diego light pollution to make for some excellent dark skies. Below, I’ll go through some of the details on how I was able to capture this shot of the Orion Nebula on my iPhone.
First of all, I think the dark skies really helped. It was a new moon and some of the darkest skies I’ve seen. I got my telescope all setup. The scope I used is the Celestron Advanced VX 6 inch Newtonian, which has been an absolute pleasure to use. It only took about 10 minutes to get everything setup and tracking appropriately. By the time I was set, Orion was just coming up well above the horizon. This image (taken with just my iPhone) will give you a sense of how dark the skies really were.
With the telescope slewed to the Orion Nebula, I mounted my iPhone 6 using the Orion SteadyPix adapter. In the past I’ve used ProCamera 7 and 8 as my go to apps for iAstrophotography, but this time I used NightCap Pro. It performed like a champ!
I set the app to Long Exposure, with Night Mode and Light Boost (see options with green lights in lower left). I also used the focus lock to get a close focus, then dialed it in further using the focus knobs on my telescope.
I wanted to experiment with image stacking a bit, so I took 4 shots of about 20-30 seconds each. After the first 3-5 seconds I could notice the exposure picking up more light, but after that, I’m not sure if the longer exposure had much effect. In any case, here’s what an individual frame looked like:
Even that turned out pretty impressively, but it’s not zoomed in at all and the surrounding blackness shows some noise. So, I took 3 more frames like that. Then I put the cap on my telescope and took 4 similar dark frames.
This was my first attempt stacking deep space images. I ended up using Regim for Mac, and I found this video tutorial very easy to follow. This process didn’t take long at all, and I think it definitely helped take some of the noise out of the background areas. A little more editing in iPhoto and Instagram, and here’s the final product:
Let me know if you have any additional tips or if you’ve had success shooting any other DSOs with an iPhone.