Smartphone Astrophotography: How I photograph the Moon & planets with my phone

4 Mar
iphone Moon

Moon photographed with an iPhone 4s through an 8” telescope.

I’m often asked how I am able to take high-quality images of the solar system using my iPhone. In short, the quality of today’s smartphone cameras makes it possible to take very respectable images of the Moon and planets through a telescope with your phone – but it takes some work.

While the end results may not match those taken with dedicated astronomical CMOS or CCD cameras, smartphone astrophotography can be a good starting point for budding astrophotographers. It can also be a useful alternative for experienced astronomers who wish to capture an image quickly with little equipment.

What You Need

1)      A Smartphone Adapter

Orion iPhone Adapter

A smartphone adapter will hold your phone in place above the eyepiece.

The simplest way to take a photo at the telescope is to simply hold your phone’s camera up to the eyepiece, but this approach rarely produces good results. Not only is it very difficult to centre the object properly, it can be tricky to ensure that the object is well exposed.

A simple adapter will improve your smartphone astrophotography immensely. An adapter will help you centre an object in the phone’s viewscreen, steady the camera, and ensure proper focus and exposure. A handful of companies are now producing adapters, including Orion whose adapter for iPhone 4s (no longer available) is pictured here. Orion also produces a Universal Smartphone Adapter (mobile-friendly link here) that is said to fit most phone brands and which is what I now use.

Here’s a video of the Orion Steadypix in action to give you a sense of how an adapter is used:

2)      A Way to Dim the Object

Smartphone cameras have excellent resolution and many now have the manual exposure control settings needed to evenly expose the entire lunar disc or to capture subtle planetary features. On some phones, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, and the Moon will be too bright on the camera screen by default. Luckily, the newest iPhones have good exposure controls that will normally do the trick to dim the image and bring out the right amount of detail.


Use your phone’s exposure controls to dim the object. Click this photo to see a quick and helpful video from Apple: “How to Shoot the Moon on iPhone 7

If you find that your smartphone doesn’t have powerful enough exposure control on its own, you may want to try using eyepiece filters (mobile-friendly link here) such as an a variable polarizing Moon filter (mobile-friendly link here) and/or a coloured filter to reduce the object’s brightness in the eyepiece.


Jupiter and moon with iPhone 6, default brightness.



Jupiter with iPhone 6, with brightness dimmed. Now you can see the moon’s shadow on the planet!

3)      Stacking & Editing Software

While it’s possible to take high-quality snapshots of the Moon with a smartphone, it’s difficult to take an individual planetary image that matches the view through the eyepiece. To tease the most detail out of a planet, it’s best to record a short video clip of the object using the camera’s video function or an app (I use FilMic Pro with my iPhone). You can then use freely available image stacking software to select and combine (stack) the best individual frames from the video.

The photos above show the difference between single images (L) vs. stacked images (R) that combined hundreds of the best individual video frames I took of Mars and Saturn.

The Stargazers Lounge tutorial on Stacking Planetary Images offers an excellent introduction to image stacking and editing.  AutoStakkertRegistax and AviStack are popular, free stacking software tools, and Apple users can also import iPhone video directly into a shareware program called Keith’s Image Stacker to accomplish similar results.

4)      Practice

Tycho Clavius Moon iPhone

Lunar closeup captured with an iPhone 4s through an 8” telescope.

As with most astronomical pursuits, your skills will improve with practice. Don’t be disappointed if your first images don’t match those you see online. Experiment with different eyepieces, filters, and software and understand that the image quality is only partially in your hands. Your success will also depend on the degree of atmospheric turbulence or “seeing” at the time you’re taking your images. The same techniques might produce dramatically better (or worse!) results from one night to the next.

Once you’ve obtained some images you’re happy with, be sure to Tweet them to me  so that I can see your hard work! 


It’s also possible to take photos of the brightest deep sky objects with a smartphone. Using the NightCap app, which mimics the long exposures of DSLR cameras, I was able to obtain a high-quality image of the Orion Nebula that was recently featured on the website io9!

Orion Nebula iPhone Andrew Symes

Single frame of the Orion Nebula taken with the NightCap app and brightened using the Camera+ app.

No stacking was required to record the colour and detail found in this nebula. I simply brightened the original image with the Camera+ app.

Lastly, I’ve created a Flickr gallery that contains my most recent iPhone astrophotos.


In 2016 I took some of my best iPhone photos of Saturn and Mars using the techniques described above:




Here is a new image I created of the Orion Nebula using the NightCap app in February, 2015. It’s a stack of 30 iPhone 6 images taken through my 8″ telescope.

39308728515_aa78e36af4_o (1)



50 Responses to “Smartphone Astrophotography: How I photograph the Moon & planets with my phone”

  1. suzzeq April 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    Reblogged this on suzzeq's Blog.

  2. Frederic Abel May 3, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Reblogged this on My Astronomy Blog.

  3. Norman Van Treeck April 16, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Reblogged this on Astronomy and Law and commented:
    Sorry, still getting over my bout of food poisoning (Thaks Taco Bell, had I known that you loaded grillers came with extra e-colli I would have passed, serves me right for wanting fast food anyway). So here is another reblog for you on how to take images with your smart phones. Enjoy.

  4. Eric Teske October 1, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    Cool! I linked you in the sidebar of my blog. I follow you on Instagram but I guess I never saw your actual blog until now! You’re one of my fav IGers and now this is weird being on your site – it’s like seeing a friend from school in the mall and not knowing what to say. Cheers!

    • canadianastronomy October 14, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      Eric!!! This is so funny because I saw that you had a blog when I first followed you but completely lost track of it and this has reminded me to follow! Thanks so much for adding me to your sidebar – you’ve got a great list there and some I don’t recognize so I will definitely need to check those out! Also, are you on Flickr? Thanks so much for commenting. It also gives me a chance to tell you how much I loved your recent eclipse pics 🙂

  5. Albert van Duin November 30, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    Hi Andrew, amazing images! I wonder if I can show them in a presentation about astrophotography I will give in a few weeks time. You will be credited of course!


  6. Jim in IA January 13, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Thanks for this post. I’m thinking of getting a phone adapter.

    • SUBRAMANIANR January 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm #

      I am from Coimbatore, India. Since I purchased a Celestron 76AQ, I have been taking pictures of moon, Jupiter, and Saturn using my normal Nokia 5230 mobile camera and off late I do that with my new Android phone camera. Hundreds of photos are in my microchip. In the initial stage I was just holding the mobile just nearer to the eyepiece lens. Holding the mobile with utmost rigidity I use to click. The results were amazing. I posted them in Facebook. After viewing some of my videos on moon my friends suggested the video would be great if shaking of camera is avoided. Now I have made a small fixture using a waste light weight plastic box (black color will be better), fixed the eye piece in it. That’s it..Insert the fixture in the eye piece slot. No need to strain the eyes. My spirits make me jump high. In any case my old Nokia 5230 gives a better quality picture than the more costly android. May be the android may fare better along with a Moon/Jupiter filter.
      Would be thankful if I am told of how to post some of my photos!!

      • Jim in IA January 30, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

        I like to try to solve problems. I should see if I can make my own camera holder like you did. I looked up the telescope you purchased. It is made by a good company and will serve your needs well.

        I am curious about your last comment. Are you unable to post photos other than on Facebook? You can get a free WordPress blog and post them. They give you 3 gig of storage.

  7. iAstrophotography February 1, 2015 at 12:56 am #

    Hey Andrew, great stuff!! Just came across your blog through the UniverseToday story, but I’ve been following you on twitter and instagram for a while. Your planetary shots with an iPhone are absolutely amazing and a real inspiration! Keep it up!


    • canadianastronomy February 4, 2015 at 11:31 pm #

      Same here! I follow you on Twitter & IG but hadn’t noticed your blog either! Thanks so much for the feedback and it’s great to get in touch with another fellow iPhone astrophotographer!

  8. Una February 18, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    This may sound a stupid question (as I love taking ordinary sky & moon photos just with my Canon 550D camera) and would love to get more into moon and planet photography. My question is, what is the best entry level telescope as I have never thought about using a telescope? I was going to buy a long telephoto lens but they cost thousands.
    thank you for your time.

  9. Yanni Tsetsekos (@YTsetsekos) February 20, 2015 at 11:22 pm #

    thank you very much for the information! what eyepiece/moon filters could you suggest for my 12″ reflector?

  10. Vincent February 21, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Sorry. An information from neophyte. With this telescope II can see the planets so clearly (as in your picture)?

    • canadianastronomy February 22, 2015 at 1:23 am #

      That telescope will show you the planets, but you will not see the level of detail I obtain here because my telescope aperture is almost twice as large. So you will be able to see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons, but the planets will be small, and Jupiter’s Great Red Spot would be a very tough challenge, for example. This page gives you an example of what to expect through the eyepiece at best: Your best bet is to find an astronomy event (star party) and look through some actual telescopes to see the view through different types!

  11. Petry February 23, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    Have you tried iPhone IOS 8 manual exposure/exposure compensation?

    • canadianastronomy February 24, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      Yes, but only once on Jupiter and it didn’t seem to dim the image enough on its own so I popped on a polarizing Moon filter. I do want to play around with that feature more, though, as it seems promising!

  12. Syed Jahanzaib / Pinochio~:) March 19, 2015 at 2:20 am #

    I have 10″ dobsonian manual telescope with 6/10/25 mm eyepiece. I can live view the Jupiter bright and crisp with the eyepice, but when I try to take it with my samsung galaxy s3, all i get is white sphere, I cant buy any filter or camera holder stand at a moment dueto no finance, What are the alternates I can try to take jupiter pictures as clear as I can ? Thanks 🙂

  13. Jason May 2, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    Is a drive motor / auto tracker on your telescope required for image stacking? I just have a manual equatorial mount. If a motor is required, would I need to drive only one axis?

    • canadianastronomy May 15, 2015 at 10:02 am #

      It’s *possible* to gather enough frames from an untracked video but it’s difficult because you want the object to be as centered/steady as possible to gather 30-60 seconds of video to make a good stack. That said, I have a Twitter follower who has stacked Jupiter from only a few seconds of untracked video. And I think that with an EQ mount you would only need to drive one axis once it’s properly aligned, yes.

      • Jason May 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

        Thanks very much for the article and the reply! I picked up a drive motor and I am looking forward to giving it a go.

  14. mahesh May 14, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Great photography Andrew Symes !

    I’ve been using Samsung s2 & 3 through my Meade 90 etx since 2011 mainly capturing lunar craters…not as sophisticated as your outfits. I probably have a dozen good captures from about 7/800 I’ve done…London light pollution and cloud covers aren’t particularly exciting or cooperative in such an indulgence as astrophotography…but never yield or lose one’s enthusiasm…it does pay off. Thanks for sharing your super captures…
    Regards & clear skies mahesh

    • canadianastronomy May 15, 2015 at 10:03 am #

      Thank you so much! Do you have a blog or photo account online where you post your images?

  15. Rory Griffin May 24, 2018 at 9:01 am #

    Thx for this… Its great. Just wondering what you think the best eyepiece is For planetary with a mobile phone? An ortho maybe?
    Mny thx Rory

    • canadianastronomy June 4, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

      I have had the best results with my 7.5mm Plossl and have actually never tried an ortho – so if you do, please let me know how it goes!

  16. Michael June 3, 2018 at 7:35 am #

    Hi Andrew, I’m just getting into astrophotography with an iphone5s and a Celestron 4se. I’m trying to start stacking but I cannot Fonda way to convert the iPhone video format into a format that autostakkert will accept. Could you offer any help with this? With thanks Michael

    • canadianastronomy June 4, 2018 at 4:31 pm #

      Yes! You’ll want to use a free program called PIPP. It will stabilize the video and output it as an AVI file that Autostakkert can use. Clear skies!

  17. Jace Thacker January 22, 2020 at 6:19 pm #

    This is amazing. I’ve been using nightcap for a while and love it. I’m about to buy a 10” dobsonian and gonna try some deep sky objects as my 3 isn’t too great. Great work

  18. yong54321 April 1, 2020 at 8:51 am #


    Just to update that iPhone is able produce the above Orion Nebula instantly without any desktop stacking. By using spiralCam iOS app on a manual telescope, the tracking, alignment and stacking can all be done onphone automatically. See report at


    • canadianastronomy April 1, 2020 at 1:20 pm #

      Thank you for sharing that with me! I am very interested in trying that app out!

  19. Joaquín Guerra Achem August 9, 2020 at 2:41 pm #

    Hello, I am new to astrophotography. I enjoyed your blog, very helpful.

    I have this picture that I stacked from a video taken with my iPhone through a telescope.

    My telescope is a Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ. I want to understand what I need to do to improve the image from Jupiter. How can I get more details on Jupiter’s lines/colors.

    Thanks for any tips!


    • canadianastronomy June 18, 2021 at 12:40 pm #

      Sorry for my VERY late reply! Have you had any success more recently? From a quick glance, I think you need to find a way to reduce the brightness of Jupiter in order to bring out more detail.

  20. Jordan October 20, 2020 at 3:52 pm #


    First of all, I am super impressed with what you do with an iPhone. I have struggled to get results like this with a DSLR. I have been working with some of the tips you have given, and I am having some issues and I thought you might be willing to give some advice. I am using the NightCap app to control ISO. I cannot get the stock Iphone app to Focus on the object AND control brightness on it. Am I doing something wrong? (I am new to iPhone) I filmed Jupiter the other night for about 30 seconds, and then stacked the images. I then processed them in Registax and got a very blurry ball… I am hoping you might be able to give some suggestions? Thank you so much for your time.

    • canadianastronomy June 18, 2021 at 12:38 pm #

      Sorry for my VERY late reply. If you’re still having trouble, I’d suggest dimming the brighter objects like Jupiter with a polarizing moon filter on the eyepiece. My iPhone 11 also struggles with brighter objects (iPhone 7/8 seemed to be better with the default camera for this) so I find I need to bring out the moon filter and adjust the brightness that way. Hope you’ve had more luck since!

  21. Matthew Vincent January 15, 2021 at 3:15 pm #

    Bro, thank you for this. I’ve been attempting AP with my iPhone while I save up for gear. You’ve given me hope I can do something worthwhile with my current equipment, and told me all the resources to use. This is awesome!

  22. Luca Vanzella November 13, 2021 at 2:18 pm #

    I’m doing a presentation next week that includes a bit on what can be achieved with a smartphone and telescope. May I show your images of Mars, Jupiter and Satrun. Full credit will be given. Thanks.

  23. michael schaefer February 11, 2022 at 8:44 pm #


    I have an iPhone 12 mini and a Dobsonian, and have been able to get surprisingly good photos. I would like to step up to the next level and start stacking images from video. However, the Dob does not have a motor drive to track the sky. So my video clips consist of the image drifting across the screen. Is there an app that can take images from such a video clip and reposition them for stacking? Thanks! Michael

    • Jordan March 27, 2022 at 3:24 pm #

      Yes there is. It is called PIPP. It’s free and works GREAT. You upload a video and it takes each frame and prepares it for stacking.


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