Smart Living | How to

How to | 24 Jan 2023

How to take stunning photos of the stars using just a phone

Astrophotography isn’t just for photography experts with expensive cameras anymore – all you need is a recent Google Pixel smartphone, such as the Pixel 7 Pro, some preparation, and this guide.

The night sky has long been the final frontier for casual, everyday photographers – cosmically beautiful, but essentially impossible to photograph without a pricey, specialist camera and the seemingly arcane knowledge needed to use it.

Until now, that is. Anyone with a Google Pixel Android smartphone released in the past few years, from the current Pixel 7 series going back to 2018’s Pixel 3 range, as well as a few accessories and a bit of forward planning, can capture stunning star photography. It’s a fun and engaging activity for all ages, especially on otherwise long winter nights.

The results

These unedited shots were taken on a Pixel 7 Pro by a Vodafone volunteer in the Norfolk countryside. More experienced in recording videos than taking photos, and a newbie to astrophotography, he relied on the advice in this guide to get these results.

(You can see larger versions of each shot by right-clicking/long-pressing on each image and opening it in a new browser tab.)

Here’s what you need to know.

Star photography equipment

Any Google Pixel smartphone from the Pixel 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 ranges. This includes the ‘a’ models such as the Pixel 4a and 6a.

The Google Pixel 7 Pro.

These phones have Google’s customised Camera app which has a dedicated Night Sight photography mode. It uses artificial intelligence to adjust both the camera’s settings and images as they’re taken – tasks that would’ve previously been done after shooting by a knowledgeable, experienced photographer.

Tripod and smartphone mount

You’ll need to keep your Pixel absolutely still by using a tripod. This is because the phone will keep its lens open for several minutes to capture as much light as possible, so any movement jostling your phone will lead to a blurry shot.

Dedicated photographers often obsess over every little detail of their preferred tripods – from the material of the metal legs to the precise adjustability of the ‘head’, which is the part that sits between your phone and the metal legs. It enables you to swivel your phone as well as tilt it back, forth and sideways.

As you’re learning the ropes though, a cheap and cheerful aluminium model from a well-known camera accessory brand, such as the Vanguard Vesta 203AP which comes with a head, will be good enough to get you started.

The head on that model, like the overwhelming majority of tripods, is designed for dedicated cameras though. To mount your Pixel onto it, you’ll need a mount/brace such as a Joby GripTight or the Manfrotto MClamp.

Optional extras

As well as odds and ends for keeping you comfortable on a cold evening outdoors – such as a woolly hat and tea-filled thermos – you may want to bring a camping chair or picnic blanket to sit on so you can lean back and enjoy the view, while your Pixel does its photographic business.

Torchlight can come in handy for everything from adjusting your tripod to pouring out a cup of tea. But standard torchlight can be blinding in near-darkness, so your eyes will have to readjust themselves to starlight after every use. You can avoid this jarring annoyance by using a headlamp with a red light mode, such as the Energizer Vision HD+. The red light will be bright enough when needed and won’t sear your vision when it’s not.

If you’re curious about which constellations, satellites and other celestial bodies are twinkling above your head then it’s worth bringing along an astronomy app. There are quite a few to choose from. Some, such as Vito StarWalk, have an augmented reality mode overlaying names and info about celestial bodies over your device’s view of the night sky, making identification easier.

Of course, you’ll need another mobile device to use an astronomy app as your Pixel will be busy photographing the stars. Vito StarWalk is available on iOS and iPadOS, as well as Android, so you can load it up on an iPad or perhaps the Android phone belonging to friends or family members tagging along on your astrophotography adventure.


  • Pixel smartphone
  • Tripod (with head)
  • Smartphone tripod mount/clamp
  • Headlamp with red light mode [optional]
  • Thermos and blanket or camping chair [optional]
  • Astronomy app [optional]

Star photography: preparation, location, weather

Light pollution can make night sky photography impossible, blotting out the stars so that they’re no longer visible. Light pollution in cities means urbanites will have to find a location out-of-town for their shoots. But there’s another source of light pollution – the moon. Avoiding both is easier than you think.

To find a location without urban light pollution, you’ll typically need to find a spot in the countryside away from bustling streets, towering buildings and street lighting. But, surprisingly, there are often a few suitable sites within cities too – typically nature reserves. The Go Stargazing website has a map of locations across the UK, ranked by how dark they are at night, giving you an idea of how much of the night sky you’ll be able to see.

Even once the sun has set, you may want – if you can – to ensure that around two or three hours have passed since sunset before commencing astrophotography. That’s because the far-off residual glow of the sun can often still be picked up by your Pixel’s camera during that period.

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To avoid light pollution from a full moon, check the lunar data for your chosen location on the Clear Outside website. This will show you how much moonlight will be visible on any given night in the week ahead – the lower the percentage number, the less light pollution there will be from the moon.

There’s one other wrinkle to consider – cloud cover. If there’s enough of it, cloudy weather can obscure your view of the night sky. Thankfully, both the Go Stargazing and Clear Outside websites have cloud cover forecasts (as indeed do most general-purpose weather forecast apps and websites). Based on our experiences, aim for a night with around 30% cloud cover or less to get a clear view of the sky.


  • Location away from urban light pollution
  • A night with as little moonlight as possible
  • A night with as little cloud cover as possible

Star photography technique

Once you’ve got your kit and scoped out a location on a night with the right conditions, you can finally get snapping. Once securely mounted on a tripod and pointing at clear and inky dark sky, Google has made the actual process of shooting the stars as point-and-shoot as possible. There are a couple of tips/guidelines to bear in mind, though.

It’s often worth trying to include parts of the landscape around you into your shots, whether it’s trees, cliffs, hills or even humble fenceposts. Not only can they add a sense of place to your shots, they can help emphasise certain parts of the heavens as they usually show up in your shots as completely black, contrasting neatly with the shimmering stars.

As with almost every kind of photography, it’s worth taking multiple shots – rather than just one – experimenting as you do so. Try adjusting the angles and positioning of your tripod, shooting different parts of the sky and including different bits of the landscape into your shots.

The results can be as surprising as they are satisfying. Plus, whether you’re using the Vodafone mobile network or your home broadband, your Pixel will (by default) automatically back up your precious shots to Google Photos’ online storage for safety and for sharing.

If you like, share your shots with us on Twitter. Happy stargazing!

Learn more about the Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro with Vodafone EVO – choose what you want to pay upfront, with interest-free contracts.

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