Astrophotography can be technically challenging. But these five best astrophotography apps will help you along the way.
Your iPhone will become your best Milky Way photography buddy. Equipped with these apps, your Apple device will help you understand, navigate and photograph the night sky.
5. Sky Guide App
This app has everything you need. Whether you are into stargazing or a keen amateur astrophotographer.
Sky Guide is the perfect companion to let you know what happens in the sky. Everywhere you are, any time you want.
Developed by Fifth Star Labs, this app got a major update that made it even more awesome.
Let’s look at what it offers more in-depth.
Sky Map and Augmented Reality
The app has a clean interface showing you a classic view of the night sky. You can navigate it and zoom in and out.
You can also navigate through time. The app will show the sky as it will be (or was) on a specified date, time and location.
This is great for planning but has little use in the field. Once out and about though, you can activate the compass.
The app will use the gyroscopic sensors in your phone and GPS data to determine what you’re pointing your phone at. The app will then adjust the sky view accordingly.
This makes it easy to know what you are looking at. The latest version also comes with augmented reality.
This allows you to place the sky map on top of the scene your smartphone camera is framing.
Preferences and Siri Integration
In the preferences menu, you can set the amount of information the app will display.
You can also switch to night vision mode. The app will use a black and red interface that’ll be easier to read.
There is also Siri integration. You can create your vocal shortcut, and point the phone to the sky. Siri will tell you what is visible in that direction.
The app has a huge database where you can look up information on a particular object. This could be a planet, the moon, a galaxy, a nebula, etc.
You can navigate different categories or search objects by name or classification. For example, you can find the Orion Nebula by looking for Orion nebula or M42.
You can even save your favourite targets, to find them even faster.
The app also comes with generic info about possible targets. As well as the time they will rise, peak and set in the sky, apparent magnitude and apparent size.
Featured Contents and Calendar
Featured content includes astronomy tips and articles collected from the internet.
Then there’s the calendar of notable future astronomical events. These include planet conjunction, eclipses, moon phase, comets etc.
In the “Tonight” tile of the calendar, you will have a series of useful information:
- Moon Phase and Rising/Setting time;
- Moon and Planet Visibility;
- Weather forecasts for your location;
- Information about Satellite and International Space Station transits;
- Light pollution information for your location;
- and a light pollution map.
Alternative Use In Astrophotography
I’m an astrophotographer without a GoTo mount. So I often use this app to navigate towards my target of choice. This can be invisible to the naked eye.
Explore the Sky With Alternative Lights
The app allows you to see the sky with different kinds of light. These are: Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Hydrogen Alpha, Visible, UV, X-ray and Gamma-ray.
This is an amazing learning tool and can help you to plan in which light a target is best photographed.
This app is for iOS only and is not available for Android devices. A great alternative is Stellarium Mobile Sky Map.
4. Dark Sky Finder
It is not easy to find dark skies in the western world anymore. There’s too much light pollution.
Dark Sky Finder allows you to have a light pollution map over a normal map. This can use Map, Satellite and Hybrid display styles.
The map is based on the Bortle Scale. Different levels of darkness are color-coded from black (darkest) to white (brightest).
The App has a database of dark skies locations. You can also add locations yourself and contribute to the app.
The about icon will show a great deal of info about the app and light pollution in general.
It is one of the best apps to plan your next Milky Way photography outing.
3. Dark Sky Meter SE
Dark Sky Meter SE uses the camera of your iOS device to measure the actual brightness of the sky in your location.
In the main screen, it displays controls to take a Sky Quality Meter (SQM) reading. It also shows info such as sunset time, darkness start and end times, sunrise, moon phase and device angle.
This way you’ll know how high above the horizon you are taking the measurement. For example, 90º corresponds to the Zenith.This app is very simple to use. Take a light measurement while covering the camera with your finger. When prompted, take a second measurement. This time point your camera towards the Zenith, directly above you.
The values are in SQM (Sky Quality Meter) and can be related to the Bortle Scale values.
This app is great to quantify the darkness of your location for further references. And to decide whether to add this place as a dark location in Dark Sky Finder.
These astrophotography apps are for iOS only. But there are alternatives for Android devices as well, such as Light Pollution Map.
2. Clear Outside
Clear Outside has a useful free little app by First Light Optics. It fetches and nicely displays data from the darksky website.
The app can display a range of information for your current location or a specific one. There are the usual Sky Quality Metering and Bortle Scale Class, Moon phase, Moonrise, Moonset, Sunrise and Sunset.
Clear Outside also gives you information about seeing conditions, visibility and sky clearness. This includes the hourly amount of low, medium and high altitude cloud coverage. As well as temperature, dew point, wind direction and speed, the chance of rain and so on.
It also shows when the ISS (International Space Station) is passing over your location.
The interface is quite crowded with info. If you are not interested in the details, just look in the first column for the time on a green background.
The visibility is colour-coded from green (good) to red (bad).
1. PS Align
This app is quite useful if you are starting to use an equatorial mount. A good example of this is the Skywatcher Star Adventurer.
The most important thing in astrophotography is to have the best possible polar alignment for your mount. This allows you to expose for longer before running into tracking errors.
This app will show you how to properly align your equatorial mount based on Polaris’ position.
The app also displays your current latitude. This, in turn, tells you how to set the altitude for your tracking mount. PS Align includes a compass and a bubble level to help you level the mount and set the altitude.
With this app, you don’t have to fiddle with data and time circles. All you have to do is replicate in your polar scope what you see on your phone screen.
The app allows you to dim the brightness of your screen to rather low intensity. And it has a red interface, to save your eyes adaptation to dark.
You can also align the equatorial mount in the daytime or when Polaris is not visible. This is thanks to the Daytime/No Polarscope Alignment function.
Make sure you read the info by tapping on the info symbol.
This method may not work for faint and small DSO targets. That’s because these require precise polar alignment.
But it should be good enough to allow you to photograph star fields, lunar surface close-ups and planets.
Finally, there is also an astro calculator for when observing and or imaging. You can calculate magnification, field of view, etc., on the fly.
There you go. The five best astrophotography apps for iOS. They will cover all your astrophotography needs.
Not all of them are free, but they are well worth their small price tag.
Want to learn more about photographing the Milky Way? Check out our course ‘Milky Way Mastery‘!