How to Use Google Pixel Night Sight

Get the best low-light shots on your Pixel camera

"Super easy to use, but hard to comprehend" is the best way to sum up Night Sight. This smartphone camera innovation from Google turns night into day for the purposes of taking photos.

Night Sight is yet another example of how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the photography world. Fortunately, you don’t have to understand how it works to use it. 

Which Phones Have Night Sight

All Pixel phones have this function, but they don't all work the same way. 

Pixel 1 and 2 use a modified HDR+ merging algorithm to help detect and reject misaligned pieces of frames.

Pixel 3 and 4 use a similarly re-tuned Super Res Zoom whether you zoom or not. Although it was developed for super resolution, it also works to reduce noise since it averages multiple images together. Super Res Zoom produces better results for some nighttime scenes than HDR+, but requires the faster processor of these newer Pixels.

How Does Night Sight Work?

Night Sight is designed to take better photos in low-light conditions for both the rear and front-facing cameras. It lets you capture vibrant and detailed low-light photos without the need for a distorting flash or tripod. Like night goggles, it’ll even work in light so dim that you can't see much with your own eyes.

Shooting in low light can be infuriating for even the best photographers. Google has tapped into its bodacious Pixel HDR+ algorithm to boost color, brightness, and stability when confronted by low light. By choosing the Night Sight option, you enable Pixel's HDR+ processing to boost colors and brightness. If the camera detects a dark environment, a pop-up suggestion automatically appears.

It's All About the HDR+

Google’s HDR+ Processing is a proprietary technology that reduces “noise” and enlivens colors. In reality, it's taking a burst of shots, then combining the best of each image to create one final version of that image. 

Night Sight is constantly adapting to both you and your photo object. As you press the shutter button, Night Sight measures for any hand shake and motion in the scene, and then compensates by using using shorter exposure bursts. 

If stability isn't an issue, Night Sight focuses its processing power on capturing light to brighten the scene. It takes multiple photos, merges the exposures, prevents motion blur, and brightens the image, resulting in a well-lit and sharp photo.

Some critics have accused Night Sight of fabricating a photo—taking some basic visual data and then filling in the blanks with educated guesses—and they’re not entirely off-base. Night Sight is essentially an improvement of a photo technology called image stacking, which has been around for years.

And yet, Night Sight is turning heads even among SLR camera buffs.

How to Use Night Sight

Night Sight is automatically enabled on your device, and there are two ways to access it depending on whether your phone thinks it's necessary to use it.

If you’re taking a photo in low light, Pixel will suggest using Night Sight. The small button will appear on the screen and you just have to tap it to initiate Night Sight.

Night Sight Pops Up Automatically

If Night Sight isn't automatically triggered, but you want to brighten the shot, you can select Night Sight by swiping over Portrait.

Night Sight option in Pixel camera

Regardless of how you activate Night Sight, just press the camera button once and then remain as steady as possible until the Hold still prompt disappears and the camera returns to normal.

If you're photographing the night sky, exposures might last as long as four minutes on Pixel 4 and one minute on Pixel 3 and 3a.

How to Master Night Sight

Google has listed some tips to help users take full advantage of Night Sight mode. Some of its suggestions include:

  • Motion: Ask your photo subject to hold still for a few seconds before and after you press the shutter button.
  • Stability: Prop the phone against a stable surface, if possible. The steadier the hand, the more processing can focus on the light and sharpness of the exposure.
  • Focus: Tap on or around your subject before taking the picture. This step helps your camera focus when taking photos in dark conditions.
  • Bright Lights: At least some light is necessary, but avoid bright lights to reduce reflections in your photo.