How to Use Google Pixel Night Sight

Get the best low-light shots on your Pixel 3 and 3XL camera

Turning night into day?.

Alexander Spatari/Getty Images 

"Super easy-to-use, but hard to comprehend" is the best way to sum up Night Sight, Google’s latest smartphone camera innovation, which turns night into day, for the purposes of taking photos. Night Sight is yet another example of how artificial intelligence (AI) 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. On Pixel 1 and 2, a modified HDR+'s merging algorithm is used to help detect and reject misaligned pieces of frames.

On Pixel 3, a similarly re-tuned Super Res Zoom is used 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 the Pixel 3.

Night Sight works best when you try to create day-lit shots in low lighting.

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 allows you capture vibrant and detailed low-light photos without the need for a distorting flash or tripod. And, like night goggles, it’ll even work in light so dim 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. 

Oddly enough, HDR+ isn't enabled by default; you need to go into the camera’s advanced settings and enable the HDR+ control. Since the Pixel’s HDR+ is the best and most important part of its picture taking process, it's essential you turn this on the minute you buy your phone.

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, as well as any 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, then, by merging these multiple exposures, prevents motion blur and brightens the photo, 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 of accessing this feature:

Night Sight Pops Up Automatically

Automatically: 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 need only tap to initiate this function.

Selecting Night Sight manually

Manually: If the Night Sight option is not automatically triggered, but you want to brighten the shot, you can select Night Sight mode by clicking the MORE button, just to the right of VIDEO mode.

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 both on and around your subject before taking the picture. This step helps your camera focus when taking photos in very dark conditions.
  • Bright Lights: Avoid any bright light sources in a Night Sight picture. It’ll cause unwanted reflections in your photo.