What It's Like Taking Astral Videos on Google Pixel

My God, it’s full of stars

Key Takeaways

  • A new feature of Google's Pixel phones allows you to take time-lapse videos of stars.
  • I tried out the astral video feature, and after a few false starts, I was excited to produce my own Nature program.
  • You’ll have the best time using the new star video feature if you bring along a tripod for your phone.
Person sitting under The Milky Way Galaxy with light on their hands.

bjdlzx / Getty Images

Google’s latest Pixel phones now have a feature that lets you take professional-looking time-lapse videos of the night sky.

Over some recent summer nights, I tried out the Pixel astrography feature, and after a few false starts, I got it working. Once I saw my handiwork, I was excited by the quality of the videos and to discover a whole new way to use the Pixel.

Google's Pixel astrography feature allows you to record videos in which the stars appear to be moving in the sky. Of course, you aren’t actually capturing the motion of stars, but the rotation of the Earth. 

Star Light, Star Bright

The new feature uses time-lapse photography along with the existing astrophotography capabilities that boosts the phone’s ability to pick up the light of stars. DSLR cameras have long been able to perform this trick, but using it on the Pixel is much simpler and cheaper. 

Setting up time-lapse astrophotography with a Google Pixel requires the right conditions, since light pollution can spoil the picture. Unfortunately, I live in New York City, which is an astronomer’s nightmare since there’s no place where there isn’t light to spill into the frame.

However, I was able to test out the feature while on a visit upstate where there was only the faint twinkle of suburban housing in the distance. 

Google Pixel astral video feature as it appears within the camera app

Sascha Brodsky / Lifewire

I started by opening the camera app and tapping the Night Sight tab. This move automatically starts the time-lapse, and the phone will take photos if the sky is dark enough. 

But I ran into problems even in a relatively dark location in a rural area: there was still a fair amount of light. Finally, after much positioning of the phone and pointing it at a dark patch of the sky, my Pixel began shooting the stars. 

I was delighted to see the first images of stars appear on my Pixel’s screen, even if they were just still photos. The ability to take pictures of stars is something the Pixel has had for several years.

"Once I saw my handiwork, I was excited by the quality of the videos and to discover a whole new way to use the Pixel."

To get the time-lapse video to work, you need to keep the Pixel still for long periods so it has time to capture a bunch of images. I wasn’t about to hold my hand straight for a half-hour, and I didn’t have a tripod handy, so I compromised by propping the phone up on a railing. That’s when the Pixel detected that it could enable the video mode and began shooting time-lapse photos and stitching them together. 

Eventually, my video was ready, and I could see what looked like the stars moving in my video. It was an exciting moment, even though the result was a bit muddy, probably because of the light pollution and my lack of a tripod. I won’t be submitting my work to a film festival anytime soon, but I’m sure I can get better results with time and patience. 

Tips from a Pro

As professional photographer and blogger Kara Harms explained in an email interview, the most important thing you need for stunning night photos is a tripod or steady set up to place your phone on, even if it's a makeshift one.

"Even when you are holding your breath and trying to stay very still, humans move too much for night photos, and they'll come out blurry," she said. "While camping, my go-to move is stacking a few rocks on top of a cooler to lean my phone against to keep it steady."

Once you set your tripod up, it's also essential to use a timer to take the photos, Harms said. 

"Touching your phone's camera button defeats the purpose of a steady surface," she added. "You can have the best telephoto phone lens or nighttime photography app in place, but if you're bumping your phone, even a little bit of photos will come out blurry."

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