How to Photograph the Milky Way with an iPhone 13 Pro

milky way photographed with an iPhone 13 Pro by lovelyscape

The Milky Way is a fantastic wonder in the night sky that we can photograph with the iPhone 13 Pro. 

Although you need a professional DSLR camera to capture professional-level photographs of the Milky Way, it is still possible to photograph the Milky Way with an iPhone 13 Pro and get stunning results.

But how do you do that? 

I promise you that, at the end of this article, you will be able to capture stunning results of the Milky Way similar to these with your iPhone 13 Pro. 

If you are only looking for a quick answer, here it is:

The sky must be very dark, and no lights around to photograph the Milky Way with an iPhone 13 Pro. You will also need a tripod to mount your phone to reach 30 seconds of exposure. Use the Camera App at 1x only. There are a few settings to tweak for the best results.

But there is so much more to know, to learn, and the best settings to use in order to capture the Milky Way with the iPhone 13 Pro (or beyond)

In the meantime, let’s split this article into a few subtopics to analyze and detail it, shall we?

Milky way captured with iphone 13 pro during my travels

What do we know about the iPhone 13 Pro camera to capture Milky Way?

Over the years, iPhone cameras have become better and better. With iPhone 13 Pro and beyond, we have some fantastic options to capture low-light photography.

By low light, we mean capturing photographs during the night, ranging from street photography to the Milky Way. 

Of course, we need any kind of light source to capture a photo with any device, isn’t it? But what about Milky Way?

In order to capture the Milky Way with the iPhone, in this case, we’re talking about the iPhone 13 Pro, which needs to be set to long exposure.

By long exposure, we understand that the camera sensors stay open for longer to let more light in.

When more light comes into the camera sensor, more details can be shown in particular on the night sky.

How is it possible that iPhone 13 Pro can capture stunning Milky Way photographs?

To answer this question, firstly, we need to understand the rule of 500.

There is a rule in astrophotography called the rule of 500, where we have the formula to apply before getting star trails.

 It is the 500 divided by the focal length of your camera lens, resulting in the maximum number of seconds you can capture before getting star trails.

The 1x camera is 26mm equivalent and uses an aperture of f/1.5

In this case, the iPhone 13 Pro with 1x should use a maximum exposure of 19.2 seconds before getting star trails

But wait

We know that once the iPhone is set on a tripod, the 10 seconds exposure automatically becomes 30 seconds. Are we not getting star trails in our photographs?

Well, no. Apple uses an intelligent electronic tracking system and AI in order to process the Milky Way and stars, which are automatically recognized, to avoid getting any star trails.

For this reason, the iPhone has an immersive advantage over many other mobile phones, where you can capture the Milky Way for 30 seconds without getting any star trails.

There is much more information to be covered; therefore, I recommend you to keep reading or quickly watch this YouTube video:

What are the best camera settings to capture the Milky Way with the iPhone 13 Pro?

This is a quick step-by-step guide to capturing the Milky Way with the iPhone 13 Pro.

  1. Place your iPhone 13 Pro on a tripod
  2. Locate the Milky Way 
  3. Turn on the Camera App on your iPhone and go to the ‘photo’ tab
  4. Set the camera to 1x
  5. Increase the EV to +1.0
  6. Disable the flash of your camera
  7. Turn off the Live View Mode
  8. Set the image quality to RAW (optional)
  9. Set a timer (recommended 10 seconds, optional)
  10. Capture the Milky Way
  11. Edit the image (optional, if RAW)

Now, let’s get into details on how to capture the Milky Way with an iPhone 13 Pro, shall we?

1 – Place your iPhone 13 Pro or Beyond on a Tripod

In order to reach the 30 seconds exposure time and to capture the Milky Way, we need to set the phone on a tripod.

It is one of the most critical steps that cannot be skipped.

You will not be able to capture the Milky Way with the iPhone 13 Pro handheld. 

Instead, when you place the phone on a tripod and there is a dark area at night where you usually get a maximum of 10 seconds of exposure handheld, the maximum exposure time will be updated to 30 seconds.

This has resulted from the fact that the iPhone doesn’t feel any motion anymore and is stable on a tripod.

When we have 30 seconds of exposure, there are many new opportunities to photograph, including the Milky Way. 

If you touch the iPhone with the camera app open while on a tripod, the 30 seconds exposure will quickly become 10 seconds back again. 

What kind of tripods should you use?

It doesn’t matter what tripod type; you can use the cheapest or the most expensive ones. But one thing you may also need.

In order to mount your mobile phone, in this case, your iPhone 13 Pro, to the tripod, you will need some sort of adaptor.

There are many types of adaptors you can get from the internet.

But alternatively, a specifically made tripod for your mobile phone (and not a camera tripod converted) would be the most suitable way to attach your phone.

You can also place the phone on any surface instead of using a tripod, but that would be pretty challenging to aim toward the Milky Way and control the phone screen as you want. 

2 – Locate the Milky Way

Well, for sure, that would be an easy step.

Every person knows where the Milky Way is, and it is easy to be recognized in the night sky, as long as the sky is dark – no light pollution.

If there’s light pollution and you attempt to photograph the Milky Way with your iPhone 13 Pro from inside the city, you will probably fail.

But outside the city? The Milky Way should be easily visible.

Milky Way captured with iPhone 13 Pro by lovelyscape

However, please keep in mind that it is more visible towards summer and autumn in the northern hemisphere and less visible during winter, where Orion shines instead.

3 – Turn on the camera app on your iPhone 13 Pro

Well, it is the simple standard camera app you use to capture photographs with your iPhone.

If you have an iPhone, you definitely know it. 

But are other camera apps suitable replacements?

That is a question I cannot answer you. There are too many camera apps, some giving you better options to use manual mode and change aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.

But I do know one thing – the ability to obtain 30 seconds when the phone is on the tripod belongs mainly to the core camera app of the iPhone, the same one we’re about to use in this example.

4 – Set your iPhone 13 Pro camera to 1x

This is important because only 1x has the ability to capture the Milky Way. 

The 1x camera has a very wide aperture and was designed to function well in low-light situations. 

But how are the other two cameras?

Both 0.5x and 3x are a disaster to low light photography on iPhone 13 Pro and do not work at all to capture even merely a bit of the Milky Way. The other two cameras’ performances are abysmal. 

0.5x Camera (on tripod)

Milky way captured with iPhone 13 Pro with 0.5x camera (fail)

3x Camera (on tripod)

Milky way captured with iPhone 13 Pro with 3x camera (fail)

» READ MORE: What Are the Best Camera Settings to Capture Fine Art Photography

5 – Increase the Exposure Value to +1.0

Increasing the EV to +1.0 is a necessary step because, for some reason, it happened to me multiple times with the Exposure Value to zero where the Milky Way was somehow removed digitally by the iPhone, leaving just the stars on a pitchy black background.

As an example, here are two photographs to highlight the issue.

I am unsure if this was an earlier bug with the iPhone because it’s been a few months since I tried and released the YouTube Videos, but I hope that was solved.

For that reason, I observed that if you set the EV to +1.0, the Milky Way is captured nicely with no issues.

6 – Disable the Flash of your camera.

In order to capture the Milky Way with your iPhone 13 Pro or similar, please disable the flash!

I know it is one of the self-explanatory things to say, but if you know how many people are, in fact, trying to capture night photographs with their iPhone…with the flash on…

I just wanted to mention – the flash of the camera should be disabled in order to capture, at all, the Milky Way with your iPhone.

7 – Disable Live View Mode

The same thing goes for the live view mode. 

Please remember that we are merely trying to create long-exposure photographs of the Milky Way, and the live view mode may be on the way.

Therefore, it is essential to mention disabling the live view mode.

8 – Optionally, set the camera quality to RAW.

The RAW version of the photograph will allow us to edit the photo into a better version. 

There could always be improvements to make in post-processing.

Some of the photographs I took of the Milky Way with the iPhone 13 Pro and posted here are indeed edited with the basic app, while some others are simply RAW images.

Remember that a RAW image may take the size of 10 JPEG images.

But if you want to edit (if not, skip point 11), please activate the RAW as follows:

Go to your iPhone Settings > Camera > Formats > AppleProRAW and enable it.

Enable apple ProRAW

Then on your camera app, check the RAW button to enable it.

9 – Set a timer to 10 seconds

We recommend setting the camera app timer to 10 seconds before capturing the Milky Way. But Why?

If you tap on the phone to capture the Milky Way directly, you introduce slight vibrations that could impact the quality of your final image.

Believe me, always to capture long exposure photographs, no matter if it’s a phone or DSLR; we need to either set a timer or use a shutter remote control.

But in this case, the best way is to simply set the timer to 10 seconds, which should be more than enough.

» READ MORE: Can You Capture Nature Photographs With a Wide Aperture Lens?

10 – Capture the Milky Way.

If you follow everything, everything should go smoothly. You should see that your 10 seconds became a long time ago 30 seconds, allowing you for a long 30sec exposure.

Press capture, and wait.

First, it will go to the 10-second timer which you set. Then, the camera app will be unavailable for 30 seconds.

At this time, you must not touch your phone or tripod or induce any kind of movement or vibrations.

Do not walk in front of the phone, either. 

If it’s windy and there are vibrations to ruin the photo, you can always try again.

What will you see during these 30 seconds? Nothing. More or less, it looks like the camera app froze, but it didn’t. Just let it work as expected.

Afterward, the photo should be processed for a second or so and then saved into your photos app.

That is the final image of the Milky Way you captured with your iPhone 13 Pro. Here are a few more of mine. 

11 – Time to edit your photo if you selected RAW.

Now, you don’t have only a stunning photograph of the Milky Way, but you will be able to edit it further if you go to RAW format.

But how to edit the photo? 

There are multiple ways. The most basic pattern but with minor results, is to use the “edit” option on the photo, which allows you to edit using the basic iPhone app.

We are going to cover this because not everyone has Lightroom or Photoshop which are other extremes to take the Milky Way Photograph further. 

  • Open the photo you captured and then press “EDIT.”
  • Go through those basic options such as exposure, brilliance, shadow, whites, black point, sharpness, etc. 
  • The only thing I can say is to carefully take every slide and move it left or right until you obtain the best result, not too much or too little.

Here is an example of an edited image with the iPhone app, before and after.

Note: If you are willing to watch a YouTube video instead, I created a full tutorials on the best way to edit the Milky Way Photographs captured with an iPhone.

Are there other settings and tips to capture the Milky Way with your iPhone 13 Pro?

There are so many other tips to share with you and a few more settings you can change to improve and better capture Milky Way with your iPhone 13 Pro.

I am going to share a few of them with you here:

Vertical or Horizontal mode?

When you set up your iPhone 13 Pro on the tripod in order to capture the Milky Way, you have to decide if you are going to set it in vertical or horizontal mode. 

Most of the photographs I took are in vertical mode because there is a much better capture, and you can capture a larger area of the Milky Way, where horizontal is a little more obstructing.

But that doesn’t mean you should not shoot in horizontal mode as well, in special if you want to share it or see it on the computer. 

I would recommend shooting in both modes – set your phone to capture the Milky Way both in horizontal and vertical modes.

Most compatible

There is one thing to set from the settings > Camera > Formats and Camera Capture – you will have to choose between High Efficiency and Most Compatible.

I always choose to take photographs with my iPhone 13 Pro on Most Compatible because I find it challenging to see normal pictures taken with the iPhone on High Efficiency on the computer.

Please note that when I created the tutorial, I used High Efficiency. If, for some reason, you have problems capturing the Milky Way with your iPhone 13 Pro, let this be the first setting to change from Most Compatible to High Efficiency – But it should not have any impact overall.

Are other iPhone models suitable for capturing the Milky Way?

iPhones earlier than the iPhone 13 Pro are not the most suitable to capture the Milky Way. 

The standard iPhone 13 may have some disadvantages regarding the camera quality compared to the 13 Pro version.

And if this tutorial works with iPhone 12 Pro or below, I don’t know for sure; I never tested it. 

It may work, but the quality may be slightly lower. 

If you have the iPhone 14 Pro, you can expect way better results of the Milky Way because of significant camera improvements on the new iPhone.

» READ MORE: ALLPOWERS Portable Power Station 606w – Long-Term Review

Below is the shorts video on YouTube that determined to create this article due to a massive positive response. Thank you, everyone, for your fantastic support in this matter!