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Phone cameras can capture more light than the human eye – which is why low-light events just like the Northern Lights often look higher through your phone camera

Smartphone cameras have improved significantly lately. Computational photography and artificial intelligence allow these devices to capture stunning images that may transcend what we see with the naked eye. Photos of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are a very striking example.

If you will have seen the Northern Lights during the geomagnetic storms in May 2024You can have noticed that the photos in your smartphone look much more vibrant than in point of fact.

Northern lights, also called northern lights (Aurora borealis) or southern lights (Aurora australis), occur when the solar wind disrupts the Earth's magnetic field. They appear as streaks of color within the sky.

The left side shows the aurora borealis as seen with the naked eye. The right side shows how a smartphone camera can capture brighter and more colourful lights.
Douglas Goodwin

What makes photos of those events much more impressive than they seem at first glance? As a Professor of Computer PhotographyI've seen how the most recent smartphone features overcome the restrictions of human vision.

Your eyes at nighttime

Human eyes are remarkable. They let you see footprints in a sunlit desert and control vehicles at high speeds. However, your eyes are less impressive in low light.

The human eye comprises two types Cells that reply to light – Rods and cones. There are quite a few rods and far more sensitive to lightCones process colours but require more light to operate. As a result, our vision at night relies heavily on rods and misses colours.

A diagram of a human eye with a magnified area showing rod and cone receptors. The rods are cylindrical while the cones are conical.
Rods and cones in your eyes are photoreceptors that process each black and white and color.
Blume, C., Garbazza, C. & Spitschan, M., CC BY-SA

The result’s like wearing dark sunglasses while watching a movie. At night the colours appear washed out and muted. Even under a starry sky, the good hues of the Northern Lights are present, but often too faint to your eyes to see clearly.

In poor lighting conditions, your brain prioritizes Motion detection and shape detection to assist you navigate. This compromise signifies that the ethereal colours of the aurora are sometimes invisible to the naked eye. Only technology can enhance their brightness.

Capture the proper picture

Smartphones have revolutionized the best way people perceive the world. These compact devices use multiple cameras and advanced sensors to capture more light than the human eye, even in low-light conditions. They achieve this through the use of longer exposure times—how long the Camera captures light – larger apertures and better ISO values, Amount of sunshine Your camera permits.

But smartphones cannot only adjust these settings. They also use Computer photography to reinforce your images using digital techniques and algorithms. Image stabilization Reduces camera shake and exposure settings optimize the quantity of sunshine the camera captures.

Multi-image processing Creates the proper photo by stacking multiple images on top of one another. A setting called Night mode can balance colours in low light, while LiDAR features Some phones keep your images precisely focused.

A diagram showing a stack of grainy images reduced to a clear image.
Image stacking is the technique of aligning and mixing multiple noisy photos to enhance the standard of the ultimate image. By averaging these images together, random sensor noise is suppressed, making a clearer, more detailed image than the photos alone.
Douglas Goodwin

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and phones with this setting emit laser pulses to quickly calculate distances to things within the scene in any form of light. LiDAR generates a depth map of the environment to enhance focus and make objects stand out in your photos.

Two images, the left labeled
Smartphone cameras don't just capture flat images, additionally they collect depth information. The left side shows a traditional photo, while the appropriate side shows the depth map, with brighter pixels closer to the camera and darker ones further away. This normally hidden depth data allows smartphones to use effects like artificial background blur to mimic the look of the Northern Lights against an evening sky.
Douglas Goodwin

Artificial intelligence tools in your smartphone camera You can further enhance your photos by tweaking the settings, applying light bursts and using super-resolution techniques to get really superb details. You may even Recognize faces in your photos.

AI processing in your smartphone camera

While you will have many options with a smartphone camera, regular cameras have larger sensors and superior optics that offer you more control over the photographs you capture. Camera manufacturers like Nikon, Sony and Canon As a general rule, avoid manipulating the imageand as an alternative give the photographer creative control.

These cameras offer photographers the pliability of Recording in raw formatallowing you to retain more data from each image for editing and sometimes producing higher quality results.

not how dedicated camerasmodern smartphone cameras Use AI during and after You take a photograph to enhance the standard of your photos. As you’re taking a photograph, AI tools analyze the scene you're pointing the camera at and adjust settings like exposure, white balance, and ISO while recognizing the topic you're shooting and stabilizing the image. These tools make sure that you get an incredible photo while you press the button.

You can often find features that use AI, equivalent to High dynamic range, Night mode And Fashion portraitenabled by default or accessible through your camera settings.

AI algorithms further enhance your photos by refining details, reducing blur, and applying effects like color correction after you’re taking the photo.

All of those features help your camera capture photos in low-light conditions and contribute to the stunning aurora photos you could have captured together with your phone camera.

While the human eye has difficulty fully perceiving the unreal colours of the Northern Lights at night, modern smartphone cameras overcome this limitation. By using AI and computational photography techniques, your devices will let you see the colourful colours of solar storms within the atmosphere, amplifying the colours and capturing otherwise invisible details that escape even probably the most attentive eye.


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