Abdul Dremali, a MacRumors reader who goes by Advil on the MacRumors forums, shared a Night Mode image captured with one of Apple's newest iPhones on the forums back in September 2019.
The photo depicted a lighthouse and a sky full of stars, as Dremali is an astrophotographer. Apple spotted Dremali's image after it was featured on the forums and recently used it in a new video showing off Night Mode.
Dremali has shared several Night Mode photos on the MacRumors forums and on his website, but the lighthouse image proved to be his most popular. According to EXIF info shared in the thread, the photo was a 20 second exposure using Night Mode with the standard lens and no other equipment except for a tripod.
Apple typically requires photographers and artists that it works with to sign non-disclosure agreements, so Dremali declined to comment on Apple's usage of his picture, but his astrophotography images offer up a great example of the benefits of Apple's Night Mode feature.
Night Mode uses long exposure capture techniques, machine learning, and other technologies to produce vivid, bright pictures even when lighting conditions are poor. Night Mode allows iPhone users to take photos in the dark that were not possible with prior versions of the iPhone.
Apple's newest iPhones, the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, are equipped with a new feature called Night mode, which is designed to take crisp, clear photos even when lighting conditions are poor, such as at night.
Night mode, as the name suggests, lets you take photos in the evening, with lighting that has never before been possible on an iPhone thanks to new hardware and new machine learning algorithms. Though Night mode brightens photos, it also preserves the night time feeling, balancing the light and dark elements of an image.
Android smartphone makers like Google and Samsung have had special modes for brightening up evening shots for a while now, and with the 2019 iPhones, Apple is on equal footing with these other smartphone cameras.
How Night Mode Works
Night mode takes advantage of the new wide-angle camera that's in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro models. It's equipped with a larger sensor that is able to let in more light, allowing for brighter photos when the light is low.
Night mode uses the new sensor along with machine learning and the Neural Engine in the A13 processor to create Night mode shots.
When Night mode is engaged, the cameras in the iPhone analyze the available amount of light and then the iPhone chooses the number of frames needed to create a suitable image. The camera then takes a series of images for a set amount of time, such as one second, three seconds, five seconds, or in some situations, even longer.
The images are taken at different exposures, some with longer exposures and some with shorter exposures, similar to what's done when the iPhone composes an HDR image. This lets the iPhone pull out the best parts of the scene, highlighting what's important.
You'll need to hold the camera steady when using Night mode, and optical image stabilization also works to reduce shake as you take the photos. After the set amount of time, the A13 chip in the iPhone analyzes each photo that was taken, aligns them to account for movement, tosses out the images that are too blurry, and then fuses all the sharpest images of the bunch.
The resulting photo is the end image that you get when using Night mode, with Apple's software algorithms adjusting color, eliminating noise, and enhancing details to create a night time shot that preserves an impressive amount of detail.
Taking and combining several images allows Night mode to pick up more light than would be available in a single shot, which is why you can see so much more detail than the lighting conditions would normally allow for.
All of the Night mode calculations are done behind the scenes -- you'll only see the final shot, rather than being able to choose from a series of images as you can do in Burst mode even though it's a similar concept.
In a nutshell, Night mode is the result of a better camera sensor and some behind the scenes magic from Apple's A13 processor.
Activating Night Mode
Night mode turns on automatically when the lighting conditions call for it, so there's no need to enable it. Tapping the moon icon at the top of the Camera app will let you access the Night mode settings, though, allowing for the time length of photos to be adjusted in some situations.
Turning Night Mode Off
To turn off Night mode, tap on the moon icon at the top of the Camera app interface to open up the Night mode slider and then slide it all the way to the left to turn the feature off entirely for a photo.
Night mode will need to be turned off on a photo by photo basis, as it is meant to come on automatically. There is no setting to disable it permanently.
Night Mode Lenses
On the iPhone 11, Night mode is limited to the wide-angle camera as it is the only camera with optical image stabilization and because Night mode requires a camera with 100 percent focus pixels to analyze and align images.
On the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, Night mode can be used with either the wide-angle camera or the telephoto camera because both of these lenses support optical image stabilization and the other necessary features for Night mode to work.
Night mode images look best with the wide-angle camera as it is the better lens, but the telephoto is an option when needed. The ultra wide-angle camera in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro models doesn't work with Night mode.
Using Night Mode's Time Intervals
The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are able to analyze the lighting in a situation and will provide a recommended interval for Night mode, which is usually somewhere between one and five seconds, though it can vary based on how much ambient lighting is available.
You can tap on the moon icon at the top of the Camera interface to get to the Night mode settings, where you can change the interval from the recommended level to a longer level if desired, which can alter the look of the photo that you're capturing.
The darker the photo subject, the longer time period options your iPhone will offer up. At sunset where there's still a decent amount of light, your exposure options might max out at around 3 to 5 seconds.
In full darkness, when taking a photo of the night sky, as an example, you might see longer time intervals available, and selecting a longer time interval in this situation may allow you to see more of the night sky in the resulting image than you might have been able to capture with a shorter exposure. For maximum time, a tripod is required.
The different time intervals are worth experimenting with to get the specific look that you want for a particular image, but Apple's default shot length is calculated using a multitude of factors and almost always results in a nice looking low light shot.
Getting the Best Night Mode Shots
Night mode takes a series of shots and is similar to a long exposure photo, so techniques used for long exposures can also be useful for Night mode.
Apple uses optical image stabilization and software to cut down on blur, but for the absolute best Night mode shots, it's a good idea to use a tripod. A tripod means there won't be any shake when capturing the multiple images that are used for a Night mode shot.
A tripod isn't needed, but when the iPhone is stable and detects that it's being held steady, it will offer longer 10 second exposure times than you can get when holding the iPhone yourself. If you want a 10 second Night mode shot of the night sky, for example, you're going to need a tripod to do it.
Even with shorter time intervals, Night mode can result in blur, so if you don't have a tripod, do your best to hold the iPhone as steady as possible. Stabilizing your arms can help.
Night mode shots work best on images where there aren't moving people, pets, or objects. Since the iPhone is taking multiple shots of a subject and stitching them together, there needs to be minimal movement. A pet that's running around or an active child isn't going to make for a good night mode shot, but you can get good night time portraits of people and pets if your subject can stay still.
Night mode isn't going to work for every photo because it can result in dramatic colors, high contrast (especially in situations where the ambient lighting is an odd color like the yellow of a street light), excessive shadows, and issues with light reflection, but more often than not, it produces incredible images and allows iPhone users to capture scenes that simply couldn't be captured with an older iPhone.
Night Mode Availability
Night mode is a feature on the new 2019 iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. It isn't available on earlier iPhones, but like other camera additions, will continue to be a feature for future iPhones and is likely to see improvements over the years.
Night Mode vs. Earlier iPhones
Night mode is a feature that's unmatched by earlier iPhones, as can be seen in comparison photos between the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone XS Max. The iPhone 11 models can get a whole new level of detail in lower lighting conditions that just wasn't possible before. It's a major step forward in camera technology and is going to result in much better photos than were possible with the iPhone XS line and earlier.
Comparisons With Android Smartphones
Night mode isn't new -- and in fact, it's something that Google popularized last year with its Pixel 3 smartphones. Google introduced a feature called Night Sight in the Pixel 3 that blew people away.
Night mode vs. Night Sight on Google Pixel 3, image via TechCrunch
Other Android smartphone manufacturers have also added similar features to their smartphones too, so this isn't a feature that originated with Apple. Below, we've shared some comparison videos and photos between Night mode in the iPhone and other Android phones with a similar feature.
Pixel 3 XL (left) vs iPhone (right), image via PCWorld
Last year, Google introduced its impressive Night Sight camera mode, a software-based feature that allows users to take detailed pictures in dark environments using Google Pixel smartphones. This year it's Apple's turn, and with the launch of the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, the company unveiled a dramatic new Night Mode photo feature exclusive to its flagship smartphone lineup.
When using the Camera app on any of Apple's 2019 iPhones, the new Night Mode feature comes on automatically when an indoor or outdoor scene is dark enough to warrant brightening, resulting in natural colors and reduced noise. In short, new iPhone users should see an immediate improvement when shooting in low light environments, without having to adjust any exposure settings.
In photography, the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor is measured in the "lux" luminance metric, and Apple's Night Mode is designed to work in environments hovering around 10 lux. For a comparison, the outdoor light level on a clear day will be around 10,000 lux, while a windowed indoor space on the same day might get somewhere between 1,000-2,000 lux. A very dark day may reach about 100 lux, but during twilight and in dimly lit indoor environments you're probably looking at around 10-15 lux, which is when Night mode should present itself as an option in the Camera UI.
When Night Mode is suggested but not engaged, you'll see a Night Mode button appear at the top of the viewfinder that looks like a crescent moon. If you think the scene would benefit from Night Mode, simply tap the button – it will turn yellow, and display the number of seconds for exposure. If the lux is below 10, Night Mode will automatically engage.
With Night Mode enabled, you'll see a slider appear under the viewfinder that you can leave at the suggested exposure time, or use to manually select one. Depending on the lux, Night Mode automatically simulates a long exposure of 1, 2, or 3 seconds, but you can adjust this to anything up to 10 seconds, again depending on the environmental light level.
When you're ready to shoot, tap the shutter button, hold the phone as still as you can as the Camera simulates a long exposure, and when it’s done, you should be left with an image that effectively makes the camera seem like it can see in the dark.
If you don't want Night Mode engaged when shooting in extremely low light environments, you can easily turn it off by tapping the yellow Night Mode button when it appears at the top of the viewfinder.
Using Night Mode With a Tripod
By recruiting the help of the gyroscope in your iPhone, Night Mode can detect when the device is attached to a tripod and will present longer exposure times than normally offered, enabling you to take more detailed shots in very low light.
When taking Night Mode shots during handheld use, you'll usually see 1-3 second delay and you can manually select up to a 10-second delay, but with a tripod you may see up to 30 seconds available in the Night mode dial.