Featured by Mashable

20

April, 2019

Pixel | Feature | Mashable

Mashable just posted an article featuring several of my Aurora photos taken on the Google Pixel 1 XL.

Mashable is a huge digital media website and recently one of their writers reached out regarding a photo I posted on Reddit. The writer wanted to do an interview for a story she was writing on the Night Sight feature found on Google Pixel phones. I eagerly replied that I was down and a few weeks later the article went live on their site, even being featured on the front page.

Brittany, a writer from Mashable reached out to me through Reddit regarding one of my posts in a Google Pixel photography subreddit. She wanted to ask me some questions regarding the photo. I replied and a little later I had an email in my inbox with a few questions from the curious writer. Please check out the article from Mashable and make sure to read the entire interview down below!

1) Set the scene for me: When was the photo taken, where were you and what time was it? Had you been waiting to catch the Aurora? Had you seen one before? What did the Aurora look like to your naked eye?

This photograph was taken 19th of December 2018 in an urban area called Forsøl in Northern Norway. In Forsøl there is a tiny beach which overlooks the sea and that is where this photo was taken. The time of capture was 11:12 PM and it was pitch black outside. That means that there were absolutely no other light sources lighting up the scene. No buildings and no street lamps. I've been an avid Aurora photographer for many years shooting with both smartphones and DSLR cameras so I am no stranger to the Aurora, hehe. The experience of the Aurora can heavily vary depending on many factors such as the strength and light pollution from cities. Since it was pitch dark out on the beach we had very good conditions to see the Aurora. It wasn't super bright but it still put on quite the show. It is very difficult to explain what it looked like to the naked eye, but I'll try my best to describe. This night the Aurora was very green and vivid albeit not very bright. It calmly danced in a wave over the night sky creating a magical scenery over the ocean. I had some previous experience using Night Sight, but I didn't think it would be able to produce a usable image due to it being so dark and the Aurora is somewhat faint. I was however very pleasantly surprised when the photo was done processing and I couldn't believe that my phone took that photo. The final photo is very close to what it looks like in real life and that is mindblowing for a smartphone camera!

Aurora Borealis in Forsøl.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel 1 XL

2) On the post you mention you were using the Pixel 1 XL. I didn't realize that also has Night Sight. When did the feature come to your phone? Did you have to make any adjustments on the phone (zoom/aperture etc) when taking the photo?

The Pixel 1 luckily also got Night Sight when it was announced for the Pixel 3, which was super exciting! Thanks to some very bright minds over at the XDA forums the Night Sight build was leaked much earlier than Google had planned for their official update. XDA provided an APK to the Google Camera with the Night Sight feature the 22nd of October 2018, not very long after the Google event. As was in the clouds when I saw the news and instantly loaded it onto my phone and ran outside to test. I was absolutely blown away that my smartphone could do this. Previously, I have only been able to do this with my DLSR! I didn't have to do any adjustments at all when taking the photo. Not even tapping for focus or exposure. I just launched the camera application and started shooting. The image is also straight from the camera and 100% unedited. Having this feature on a smartphone from 2016 really impressed me and it opened up many new possibilities!

3) Had you tried to take pictures of the Aurora with other phones before? What was your experience? What about with your Pixel 1 before getting Night Sight?

Since I am no stranger to the Aurora I have naturally tried taking photos of it with other phones. The thing is that until Night Sight came along there hasn't really been possible to get a usable photo. I have tried shooting the Aurora with the iPhone X and it just didn't stand a chance at all. All that the phone produced was an almost pitch black grainy image where you couldn't tell if it was a night sky or you had your finger in front of the lens. So I gave that up rather quickly. The iPhone doesn't have a feature that is similar to Night Sight so it isn't really surprising. Then I tried again with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. A smartphone that has been highly praised for its night shooting capabilities and I was super stoked to put it head to head with the Pixel. I eagerly hiked up the nearest mountain and pulled out the Mate. I set it to the night mode and aimed right at the Aurora. I could see that it merged multiple images together, but when it was done all I could see was a very faint green line. Weird I say to myself and pull out the Pixel. The Pixel takes a few seconds to shoot as many images as possible and then stitch them together and when it was done you could actually see what I had taken a picture of. I tried multiple times that night with the Mate 20, but it really struggled in the pitch dark. The images were heavily over-processed, very soft and often missed focus. It did have less grain than the Pixel, but with the sensor advantage it has that doesn't come as a surprise. It doesn't matter if it has less grain if the picture looks like an oil painting. The Mate 20 Pro does, however, have Pro Mode, but that is basically useless when you're shooting handheld. I am not going to lie; I was pretty disappointed by the night camera feature on the Mate. Luckily I had the Pixel with me ;) I also recently got the Samsung S10+, but I haven't had a chance to test that just yet. I am fairly sure it won't stand a chance against Night Sight though. Before my Pixel had Night Sight I had similar experiences as the iPhone X where it would be pretty dark, but thanks to the amazing HDR bracketing processing that Google does the images were actually half decent and you could see what was going on. Night Sight is in a league of its own, but HDR does a very good job too!

Aurora Borealis in Forsøl.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel 1 XL

4) What did you expect to happen when you first took the photos in Night Sight?

When I waited for the photos to process I said to myself that there was no way that Night Sight would be able to capture this like I am seeing it with my naked eye, but I was very surprised when a clear and detailed photo came out and I instantly showed my friend (Pixel 2 XL owner) which was amazed that the Pixel could see just as well as we did, and sometimes even better! Very pleasantly surprised.

5) Did you use a tripod?

I did not use a tripod, all the shots taken with smartphones are 100% handheld and it is often cold outside so it's hard to hold the phone steady. I'm also very surprised how well Night Sight dealt with this. I'm sure tripod photos would come out even better, but it is surreal that this is possible to do handheld.

6) Did you show friends/family the photos? What was their reaction when you told them it was taken on a phone?

Since there is no importing, post-processing or editing needed I instantly chucked them in a Google Photos album and shared it with friends all over the world. Many of these people have never seen the Aurora outside of photos, so the reactions were great. One friend even claimed that there was no way this was shot on my Pixel, but that I had shot these on a proper camera, haha!

7) What's your name/occupation/age?

My name is Vegar Henriksen, I am 18 years old and I work in the information technology field.

Aurora Borealis in Forsøl.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel 1 XL

After the article was published by Mashable, the article was re-shared on many different websites, which is super cool to see!

Are you impressed by Night Sight on the Pixel phones? Let me know down below!

Please also leave feedback on my writing as my end goal is to improve as much as possible. Thank you so much for reading!