Claim: Cell phones are bad at photographing things in the sky at night (such as UAP)

Edward Current

Senior Member
One of the things I ask UFO enthusiasts is, why are there no good photos of up-close encounters that so many people claim to have had with giant machines in the sky? A common response is, cell phones are bad at capturing images at night, except for highly luminous objects like meteors (of which there is no shortage of footage, sudden and fleeting though they are).

This claim seemed to get widely debunked a couple of weeks ago, when a sizable fraction of the world's population photographed aurora-lit skies on their cell phones. My own attempt from Central Arkansas (iPhone 11, no adjustments):

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The pink–purple tint was barely noticeable with the naked eye (more so when compared to the sky toward the south) — but the phone's camera not only made the colors vivid, but also revealed subtle gradations of tint and shade that I did not notice at all.

If up-close UFO experiences are more vivid than the barely-visible aurora borealis were in Arkansas, I feel like an old iPhone would photograph an up-close UFO encounter quite nicely. But sadly, there really aren't any examples. And iPhones are pretty popular!

What are some other things that have been photographed in the night sky, which weren't highly luminous but nevertheless got captured well?
 
The effects of the aurora fill the entire sky, a a plane for example etc is tiny dot for a lot of phone cameras. Then you add to that that because it is so small the camera doesn't really "know" anything is there and all sorts of compression issues and stabilisation and noise reduction etc algorithms that are meant to help you take photos/videos start interfering with what you capturing.

So not only can you often not tell what something is, the effects of the phone camera software can make things look weird. So phones can actually make weirder UFOs out of mundane things.

Also the preponderance of them leads to more weird edge case stuff showing up and being misinterpreted sensor reflections, aberration, rolling shutter etc all issues known to photographers but less commonly experience by most people.

It's not entirely unreasonable to state that a phone could not capture a UFO, but it does seem that these days a UFO is defined by being something that shows up on mobile phone but is not easily identified based on said footage (but given enough context can often be identified as a plane.)

There are 2 reasons why the preponderance of phone cameras has cast doubts on historical UFO images and sightings.

1. Pre-phone era UFO photos and the stories that accompany them (your hubcap hanging from a string type UFO photos) that would be much clearer with a modern phone camera and also easily capable of being accompanied by video that would show changing aspects etc, have stopped happening.

2. Pre-phone era stories of giant UFO encounters that previously could not be reasonable expected to be accompanied by imagery have stopped now that people are reasonably expected to be carrying a smartphone.

In my view though it seems like the era of publically filmed/photographed UFO photos is largely over, phone videos don't get that much traction anymore even reddit /r/UFOs outside of a few sticklers largely debunk them in the comments, the "white tictac = plane" and "Racetrack UFO = Starlink from planes" are largely known now.

You now have to have "official" or leaked UFO videos from military sources, the famous 3 Navy videos, the "Green Pyramids" and Corbel's efforts, although he's not had much success.

We are now in a "it's all about the stories" phase and the space for those stories seems to be the US congress.
 
The effects of the aurora fill the entire sky, a a plane for example etc is tiny dot for a lot of phone cameras.
I'm not talking about tiny dots (although we have plenty of those, too).

up-close encounters that so many people claim to have had with giant machines in the sky

This is related to the thread I started about major UFO experiences — life-changing encounters with things with an angular size often much larger than the Moon. We've all heard these "black triangle" stories. Meanwhile, zero photos or videos.
 
The pink–purple tint was barely noticeable with the naked eye (more so when compared to the sky toward the south) — but the phone's camera not only made the colors vivid, but also revealed subtle gradations of tint and shade that I did not notice at all.
Is a photograph that doesn't look like it did to the naked eye a good or bad photograph?
 
Is a photograph that doesn't look like it did to the naked eye a good or bad photograph?
Good, because the eye has limitations. The aurora picture is essentially a long exposure that's been algorithmically stabilized, which is why it captures more information than the retina/brain.

I see no reason why a giant black triangle in the night sky (which I have heard variously described as semi-transparent, lensing the background of stars, etc.) would not also be captured with more information than the human eye can gather.
 
That's hardly "no adjustments" is it?

We're heading towards "photos taken with correct settings produce better (looking?) photos".
Your point is unclear. Do you think that a cell phone would or would not sufficiently capture a non-luminous, but clearly visible, giant triangle in the sky?
 
I upgraded from an iPhone X to an iPhone 14 Pro last year, and the biggest difference I noticed with the camera is how good the night mode is. You can take really quite decent photos of stars, handheld.

This is the Big Dipper over my tent. You can easily make out the double stars Mizar and Alcor second from the end of the "handle" which is meant to be a test of good seeing.

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As soon as that UFO appears over my head, I am ready for it!
 
That's hardly "no adjustments" is it?

We're heading towards "photos taken with correct settings produce better (looking?) photos".
What was needed in many videos was the ability to turn off Auto-Focus. How often do we see the nice crisp image of something disappear into a blob when the auto-focus starts zooming back and forth "hunting" for better focus. The ability to set the focus for infinity and keep it set at infinity might make for more interesting UAP videos.
 
What was needed in many videos was the ability to turn off Auto-Focus. How often do we see the nice crisp image of something disappear into a blob when the auto-focus starts zooming back and forth "hunting" for better focus. The ability to set the focus for infinity and keep it set at infinity might make for more interesting UAP videos.
The correct setting for the camera would be "whatever you feel the need to change the aperture to, stay at the hyperfocal distance (as best as you can eyeball it from the stepper motors)" mode. (Temperature changes mean that you can't just mechanically know where any particular focal distance will be, there's always some optical seeking needed.)
 
I (incorrectly) took "no adjustments" to be about the quality of the optics rather than a phone's ability to guess what you're taking a photograph of and make adjustments itself, which is what I now think you probably meant by it.

But I could still be wrong.
I just meant that I didn't manually adjust the contrast, saturation, etc., to produce a picture that I liked better. (I guess people sometimes say "no filter.")

However it's kind of irrelevant, because if you took a photo of a giant machine in the sky and the machine wasn't very clear in the image, there'd be no shame in enhancing the contrast, etc., as necessary (although I would disclose that). I was just trying to say that even iPhones several generations ago were pretty good at photographing subtle things in the night sky.
 
Is a photograph that doesn't look like it did to the naked eye a good or bad photograph?
I would not be surprised to see that colors don't reproduce in the photo the same way they looked to the naked eye. For starters, the iris of your eye adjusts to the overall brightness of the surroundings, while a camera just sees a limited portion of the entire space. That difference might be of concern regarding an artistic impression, but of course that is not the same thing as capturing a reasonably distinct photo of an object. As to the accuracy of the image, surely it would be more accurate than just a memory of a passing object, and in the case of a sighting of a "UFO" that would be the important point.
 
I took footage of the San Diego UFO encounter from last year and on the video I say, "what the hell, god damn, you cant see s*** on these cell phones, no wonder there are no good pics of aliens"

Most of the footage is blurry, iPhones cant like, zoom into a small object in the sky (747s are small in the sky I mean)
 
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I took footage of the San Diego UFO encounter from last year and on the video I say, "what the hell, god damn, you cant see s*** on these cell phones, no wonder there are no good pics of aliens"

Most of the footage is blurry, iPhones cant like, zoom into a small object in the sky (747s are small in the sky I mean)

I can generally zoom in and focus on high-flying planes with no problem using my phone. This is a 777 at 34,000 feet. It's a bit overexposed but it's recognisable and in focus.

You sometimes have to cheat and tap to get a focus lock on a distant tree or something to force the phone to focus to infinity. Trying to get it to focus on a small object in an empty sky can be tricky, but focus lock is your friend.

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On an iPhone you tap and hold to lock the auto exposure and auto focus. The focus locks, and you can then manually adjust the exposure by sliding the "sun" symbol up or down. I don't know how many people use or even know about this feature.

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I suppose a big difference would be photo vs video. All i got was blurry footage.

Also I never knew you could auto focus, so there's that, I wonder what % of people have used auto focus on their phones before, Im gonna guess a small number... so "can take" good photos does not translate to "people take" its worth remembering.

Especially when you're like "OH MY GOD" that might also add a factor of difficult to photograph well.
 
Also I never knew you could auto focus, so there's that, I wonder what % of people have used auto focus on their phones before, Im gonna guess a small number...
I'm confused. My phone auto focuses by default, I am not even sure manual focus is an option; if it is it is one I have never used.
 
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