As smartphone cameras get more sophisticated, they make it easier for the average user to create effects that would normally require high-end equipment and technical skill to achieve. The Pixel 4's astrophotography mode, for instance, is capable of taking photos of the night sky with minimal effort, but it has also been used to create the iconic light-trail effect that defines nighttime city photography and the “light writing” trend.
Light-trails result from longer exposure times when capturing moving light sources. The effect normally requires using a DSLR camera set to long exposure times and a solid tripod to keep everything steady and in-focus, but the Pixel 4's astrophotography setting has a whopping 4-minute exposure time—perfectly suited to capturing both the starry night sky and light trails—while the phone’s AI-powered post-processing will help create more consistent results.
(Owners of older Pixel phones can also get in on the action by installing a modded camera app that adds the astrophotography mode.)
— Matt Gonzalez (@mattdgonzalez) November 2, 2019
Some users have shown off their efforts and the results are impressive, but keep in mind that most of the examples online are from experienced and/or professional photographers. The Pixel 4's AI-driven features aren’t a shortcut to professional-quality photos, but they’re a great introduction to more complex forms of photography—and anyone with a Pixel phone can snap light trails using a simple setup and a little patience.
(Note that this will only work at night or in super-low light conditions.)
Stabilise your phone using a tripod, stand, or similar equipment to minimise movement.
Open the stock camera app on the Pixel 4 (Remember to download and install the modded Camera app first if you’re using an older Pixel phone.)
Swipe to “Night Sight” mode.
If you’re in dark enough conditions, your phone should ask you to enable “astrophotography mode.” Tap to turn this on. If you don’t seem to get this option, try pointing away from bright light sources and/or toward the night sky.
Line up your shot, and then tap the shutter button to begin taking the picture. Astrophotography mode has a 4-minute exposure time and then takes a few more seconds after to process the image. Make sure the phone remains perfectly still during this time.
Once the exposure and post-processing are complete, you can now view, edit, or share your photo.