Make your Stars Stand Out When Shooting the Night Sky

Would you like an easy way to make your astrophotography images unique?

Try using a fog filter!

How to use a fog filter for astrophotography example with a Google Pixel
Pixel 6 astrophotography with a fog filter
Pixel 6 Astrophotography No Fog Filter
Pixel 6 astrophotography without a fog filter

Alison and I both have used fog filters on several occasions to make certain stars stand in our starry images. I’ll walk you through what we know about them in this article.

When I began my research on writing this topic, I was surprised to see not many articles have been written on using a fog filter for astrophotography. This is especially true for phone fog filter astrophotography where I think I might actually be a pioneer in something. Geez…finally. 

So, I’ll be sharing our experiences so you can see how to use a fog filter for astrophotography. We’ll cover both DSLR cameras and a phone cameras since Alison and I shoot the stars differently.

Let’s start at the beginning, so we have a good foundation. If you already have the basics down, skip ahead a few paragraphs.

What is a Fog Filter?

Well, it’s certainly not a filter made of fog, and it’s not a filter for shooting in the fog. Both of those scenarios make me visualize some dark, shadowy figure deep in a mossy bog forging a lens. Anyway, a fog filter is essentially used to soften an image and make it have less contrast. It can cause highlights to somewhat flow and gives images a bit of a dreamy look in my opinion.

That leads us to our next question: 

Why Use a Fog Filter for Astrophotography?

fingers holding a fog filter that looks clean
Fog filters give a softer look

Typically, when you are shooting astrophotography, you want your stars to be sharp and look like pin points in the sky. As with all art, there are exceptions to this rule. You would use a fog filter for astrophotography when you want to make the brighter stars stand out more in your picture. By adding a fog filter to your camera, you’ll get some images that really look different from other photographers’ work. Your pictures will have a dream-like feel to them too.

We’re almost to storytime, but you might also want to know:

Where can I buy a fog filter?

Fog filters can be purchased at basically any normal camera store. I like using B&H online, but you can go with any store that sells camera gear. If you have a small mom and pop store nearby, you can also try them. I personally like purchasing used gear in good condition, and I’ve found plenty of inexpensive gems on eBay. That’s where I got my fog filter for astrophotography. It is an old 52mm Tiffen Fog Filter (#3) I won for $1.99 plus $4.50 for shipping. Just type “camera lens fog filter” in the eBay search bar, and you’ll find plenty of options to choose from ranging from a few dollars up to a couple of hundred dollars.

hand holding 52mm Tiffen fog filter 3
cheap 52mm Tiffen fog filter 3

What kind of fog filter works best for astrophotography?

eBay Fog Filter in a case
eBay Fog Filter in a case

Since Alison and I only have one fog filter each, I’m not going to say I’m an expert in this area. I do know that the lower the fog filter number the less amount of a foggy look you get, and a fog filter with a higher number will have a stronger haze impact on your picture. So, as an astrophotography artist, you have to decide what is the look you are going for in your images. I suggest you do a little shopping on eBay and get a few cheap used ones to play around with to develop your own style.

How do you use a fog filter for astrophotography on a DSLR or mirrorless camera?

Using a fog filter for astrophotography on a DSLR or mirrorless camera is easy. If you have ever used any other type of lens filter like a UV, ND, or polarizer, it can be attached the same way to your lens. Just make sure you purchase a fog filter with the correct thread size by locating the thread size somewhere on your lens. This number will usually be a two digit number following a symbol that looks like a circle with a line through it.

Now, it’s time to shoot. 

When you use the fog filter for astrophotography, you’ll pretty much be shooting the same way you usually shoot astro. Although camera settings will vary depending on the lighting conditions around you, DSLR or mirrorless settings in an average dark location with a source of light on the subject is typically around 25-30 seconds, f/1.8-2.2 ISO 800-1200. Take shots as usual and make adjustments as you typically would. Alison used a 77mm double fog 3 filter by Tiffen on her Nikon D750. 

Constellation Orion above a Jayco travel trailer
Constellation Orion above our Jayco travel trailer

How do you use a fog filter on a smartphone?

So, this is actually my whole reason for writing this article. I did want to give you some background on what a fog filter is and all of that other stuff, but honestly this is the real reason. It’s because one day when we were camping, I had this strange idea that I should buy a fog filter and test it out on my Pixel 6. I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could get a few stars in the sky to pop out more since it tends to create images with lots of very clear stars. 

Since that epiphany night, I’ve tested out using a fog filter numerous times on my Pixel 6. If you’ve read this article about phone astrophotography, you know shooting the stars with a cell phone is kind of one of my favorite evening things to do while camping. So, experimentation has become a natural extension of just being outside and shooting lots.

Here are the steps I use to shoot with my smartphone and a fog filter:

1. Set up the phone on a tripod.

2. Compose the image you want to make.

3. Hold the fog filter in front of the little lens on the camera. 

4. Push the camera button. 

It’s that simple!

Now, if you are on another type of smartphone like an iPhone, Samsung, or Xiaomi, you might need to fidget with your settings to get the best shot. The Pixel 6 essentially does all the work for me. 

red flare above Milky Way Core over silhouette trees
Milky Way Core over silhouette trees

I have found the hardest part of shooting with a fog filter with my Pixel is actually holding it still for over 4 minutes while shooting. That’s right. I have been just holding the filter in front of the camera lens until the Pixel completes its image processing. Sure, I could tape the lens to the phone while I shoot it or even create some sort of contraption to keep it in place, but I decided not to yet. That’s the only tough part of the entire process for me. Eventually, I’ll probably try to rig something to make it easier.

Sometimes I like how it looks with the dreamy quality of the filter, and other times not so much. One thing I do love though is how pronounced certain stars appear in the picture.

Also, in a few images, I kept getting a strange red flaring. I thought it might be because some light was hitting the side of the metal on the lens, but I tested multiple angles and still couldn’t eliminate it. I even tried experimenting with adding an additional light source to see if I could get the flares to move. I couldn’t. So, the mystery will continue!

I do have to say, I kind of like the flaring. It gives the image a very unique look. That’s probably why I also like shooting video with vintage lenses. It’s all about the art.

Pixel 6 Astrophotography without a red flare
Normal Pixel 6 shot without a red flare
Pixel 6 Astrophotography with a fog filter and a double flare
Pixel 6 shot with a fog filter and a double red flare

I really hope this article helps you out with your astrophotography. If you would like to see what other topics I’ve written about astrophotography or stargazing, just click here. If you are interested in not only astrophotography but also hiking and RVing, then you definitely need to check out our YouTube channel.

Takacs Family in front of Jayco RV
The Takacs Family

Jason and Alison Takacs are avid outdoor enthusiasts always ready to explore the most beautiful places with their two adventurous boys. They love traveling with their Jayco Jay Flight in tow on their way to hike the top trails in their home state of Texas and other distant lands. For years, they have focused on capturing both amazing landscape photos and also astrophotography from the places they have visited and shared them on Instagram and YouTube. Now, they are ready to share their experiences on this blog to help others enjoy what they have learned about nature, the night sky, RVing, travel, and everything in-between!