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January 23, 2015

Out of this world: Meet Jenifer Hanen, astrophotographer

“While I have loved astronomy since I was a kid, my passion for camera phone photography is more about taking great photos and pushing the practice farther than what folks think can be done.”


Many of you might already know Jenifer Hanen. As one of our fantastic MVC judges, Jenifer works hard to choose Connectors who’ve been nominated for being exceptional members of our community. But did you know that she’s also an exceptionally talented astrophotographer? Jenifer has spent many a dark night with her Lumia pointed at the stars, and the photos that she takes are simply awe-inspiring. From the moon to the Milky Way, Jenifer captures the natural beauty of the night, proving that the sky’s the limit when it comes to what Lumia can do in the hands of a determined photographer. To learn more about Jenifer and her love for astrophotography, read what she had to tell us below.

First off, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi everyone, Ms. Jen here, also known as Jenifer Hanen. I am a photographer and creative technologist with a deep love for mobile. I was given my first camera at 7 years old, and now years later, I am still in love with photography.

After spending most of the early 2000s complaining that all of my digital photos never left my computer, I was excited to find out about connected camera phones in 2004. I soon joined a Nokia mobile photo blogging project, Lifeblog, and jumped at the opportunity to participate in the project to take photos with the beautiful little 1 megapixel Nokia 7610 camera phone and then directly send my photos to the Lifeblog Wasabi website and to Flickr via email from the phone.

Using a camera phone was a huge breakthrough both in my digital photography workflow – no more photos stuck on my computer – and in terms of my growth as a photographer, as I took it everywhere and took photos of everything. Now, ten years later, I am still as in love with camera phone photography as I was in 2004! The cameras on the mobile phones have improved greatly and the online communities have shifted a bit, but it is still a thrill to try and capture my vision of the world and share it with you all.

Full Moon Rising
Full Moon Rising with the Great White Egrets

What inspired you to start photographing the skies with your Lumia? What drives you to pursue this passion?

While I have loved astronomy since I was a kid, my passion for camera phone photography is more about taking great photos and pushing the practice farther than what folks think can be done. For the last ten years, every time someone says, “You can’t do that with a camera phone!”, I think, yes, I can.

What drives me to take photos with my mobile phone? First and foremost, to make the choice to find beauty each day no matter where I am and no matter how good or bad the day is turning out to be. Looking for beauty, be it large or small, working to capture it in a photo and then sharing it, is not just an artist practice or a way to connect with others on social media, but a way of choosing to see the better each day and to be thankful.

With each new iteration of Nokia, now Microsoft Lumia, camera phone flagships, I have gotten new features, better camera sensor and optics quality, and more power to push what I and others can conceive is possible, be it street photography, astrophotography, macro, or whatever one can think up. Astrophotography with my Lumia 1020 is just another iteration of my passion for documenting the landscape, now I just add in the sky-scape.

Orion, as seen by my Nokia Lumia 1020

I understand you use the 1020 for your fantastic photos. What has been your experience using the 1020 to photograph the night skies?

Taking photos of the night sky with a camera phone requires good to great optics, a wide open aperture, a good sensor, and the ability to control shutter speed and focus to infinity. In August 2012 I was at a rural dark sky spot in the mountains east of Los Angeles and I tried to take photos of the bright Milky Way with my Nokia 808 Pureview, but due to lack of shutter speed control I was only able to get a few bright stars. When the Lumia 1020 was announced in July of 2013 with the Pro Camera app, I was beyond happy, as the ability to manually set my shutter speed, ISO, and focus meant that I could attempt to shoot the skies beyond the planets at dusk.

When I got my Lumia 1020, the first thing I did was drive 5.5 hours to a known dark sky spot to try and see what I could shoot with my amazing new precioussss… My first try was shooting the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius in the Milky Way, and it turned out ok. I was still wildly excited about the possibilities of what I could do with the Lumia 1020.

The big part of my journey to take good astrophotography photos has been to slowly but surely learn more about the night sky and what I am seeing and learn the best times and places to shoot in my area where the lights of the city do not drown out the sky. As I have learned about the night skies in my location and taken many, many failed or only ok photos, I have learned how to and succeeded in taking a few very good photos.

Running, Dog Beach
Sun covered in Clouds at Dog Beach

The best part about this mobile photographic quest is that my dog and I have taken daily walks at or just after sunset, we both get to enjoy the walk, exploring places with a good open view of the sky and Pacific Ocean. I enjoy watching the sky over the course of the year, and do my best to keep him entertained while I wait for the sky to be just the right color, darkness, and brightness of the planets and stars.

Also, during this two year journey, I have been living on a budget that does not allow me to run out and buy all the latest camera gear or telescope equipment.  Thus most of my planets at twilight photos have been taken with the Lumia 1020 hand held and my arm braced while I choose to focus on the lightest part of the sky and my star photos with a tripod and the Lumia 1020 camera grip.


The Moon, as shot through my telescope using my Nokia Lumia 1020

If you’re anything like us, you’re probably feeling inspired to get up, go outside, and start capturing all that the sky has to offer after reading Jenifer’s story. If so, she has a little advice for you:

“For many of us, we live in big cities where light pollution and air pollution will make it difficult to take photos of the sky, but do not fear, you can still do it. And on a budget with not a lot of equipment or gear. I promise.”

In fact, she’ll be sticking to that promise by revealing her astrophotography secrets with an in-depth tutorial in the near future. Stay tuned! In the meantime, let us know in the comments what you think, and be sure to check out Jenifer’s amazing astrophotos on her Flickr and photo blog.