Photographing The Perseid Meteor Shower

Meteor Shower
If you are interested in capturing some great images this weekend of the Perseid Meteor Shower, here are a few tips that might help you.

Find The Darkest Area Possible

It’s getting harder to find such a place these days, but scope out a site that is free of city or suburban lights. It’s not enough to find a place where such light is behind you; it must be dark in all directions.

Choose A Place That Has A Nice Horizon

It’s always best to get shots that have a good contrast between earth and sky, so that any streaking meteors will be in the context of a natural landscape. Trees, water, or even rolling hills or rocky areas will be more than suitable.

Position Yourself Strategically

Find a place where the crescent moon is rising on the right side of the horizon. Jupiter and Venus will be aligning beautifully under the moon tonight (and then around it on the 12th and 13th). The meteors will be streaking above and to the left of the moon and the planets.

Use A Tripod

Stability is essential to get a good shot of a meteor streaking across the sky. It is impossible to hand-hold a camera for longer than a half-second without camera shake. And, when you are dealing with the extraordinary distance between you and the stars, any little movement will make a huge difference in the quality of the shot.

Use A Remote Shutter Release Cable

The ideal remote is wireless, but they can get a little expensive. Even triggering the shutter release with your finger when the camera is on the tripod might cause the camera to move. If you do not have a shutter release cable, take advantage of your camera’s self-timer.

Camera Settings

  • I recommend that your ISO be set to at least 1000, if not faster.
  • Your aperture should be opened all the way (the smaller the number, the larger the opening; I recommend anything below an aperture of 4.5).
  • Set the shutter speed for at least 15 to 30 seconds, if not more. If your camera has a “bulb” setting, you can do longer exposures. However, the longer the exposure, the more likely you will begin to capture star movement, due to the earth’s rotation. While this is a really cool image pattern to photograph, it detracts from the meteors streaking across the sky. A shutter speed of 15 to 30 seconds (even up to 1 minute) is a pretty good amount of time to get the meteors against an immobile sky. I would switch it up a bit and take many shots at varying shutter speeds.

Other Reminders

  • Have patience and be realistic with your expectations! You might take 50 long-exposure shots with the hope of one or two of them capturing a good meteor streaking across the sky.
  • Get set up before midnight, but be prepared to stay in position for several hours, if possible. The best meteors will light up the sky an hour or two before dawn.
  • Run a few test shots by varying the exposure times, aperture settings, and ISOs. The beauty of shooting with digital cameras is there is immediate gratification in checking your images on the LCD screen. Don’t hesitate to try many different combinations to make sure you are getting the shots you are looking for. Use the setting recommendations above as a starting point, and then customize at will.

Enjoy the time in the outdoors! The weather should be fairly cooperative, and a few clouds might even add a surprise element to the beauty of the show!

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