Capture a Wish

March 30, 2015

Capturing a meteor burning up in the atmosphere is like capturing a wish, especially since I wish for a good meteor photo every time I make the attempt. It is far more challenging than lightning and I have far less success when I try. If capturing lightning photos is like normal fishing, capturing meteor photos is like fishing with a bow & arrow...and I'm not Oliver Queen.

 

Capturing meteor shower photos is a huge challenge for me for several reasons. The largest reasons are environmental. Light pollution is a big issue here. It's a huge issue in most of the eastern half of the United States actually. A lot of people in the eastern states get frustrated that they can't replicate some of the crisp, clear meteor shower photos they see online. Most of those great shots are taken in far remote locations, hundreds of miles away from a major city. If you live in the eastern US, unless you are willing to head out west or north into Canada, you are not going to get the same quality shots.

 

Getting descent meteor photos here is not impossible though with enough practice, patience, persistence, and a little bit of luck. You need a tripod for starters. You also need a camera that can shoot in full manual mode, just as you do with lightning. You want to use a wide angle lens to cover as much sky as possible and manually focus out to infinity, testing that focus on a distant light source to make sure the infinite focus is crisp and dead on. Even though you can pinpoint the radiant, or origin point of where the meteors are going to come from, it is best to point your camera a few degrees to either side of that radiant. That way, any meteors you capture will tend to have longer trails and look more dramatic.

I normally set up 3 cameras, each pointing in slightly different directions to help me cover as much sky as possible. I usually keep my ISO between 400 and 1600, dependent on the particular camera & amount of ambient light, or light pollution in the area. There is a Dark Sky Finder that can show you how much light pollution is in your area. It comes in very handy. Simply try to find the darkest area near you that is between where you want to set up and the direction of that particular meteor shower's radiant.

 

Unless I'm using very long shutter speeds and trying to shoot star trails along with meteors, I like to use 20 second shutter speeds with my camera locked into continuous shooting mode. This prevents the stars from streaking and cuts down on light pollution clouding the frame. You want a wide open aperture, or the lowest f/stop setting to allow as much light in as possible. Depending on how sharp your lens is, you may want to stop the lens down by 2 stops. Remember, the higher the f/stop, the narrower the aperture. F/2.8 is LARGER than F4. Many lenses tend to be slightly sharper 1-2 f/stops above their lowest setting.

 

 

Humidity and temperature can be a huge factor as well. If it is very humid, the atmosphere can make the stars a bit fuzzier than with low humidity. Shooting when it is colder can make your images sharper, but then you have to worry about condensation on your lens making your images blurry. I've spent many nights shooting meteors and had to wipe the lens every few minutes. Now, I use small hand warming packs and rubber bands to keep the front element of my lens above the dew point temperature so no water condenses on it.

 

I've captured a meteor 5 minutes after setting up before. I've also spent 6 hours a night for 3 nights straight shooting with 3 cameras and have only captured 1 good meteor photo. It can be a real crap shoot, but capturing that one awesome photo can make it worth it. For scheduled dates & times for meteor showers, click HERE

Just for fun, I'm adding a couple of moon photos here at the end. The moon can be another real pain when it comes to capturing meteors, but it can be a fun subject in itself to shoot on occasion...lunar eclipses especially. 

 

 

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