PetaPixel

10 Tips for Photographing Meteor Showers

Capture the upcoming May 24th meteor shower like a pro

This article was reprinted with express permission from Thomas O’Brien and Muench Workshops


Photographing a meteor shower is more like photographing a time-lapse than traditional still photos. You can never anticipate where or when a meteor is going to streak across the sky. In order to catch them you have to set up and take as many photos as you can throughout the night with a wide angle lens on the camera. If you leave the camera in the same position you can use the resulting images for a short time-lapse clip in addition to the still images you can capture.

On May 24, 2014 and through Memorial Day weekend, we are about to pass through a brand new comet tail. Not much is known about this meteor shower, but we do know the debris was created by a comet passing through this area of space in the 1800s. The best viewing will be in the Northern Hemisphere (Southern Canada and the continental US). As with all meteor showers it could be a dud or it could be great. The meteors will be radiating from the north in the constellation Camelopardalis and should be visible all night in the northern hemisphere.

meteor1

10 Tips for Photographing Meteor Showers:

  1. Find a location that is far away from the light pollution of major cities and towns. You can use this handy website to see at a glance where the dark skies are. Use this site as a general guide, and keep in mind that there are things like oil rigs and mining operations that don’t show up on these maps.
  2. Get set up as fast as you can, the more time your shutter is open and taking photos the more chances you have of capturing a meteor.
  3. Use a good sturdy tripod in order to get a sharp photo of a meteors.
  4. Focus to infinity. This can be somewhat tricky in the dark, so a good way is to pre-focus the lens when the sun is up and tape the focus ring with gaffer’s or duct tape so it won’t move while you are moving around and setting up shots. You can also focus on the moon (if present) or a bright star, or use your camera’s live-view function. Obtaining accurate infinity focus is critical.
  5. You will need a wired cable release (just a simple cord with a locking shutter release button). Set your camera to the widest aperture the lens will allow, and the highest ISO that you are comfortable shooting with and an exposure that gives the best results for the location, light, and phase of the moon. A good starting point is f/2.8, ISO 2000 and 15-25 seconds. If you have an f/1.4 lens, that’s even better as it will allow you to shoot with a lower ISO and have a less noisy photo. As soon as you have a good exposure you can put your camera on continuous drive mode (where you press the button down and it takes photos until you release) then lock the button down on the cable release.
  6. Use your fastest f-stop (the lower the f-stop number the better) and widest angle lens you have. You are looking for a lens that is at least f/2.8 and preferably an f/1.4 lens. The lower the aperture the more light will get let into the camera. You will capture about double the meteors with a lens that opens to f/1.4 when compared a f2.8 lens.
  7. Have an adequate power supply (a battery grip on your camera with dual batteries) or direct DC power connected to an external battery pack. You are aiming for shooting all night long with very few or no breaks in shooting (remember the goal here is to keep the shutter open and taking pictures as much as possible while you are out there). The best meteors are generally just before sunrise so try to make sure your camera is taking images all night. In a pinch, it’s fine to use a single battery with a replacement that you can quickly swap.
  8. Position the camera facing anywhere from the Northwest to the Northeast will give you the best results. I have found that positioning the camera slightly away from the radiant point of the meteor shower results in longer meteors since they are not coming straight at the camera. The position of this radiant will make for some incredible time-lapse footage spinning around the north star.
  9. Get a large capacity and relatively fast memory card for your camera. You want to try to get a card that will hold an entire night’s shooting and also has a fast enough write speed so your camera can empty the cache and continue to take images without having to pause. If you have to stop to change cards you may miss a giant fireball meteor. I usually shoot with 64GB compact flash cards and have found that you can generally get through most of a night even in the winter with one of these cards.
  10. Composition — after all the techy stuff, you still want to make a compelling image. Choose a foreground element, such as as stand of trees, a rock formation, or mountains. Something to anchor the photo and give it a great look rather than just a shot of the stars and meteors alone in sky. At the same time, you want to include as much sky as possible, and this why we recommend the widest possible lens.

Now, get out there and capture some meteor showers!

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About the author: Thomas O’Brien grew up in Stowe Vermont and started taking photos at a pretty early age. He graduated from University of Utah with a degree in photography while he was racing on the world cup as a member of the US Snowboard team and has been working in the photo industry since graduating. He is currently living in Aspen Colorado, working as a full time photographer and consultant. You can find his work on his website, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube and 500px. This article originally appeared here.


 
  • Ian Norman

    Great guide Thomas!

  • OtterMatt

    Love those pics. Wish I couldn’t see the flashgun in the last one, but I’m just being picky.
    The first rule is by far the most important. You’ll never get a good shot anywhere near a city. Not even a small one.

  • http://www.flyingsuicide.net/ Oj0

    Will this be visible from the southern hemisphere?

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    Thanks! hope you can get out to try to capture some this weekend

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    that is not necessarily true. I think my best photo is when i was on top of Mt Evans (about 14000′) overlooking Denver Colorado. I had my cameras aimed right at the city and i ended up with one of my best meteor images ever. Its always better to try to get away but you can get good shots in light polluted areas

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    You might see some but its supposed to be best for the northern hemisphere and North America in particular.

  • Ian Norman

    I’ll try! I’ll be flying back to California from Italy/Denmark on the 24th though so I hope I’m not too tired!

  • http://www.centralhtg.com Stewart Unsdorfer

    Thanks for the tips. I live real close to Observatory Park, an official “dark sky” area in Geauga County, Ohio. Should be good viewing from there! Your work is fantastic, by the way.

  • Sarmad Berlin

    Inspirational video! Much appreciated. Although I’ll be in London or nearby. And I might not get to open sky 8-(

  • OtterMatt

    If you’re trying to intentionally make it part of the canvas, yes, but I’m talking about getting light reflecting down at you from the sky. That sort of light will just blow out your images and turn everything a sickly shade that’s really hard to balance out in post (at least for me, I’m sure there’s a technique of some kind). Please tell me there’s a technique…

  • OtterMatt

    ‘MURICA!
    /hadto

    /pleasedon’thurtme

  • Black Light Shoots

    Can anyone please recommend a spot here in New York? :( I am here at Queens and am just dying to make photos of the night sky.
    Dangit! Says it might rain through the weekend here :( cloudy right now.

  • http://www.valeystudio.com Rodrigo Leyva

    nice!! love it! too bad I gotta shoot a wedding :( in Mexico wedding aren’t finished until 1am lol but if I still got energy I got a 24 1.4 and will try to capture something! thanks for the guide!

  • Eric Frame

    This is is a dumb question, but what do you use to know where the milky way band will be in relation to objects near the horizon.. I love milky way shots, especially when its in landscape shots, but whenever I go out to try to photograph it, its always straight up above.

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    Thanks Stewart, good luck this weekend

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    Generally meteors showers are best from 1am until sunrise. that 24 1.4 is the golden lens of night and star photography.

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    You might be in a light polluted are where its just not visible closer to the horizon. You can download an app for your smartphone what wil show you the night sky. night sky from google (i think that is what its called) and I use go sky watch on ios.

  • aimeegoliver

    before I saw the
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    in their spare time from there pretty old laptop. . there uncles cousin
    started doing this for only about fourteen months and a short time ago repaid
    the morgage on their appartment and purchased a top of the range Lotus Elise
    . read the article works77.ℂℴm

  • Lily J Chatterjee

    Thank you Thomas. What lens did you use/do you recommend to use?

  • Joyce Harlan

    I will be using D90 tonight, only lens with me is 3.5. What shutter speed and ISO should I use? I’m blessed with a black sky on top of a 7000′ mountain – if the clouds go away…Thanks

  • Joyce Harlan

    I will be using a D90 but the only lens I have with me is a 3.5. ISO can go as high as 3200. What settings should I use – f and ISO? Will be using 30 second exposure. Thanks

  • Michelle Tomich

    Bear with me, I’m new at this stuff, but do I have to be running my camera all night? Or are you just saying that to make sure that by doing that you are bound to get a few good shots? Is it a similar technique to a long exposure and spelling words with sparklers at night? Just trying to understand the technique. Thanks!

  • James Flannery

    Question: Step 5 puzzles me. I know about open shutter. I’ve used mine, and it goes to 30sec. I haven’t used my remote to hold it open till I hit the button again to close it. Are you saying to leave the shutter open the whole time, or for how long aprox?

  • Eric Frame

    thanks!

  • Black Light Shoots

    thanks buddy! let’s hope the clouds part tonight but whatever it’s the movies for me if they don’t!

  • Black Light Shoots

    Awesome! ETTR it is! Thank you!

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    the longer the camera is running the more chances you have to capture a meteor

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    use 3.5, 2500 or 3000 iso and 25-30 second exposures

  • http://www.tmophoto.com/ Thomas O’Brien

    I think you are referring to bulb mode where you press the shutter to open and press it to close. set the camera to continious drive (camera takes photos as long as you press the button) set the exposure to 20-30 seconds and then press and lock the button down on the remote. when the first 25 second exposure is finished the camera will take another image as soon as the first shot is finished. no filters at all, not even the UV protector. it will cause internal reflections and big lens flares