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How to Photograph Meteor Showers

Updated on December 18, 2012

6 Tips for Photographing Meteors with your DSLR

Have you ever wanted to take a photograph of a meteor as it shoots across the sky? Here are some quick tips to help you take a fantastic photo during the next meteor shower using your DSLR! Digital cameras make this easier than film, but it can still be tricky, so read on and find out how to improve the odds of capturing a picture of a meteor.

(Image credit: 2009 Leonid Meteor by Navicore on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.)

Star Walk Astronomy App
Star Walk Astronomy App

Tip 1: Plan ahead!

Preparation will help you take a great meteor photo

  • Find out when the next major meteor shower will happen.
  • This might seem obvious, but you want to photograph in a dark night sky! The darker the better. Find somewhere to observe the meteor shower that is away from city lights. (You'd be surprised, even in seemingly dark skies, at how much light your camera can pick up with the long exposure times you'll be using!) You'll have better luck if the meteor shower coincides with a New Moon so that moonlight won't interfere, but this isn't something you can control!
  • Don't forget spare batteries and memory cards! Your camera will be working overtime. Make sure you have charged batteries, and spares. You'll be taking lots of pictures, so ensure you have ample memory cards also.
  • Get a star chart! You can find star charts online, or you can use an iPhone app like Star Walk (available on the App Store, icon shown here), or purchase a planisphere (search for Planispheres on Amazon).

Next Major Meteor Shower: Quadrantids

The Quadrantids will be the next major meteor shower, best observed January 3-4, 2012.

Click here for a 2013 calendar of astronomical events and information on upcoming meteor showers.

Perseid Meteor Shower, Credit: andyspictures on flickr (used under Creative Commons License)
Perseid Meteor Shower, Credit: andyspictures on flickr (used under Creative Commons License)

Tip 2: Where to aim the camera

Where will the meteors be?

So you're trying to take a picture of a fast moving object that can show up anywhere in the sky. Where should you aim the camera?

Try to aim roughly 45 degrees from the radiant of the meteor shower.

What is the radiant? The trails of all meteors of a particular meteor shower can be traced back in the sky to a particular spot called the radiant. This is usually located in or near a specific constellation which the meteor shower is named after (so the trails of Perseids, for example, can be traced back to the constellation Perseus). This is where a good star chart will come in handy.

(Image Credit: andyspictures on flickr (used under Creative Commons License)

Tip 3: Camera Settings

Experiment within these guidelines to capture that meteor photo

First, set your camera to Manual exposure mode. Also turn off autofocus and manually focus your camera to infinity.

For the exposure settings, you will need to experiment a little (mainly tinkering with shutterspeed and ISO), but here are some guidelines to get you started:

Shutterspeed: 5 to 30 seconds. If you want to have star trails, you'll need a longer exposure time. However, if your sky is light polluted, long exposures will start to look more like daytime than night! If the shutter speed is too fast, your pictures will be too dark.

Aperture: The aperture should usually be wide open (i.e. something like f/2.8, not f/16!) We're trying to collect lots of light in near darkness!

ISO: As always, this should be as low as you can get away with in order to reduce noise. The faster your shutter speed, the higher your ISO may have to be to compensate.

Finally, make sure your flash is turned OFF! Also, turn off image stabilization / vibration reduction on your lens - you'll be using a tripod, and IS / VR might actually be counterproductive in this situation.

Remember: to improve your chances of capturing a meteor, the general idea is to keep the shutter open as much as possible through the night. That means using a slow shutter speed and taking lots of pictures!

Meteor and Star Trail Photograph
Meteor and Star Trail Photograph

(Image credit: Kevin Cole on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License)

Tip 4: Use a fast wide angle lens

Photographing meteors is easier when you're capturing more of the sky

Meteors are fast, and can show up anywhere in the sky. To improve your chances of capturing a meteor in a picture, use a wide angle lens, ideally 24mm or wider.

A fast lens (f/2.8 or faster)is also helpful. One of the advantages of a fast lens for this application is that you can shoot at a lower ISO, which means less noise in your photos.


Every photographer should have a good tripod!

A good tripod really is a must, since you will be using long exposure times (i.e. slow shutter speeds). Without a stable tripod, your images will be blurry.

The action of pressing a shutter button can also shake your camera, so it is best to remotely trigger the camera with a remote shutter release (wireless, or cable). If you do not have a remote release, you can set the camera timer and then gently press the shutter button: hopefully any vibrations you cause will diminish before the shutter opens.

If your DSLR has the option to lock the mirror up, make use of this feature also to prevent the motion of the mirror from shaking the camera.

Finally, some DSLRs have the option to take pictures at intervals. If this is the case for your camera, program it to essentially shoot continuously so that you don't need to be manually triggering the shutter the whole night yourself! If your camera doesn't have this feature (Canon DSLRs don't tend to, though many Nikon models do), you can buy a remote with interval timers built in.

A Stable Tripod is Important! - Get a Tripod on Amazon

If you love photography and you don't already have a good, stable tripod, you should seriously consider purchasing one. It will come in useful for all manner of photography!

Tip 6: Be patient and enjoy the show!

Have fun with Astrophotography

This is, perhaps, the most important tip!

It is not easy to capture a picture of a meteor! Enjoy being out in nature, gazing at the stars, and seeing the meteor shower with your own eyes. If you do catch a photograph of a meteor, it's a wonderful added bonus. It could take all night to get just one decent picture, so don't be discouraged if you don't get anything right away.

Hopefully these tips have helped you learn how to photograph meteor showers!

Have fun!

2010 Perseids over the VLT
2010 Perseids over the VLT

(Image Credit: ESO/S. Guisard, used under Creative Commons License)

Learn How to Photograph the Northern Lights! - Check out this guide:

How to Photograph the Northern Lights
Do you want to learn how to photograph the Northern Lights? Read this guide and learn everything you need to get started taking pictures of this spectacular natural light show.

Interested in Astrophotography? - Check out these books on Amazon

Leave a comment! - Have you ever taken a picture of a meteor?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Lots of great information is what makes a good lens. THIS is a good lens. Thank you for making it.

    • laetusviator lm profile image
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      laetusviator lm 5 years ago

      @ecogranny: Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed the lens! :) I've fixed the intro: now there is a direct link to the source image. (And it is definitely worth seeing at full size & high resolution!)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Fabulous page! You've made me want to find a star-lit hill and stay up and watch the meteor showers this weekend. I'd nominate this for LOTD if I didn't have to search for the intro pic and license once I got to the owner's photo stream. Otherwise, pardon the unintended pun, stellar job! This is exactly the kind of page I love finding on Squidoo. Well-written, on topic all the way through, and packed full of useful information. Thank you.

    • laetusviator lm profile image
      Author

      laetusviator lm 5 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: Thanks for the lens idea - done! So you can now check out my lens on how to photograph the Northern Lights. :)

      https://hubpages.com/art/how-to-photograph-the-nor...

    • laetusviator lm profile image
      Author

      laetusviator lm 5 years ago

      @Thomo85: Wow, sounds like that was quite a spectacular meteor!

      The moon is a great target for astrophotography - it is bright, big, and easy to find. :) If you can't afford a really big lens (ideally something like 300mm or longer for the moon), you might consider just renting the lens for a night of moon photography. Incidentally, when you do photograph the moon, you might not want to do it during the full moon (counterintuitive, I know...). If the moon is full, the craters don't show as much depth/contrast.

    • Thomo85 profile image

      Thomo85 5 years ago

      No but i did see the most amazing meteor once, it even split in two and continued on as two pieces one fizzling out earlier than the other. Would love to get photos of a meteor shower though. I have just got a new nikon D5100 (entry level) and really want to take good photos of the moon but can't afford a lens with a huge focal length.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      That's a fantastic tip about the radiant - thanks much!

      Now, if I could only figure out how to photograph the aurora borealis... hint, hint. ;)