How to Photograph Meteor Showers
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.
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.
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!
(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.
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!
Timer Remotes Make the Task Easier - Camera Timer Remotes on Amazon
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!
(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.