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Suggestions on shooting the meteor shower

Sarah Austin , Apr 21, 2009; 07:46 p.m.

Any suggestions on shooting the meteor shower tomorrow night in the Los Angeles area?


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JD Rose (Glen Canyon) , Apr 21, 2009; 07:59 p.m.

1) Get up in the mountains away from the light.

2) Point the camera a bit away from the point of origin. The streaks are longer

3) Use film. (No Sensor Heat Issues.)

4) The Lyrids are frustrating. Few per hour requires long exposures if using film.

5) If you use digital take a series of 5 to 10 minute exposures to reduce heat issues and then layer together.

David Barts , Apr 21, 2009; 08:04 p.m.

And if you heed #3, then use an old-fashioned all-mechanical camera (if you have one) so you don't drain the battery with one or two long bulb exposures.

Daniel Lee Taylor , Apr 21, 2009; 08:11 p.m.

When I shoot star trails I set the camera to a shutter speed of 30 seconds then use a remote release to lock the shutter button. The camera takes a series of 30s exposures, one right after the other, that I can stack later using 3rd party software. This solves both the heat/noise issue and lets me control light pollution.

I have caught meteor streaks on some exposures, but they tend to be faint. I'm not sure if that's a function of aperture and ISO (I'm usually at f/4 or f/5.6, ISO 200-400) or lack of luck.

If I were specifically going out to capture meteors (can't tonight) I would head for the local deserts or mountains, father away from light pollution than normal, and shoot at a wider aperture and higher ISO than normal to try and get more brilliant streaks.

JD Rose (Glen Canyon) , Apr 21, 2009; 08:14 p.m.

The odds of you even seeing a Lyrid is fairly low but you can listen to them with an AM radio on a very quiet band or, if you have an internet connection in the field, you can listen to them here:


Michael Axel , Apr 21, 2009; 08:50 p.m.

A couple of nights ago I was walking my dog. It is very dark here in Central Oregon. Behind me were two huge flashes, like lightening that was close by, but no thunder. Then I saw several major streams of material fall out of the sky, all the way across the horizon in front of me. It was very spectacular, so maybe we'll get lucky.

JD Rose (Glen Canyon) , Apr 21, 2009; 09:33 p.m.

Mr. Axel,

You need to find the strewn field and garner a little extra coin. Recoveries from seen falls are almost priceless.

Michael Axel , Apr 21, 2009; 11:13 p.m.

JD, I know. I didn't see the one behind me, and the one in front of me was very far in the distance. Too hard to tell how far though.

Dave T , Apr 22, 2009; 10:15 a.m.

1) What kind of equipment are you using?

2) How far out of the city are you willing to go?

Thomas Rivinius , Apr 22, 2009; 11:01 a.m.

it depends on he equipment and on the character you'll want for the final images. I suppose you do not have a mounting that rotates the camera against the earth, so that the stars would be spread out to streaks on a more that 15 to 30 second exposure, depending on focal length. So, here's some advice:

  • Lens : Use a short focal length, to maximize field of view. However, also use largest real aperture you can. Stars (and meteors, for that) are point sources, and as such the real aperture, in mm, is more important than focal ratio, this dimensionless 1/something parameter. I would go for a 50mm, used at 1/1.4 or less (meaning 36mm or more real aperture), which gives a good trade-off between field size and aperture IMHO.
  • Camera settings : If digital (I just suppose), get a huge memory card and take exposures of a few to a few ten seconds at most, until the card is full, basically. The exact time depends on the brightness of the sky at your location and the sensor noise and dark-current behavior. The average fall time is a fraction of a second, so you are not going to lose anything from the meteor, but depending on your location you minimize background stray light and smearing of stars into streaks (unless you want that, of course, but this makes it harder since it is another type of optimal settin). Use at high ISO, even if the shutter is open for seconds the exposure time for a meteor will more likely be of the order of 1/100s per pixel, then it has moved to the next pixel. Higher ISO beats reduction of background, rather reduce exposure time if background is an issue.
  • Postprocessing : Identify the frames with meteors on. Since you most likely have not tracked the stars (see the mounting thing above), you'll have to shift/rotate/etc those frames to be able to stack them (btw, at least crudely follow the field with your camera by tracking manually every 15 minutes or so). Same procedure as for combining hand-held panorama sots, just on a single field. Then combine them, no idea what the algorithm would be called in your software, but in principle it would be something like "only superimpose brighter pixels". If you feel you have too much noise, too few stars, chose some of the frames with no meteors, construct a nice background image for the field, and then superimpose only the meteors/bright stars from the shooting star combined image.

Good luck then, and although Lyrinds are not spectacular, it is oing to be a good training run for the Perseid and Leonid showers lather in the year.

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