Note: My favorite meteor shower of the year, the Perseid, is coming soon! Only the Geminid shower can approach the Perseid in terms of the expected peak rate of meteors, but the Geminids come in December where the weather can be more challenging, so at least in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, where clear weather reigns in the summer, the Perseid wins hands-down. Making matters even better, this year the night of peak activity of the Perseid Meteor Shower, August 12/13, comes just one day after a new moon, meaning the sky will be dark and the photography superb. For those of us who love to shoot shooting stars, the event later this month could be epic. Read on for more info about how to capture images of meteor showers.
While the Geminid Meteor Shower in December and the Perseid Meteor Shower in August are the best-known, each year there are quite a few major meteor showers that afford great opportunities for seeing meteor activity. Here is a partial list, courtesy of Sky & Telescope:
|Major Meteor Showers in 2018|
|Shower||Radiant and direction||Morning of maximum||Best hourly rate||Parent|
|Quadrantid*||Draco (NE)||Jan. 4||60-100||2003 EH1|
|Lyrid||Lyra (E)||April 22||10-20||Thatcher (1861 I)|
|Eta Aquariid*||Aquarius (E)||May 6||20-60||1P/Halley|
|Delta Aquariid*||Aquarius (S)||July 29||20||96P/Machholz|
|Perseid||Perseus (NE)||Aug. 13||90||109P/Swift-Tuttle|
|Orionid*||Orion (SE)||Oct. 21||10-20||1P/Halley|
|Southern Taurid||Taurus (S)||Nov. 5||10-20||2P/Encke|
|Leonid*||Leo (E)||Nov. 18||10-20||55P/Tempel-Tuttle|
|Geminid||Gemini (S)||Dec. 14||100-120||3200 Phaethon|
|Ursid*||Ursa Minor (N)||Dec. 22||10||8P/Tuttle|
* Strong moonlight will interfere with these showers.
Source: Sky & Telescope
While it’s still technically tricky to make great images of a meteor shower, today’s technology certainly makes it possible for those of us without astronomical budgets to do so. I shot some nice images of last summer’s Perseid shower and would have been out there shooting the Geminids last December except that the cloud cover here in the San Francisco Bay Area was 95-100%. Here’s a composite of several images I shot last August of the Perseids.
A composite image made up of one long exposure for the lake, mountain, and trees, plus several 25-second exposures capturing the individual meteors I observed over a 2-hour period. Buy this photo
Most of the techniques you need for capturing a meteor shower are the same as for capturing the Milky Way. Review my post from a few weeks ago for a refresher course: Post on Milky Way Photography.
The special challenge when shooting a meteor shower is that meteors can occur anywhere in the sky. Even with a very wide-angle lens, such as a 14mm or 16mm lens on a full-frame camera, only a small portion of the sky can be covered. As we are limited to a maximum exposure time of about 25-30 seconds with a 14mm or 16mm lens so as to avoid blurring the stars into star trails, it’s clear that we have to shoot a lot of consecutive images to be likely to capture several meteors throughout the night. We then use software such as Photoshop to combine the images in which meteors are visible into a single composite image showing all of the meteor activity we captured during the night.
A good tutorial on shooting meteor showers, illustrated with amazing images by Glenn Randall, can be found here: Glenn Randall post on photographing meteor showers.
Have you photographed a meteor shower? What techniques did you use? Please share your experiences here.
Want to read more posts about photographic techniques? Find them all here: Posts on Techniques.