How to Photograph a Meteor Shower

Have you ever wondered how to photograph a meteor shower? It's not as hard as it may seem.

Meteors are tiny bits of debris that can be as small as grains of sand or small pebbles, but when they hit our upper atmosphere, the friction caused makes them give off a streak of (sometimes) coloured light which looks like a shooting star across the night sky.

To photograph a meteor the most basic equipment you need is a camera and I would suggest a tripod too.

If you don’t have a tripod, try angling your camera on a solid surface using a abg of rice or sand.

The colours you see are the result of the makeup of the meteor and the gas that ionizes in the atmosphere as the meteor passes through it.

It will initially show as green, changing to yellow and then to red.

Brian Palmer Aurora Borealis and a Meteor over Ross-shire

Brian Palmer Aurora Borealis and a Meteor over Ross-shire

Where's best to observe meteors?

If you can find a dark area, away from light pollution of towns and cities, you'll have the best chance to see a meteor, not to mention the night sky in so much more detail than you could near a town.

Which lens is best to photograph meteors?

A wide-angle lens is recommended.

Which aperture should I use to photograph meteors?

 

Use the widest aperture you can. For example, a 16mm f2 will capture more meteors, and they will appear brighter, than a 16mm f3.5 lens.

What about Focus?

I would suggest setting the camera to manual focus. Try to set the focus on the brightest star, or planet, you can see in the sky.

ISO?

Use ISO 1600 if available.

Exposure

Set the cameras exposure mode to manual. Try taking a number of shots between 10 and 30 seconds, and then look at the graph for the image on the screen on the camera. Look for the exposure where the peak of the graph is around 1/3 from the left hand side.

Which file format should I use?

If your camera has it, use the RAW format. It's easier to adjust the colour balance later if needed.

White Balance

Shoot a custom white balance on the sky itself to remove light pollution.

Other Settings

If your camera has LENR (long exposure noise reduction) turn it off if you can.

Where to Point Your Camera

The darkest part of the sky is normally straight above your head (if you're in a dark sky location), so try aiming your camera above your head.

Opening the Shutter

It's best not to try and manually open the shutter, as it may cause some movement in the camera. If you have a remote release, or a timer - then it's best to use those.

Additional Tips

Take as many frames as you can. By the time you see a meteor, and try to open the shutter - it'll be too late. The more frames you take, the more chance you will have of photographing a meteor. It will mean a lot of throw away shots, but with digital cameras these days - that's no longer a real concern.

2

Depending on where you are in the world - you may have to put up with flies, midges or mosquitoes - so bring some good jungle formula insect repellent and use it liberally. You don't want to be ready to capture the perfect shot, and then get distracted by a bite!

It gets cold at night - even in summer - so wrap up warm, and at least bring a jacket you can put on and take off.

Bottom line

Get to know your camera, and experiment. Your camera settings may be slightly different to other people's cameras - and when you get to know what each feature of your camera does, you'll quickly become a master of night sky photography!

All the best, Mark​

 
 
 
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