This week is peak time for annual Perseid meteor shower. Astrophotography was actually my first photographic interest, being a Astronomy student in college spurred my interest in photography. I’ve compiled five tips for making good looking astrophotos and some specific ones for meteor shower events.
- This should go without saying, but a sturdy tripod and a remote trigger are necessity. You can get around the trigger by using your camera’s count down timer. This allows you to get your hand away from the camera when the shutter goes up and reduces vibration. Also check to see if your camera supports a mirror lock up mode for shooting. Most do for cleaning only, usually the mid-to-higher end models have it for shooting. This will further reduce vibrations introduced by the mirror flapping up.
- As far as lenses go, the wider the better. A fisheye works best. Some of these things can streak all the way across the sky so having a full 180 degree is desirable. An f/2.8 maximum aperture will be beneficial too, although i’ve squeaked by at f/4 before. If you don’t have a fast wide angle lens I highly recommend renting one from a site like LensRentals.com. These guys are the best in the photo rental industry in my opinion. I’ve used them several times for several jobs and never had a single bad experience. *Lens Rentals is not a sponsor of this blog, I just really happen to like them.* If you don’t like the fisheye look you can use software like Fisheye Hemi to “defish” the photo in post.
- Keep your exposures around 20 seconds or less. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Firstly it keeps the thermal noise down on the sensor (this can be a problem on sticky summer nights) and secondly you probably don’t want to streak the stars too much. You really want to meteors to be the only thing streaking, this gives the best impression of motion. If you’ve got a motor drive telescope mount you can use that to track with the motion of the Earth. Most these mounts have a place for a camera tripod thread.
- Don’t be afraid of higher ISOs. Meteors are relatively faint, chances are you’ll miss a few if you’re at ISO 100 or 200. I typically shoot at ISO 400 or 800 for these and with most modern DSLRs that’s not really a problem. Even a five year old model will be fine at ISO 400.
- Find a dark sky. This may be the hardest part of all. Every year more poorly designed street lights and billboards go up that fill even country skies with nasty light pollution. I recommend getting at least 15-20 miles outside of an medium sized urban area. Go even further out if it’s a larger one. Also, know your sky. The Perseids will appear to come from the constellation Perseus. Study a star chart for the time of night you plan to be out to know in what direction to generally point your camera. You can find free ones on skyandtelesope.com.
Leander also sent me this line in an email: “I just purchased an Induro BHD1 and an AT213 tripod and I’m throughly enjoying it. I’ll probably have a review of it in a few weeks. Really good stuff!” We’ll keep an eye out for this review. Thanks so much, Leander! Great tips!