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Photographing Meteor Showers From Planning to Post Processing second post in the mini series


Photographing Meteor Showers  

From Planning to Post Processing

second post in the mini series

Before beginning I will state that moving beyond this point is done so at your own risk. 
I will not, and can not be held responsible for injury or damage to your equipment, your person, or a third party. 
You are hopefully a responsible adult and can make decisions based upon your own experience.  I never would endorse an illegal activity or one that would put someone at risk.



The focus of this post will be planning your evening shot.  We will cover the things you need to have a successful evening / morning of shooting.

In order to plan a good shot there are several things that you need to keep in mind.  Some of these are equipment related, some are related to safety, and others are related to the skies.
I feel the best way to go about transferring my knowledge to you is to actually go through the series of steps that I take before going out shooting.

What is my subject
Like all styles of photography, knowing your subject equal in importance to getting the settings right on the camera.  Knowing where and when in the night sky the meteors will radiate from is paramount.  This will naturally lead to the other steps required.

The internet is an excellent place to start your search.  There are several websites that devote a section to meteor showers.  Google+ also is a great source of finding out where and when showers will occur.
If you follow my stream on G+ or this blog I quite often will post a picture similar to the one here.

If you can't find a picture like this one showing where the meteors will radiate from, you can find out the name of the constellation to look for.

Once you know the name of the constellation, you can set up your camera accordingly.  Knowing the night sky is a definite plus but is not a 100% necessity.  Many of today's smartphones have free applications that will help you find objects in the night sky.

Stellarium  (http://www.stellarium.org/) is a great program for your home computer.  The nice thing about stellarium is that it works on several different platforms.

Once you have figured out what part of the night sky the shooting stars will be visible in you can figure out your shooting location.


Shooting Location
Picking an appropriate shooting location is also very important.  usually I know exactly where I will be placing my tripod several days prior to the actual event.  Sometimes planning can even take place several weeks or even months prior to a shoot.

There are many, many things that you have to consider when picking a shot location.  You should have a clear knowledge of the ground that you will be traveling on and shooting from.  Navigation at night poses several dangers even if you have an intimate knowledge of the location.  Uneven ground structure has been the cause of several sprains, strains or even breaks.  Wild animals, insects and other such pitfalls should also be clearly understood before heading out.
Safety from other people should also be considered.  You will be sitting in one location for several hours, often a photographer will doze, or even completely fall asleep.  Obviously this would leave you potentially vulnerable to unfortunate events.

When picking a location, you should also keep in mind the direction that the stars will travel during the night.  This is something else that Stellarium or other such programs can aid you with.  When picking a foreground interest you will want to make sure that while the night moves on you will have a clear view of the sky where the meteors will radiate from.

It is a good idea to also make sure that the location you are shooting from does not produce too much light pollution to allow for long exposures.  This can be determined by pre-scouting / pre-shooting.  It would be a shame to waste the limited opportunity to photograph a meteor shower by picking a bad location.
I find it is always a good idea to travel with a fellow photographer or at least make someone aware of your location so they will know where to look for you if something unfortunate does occur.


Weather Conditions
First and foremost clear skies are required to be successful in your venture.  Again here is where smartphones can help.  There are several apps that will help forecast the night sky.  Your local weather station, and also websites like http://cleardarksky.com can help you determine if shooting will likely be successful.

This is my local clear sky chart from the above mentioned website.  There are several charts that cover several locations.  This chart only takes a few minutes to learn to read and will greatly aid you in your adventures.  The accuracy of the clearsky charts is quite impressive in my honest opinion.


Temperatures are also important to note.  Temperature affects both you and your camera equipment.
We will start with the dangers to yourself.
Obviously or perhaps not so obvious is the dangers of cold to the human body.
Hypothermia is probably one of the biggest dangers from weather that I have faced.
Normal body temperature is about 98.6 F or 37 C.  Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature gets below 95 F or 35 C.  Once hypothermia sets in you require immediate medical attention.  Failure to do so can eventually lead to a complete failure of your heart and respiratory system, which is obviously fatal.
Remember that it is far easier to remove clothing when you are too warm than it is to keep warm when not dressed properly.
When you are choosing your attire, remember that you will be mostly stationary for several hours which requires you to dress even warmer.



Temperature and Humidity can also have negative effects on your equipment.
The biggest danger that I've encountered is having my lenses fog up.  This happens quite often when it's cold and humid.
One trick that can be used is to apply heat to the barrel of the lens.  There are several methods that you can use to apply heat to your lens, the quickest and one of the least expensive methods is to use hand warmer packets.
To use these effectively simply use an elastic to hold it on the barrel of your lens.  Use caution not to move the focus of your lens when using one of these hand warmers.

Now that we have talked about what you are shooting, where you are shooting it, and the weather conditions you need to be aware of we'll actually finish off by mentioning some other things you should keep in mind.

Another very important thing to keep in mind is the Moon Phase.  When the moon is full you will have a very difficult time photographing meteors.  You can still do it, but just like our sun is too bright to allow you to view the other stars in the sky, the reflection of that same sunlight off of the surface of the moon will illuminate the sky to such bright levels that all but the brightest meteors will be hidden from your eyes and the sensor of your camera.  It is still worth trying to get the shot, just don't be disappointed if you don't come home with dozens of meteor images.

Just remember that there is always another meteor shower on it's way if you don't get it right this time around.


The next post in the series will be on the equipment and settings that I use to capture my images.

Click here to go to an overview on shooting meteors




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