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

Photographing Meteor Showers  

From Planning to Post Processing

third post in the mini series

Camera Settings and Composition

20 seconds, 18mm @ f3.5  ISO 1600
The one setting that will be 90% consistent when you are photographing meteor showers, or any type of astrophotography for that matter, is the aperture that you use.  You will want it to be "Wide open" or as close to wide open as you can while still getting good quality out of your lens.  Some lenses are better than others so I won't delve into saying use f4 or f2.8 or f5.6.  This setting will vary from lens to lens.  I can tell you that the faster or wider you can keep it, the better.

As for the other settings, they will vary from shot to shot.  Settings will also vary depending on the subject that you are shooting, the darkness of the surrounding sky, and the focal length of the lens.

One thing that I'll mention to you is to always take a few practice / test shots.  It's not like you're wasting film!!!   In fact, not taking and examining practice shots will quickly lead to very wasteful nights.   

It is at this time that I'll share what some might call a "Proprietary Secret".  I really don't have much information that I won't share.  I often feel that photographers that will not share have forgotten where they came from as most of us have learned from others or the internet, but alas, this is a subject to be discussed another time.  The trick (or perhaps better called "Thing") that I do at this point is photograph my scene, without worrying about capturing any meteors.  You can worry about the meteors once the scene is composed and captured.  When photographing the main scene, you can even use a different ISO if needed.  You may want to shoot the scene at a lower ISO to reduce noise and a higher ISO for the actual meteor shots to capture more meteors. 

Once you have done that you can adjust your camera settings to allow for the maximum exposure without getting "eggs" for stars.  This can be accomplished by following the "600" rule (which is explained in another post).  

Now that your camera settings are set for shooting stars you can begin capturing shots that you can use for your composition.  Meteors unfortunately are not totally predictable.  You have no way of pressing the shutter at the "exact" moment that you need to, so I use an intervalometer to capture several photographs in a row.  My camera has one that is built into it.  If you don't have this very handy option on your camera you can purchase one relatively cheap.  This will allow you to press the button once and walk away, or sit back and enjoy the show. 

During the course of shooting you will find that the stars appear to be moving, this is due to the rotation of the earth..... fear not........ just move your camera as the stars move.  You'll find it easier to keep the meteor "Radiant" in the center (or relatively close).  When  using an 18mm lens, I may move the camera 2 or 3 times during my shoot.  During the blending of the images we will be placing them in the correct orientation for the final image.
You'll want to make sure that you're using a good sturdy tripod for these long exposures.

Obtaining Proper Focus 

Proper focus is imperative to having a quality final image.  Focus can be achieved a couple of different ways.  If you have live view you can zoom in (live view zoom not lens zoom) on a star and focus on that point.  Or, you can focus on something very far away during the daytime and leave the focus there.  Always use manual focus auto focus will not work.

Once infinity is obtained through focusing, use a piece of tape to keep you from accidentally moving the focus ring.  Also, do not forget to take your camera out of auto focus.

Other things to consider

You will be out late at night (or early in the morning) so take the precautions, make sure people know where you are going to be.  Dress warmly, pre-scout the location for potential hazards you may encounter in the dark.  There are many things that can go wrong.  Use your own judgement and experience to keep yourself safe.  Perhaps even take a friend or spouse out with you to enjoy the evening together, you could always have some snacks and hot chocolate under the stars while your camera does all the work.

The darker the sky, the better,  just like other types of astrophotography, the darker the skies, the more stars, and meteors that will show up in the image.  Don't fret if you live in an area where dark skies are few and far between, you should be able to capture a few meteor images during a shoot.  Just remember to take a few test shots so that you don't overexpose the sky.

The next post in the series is where we will start getting into creating the composite image.


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