The annual Perseids meteor shower shows up every year in August when the Earth ventures through trails of dust and debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet. This Year’s shower is in exceptional form thanks to the Jupiter’s gravity pushing comet debris towards Earth more than usual. In perfect conditions of a clear sky away from urban light pollution, viewers can expect to see up to 200 meteors per hour. However, capturing the celestial spectacle is no easy task and requires a bit of planning and some luck. Here are my thoughts on capturing the spectacle.
My choice of equipment is simple. The night sky is wide but the meteor is unpredictable. Hence, the ideal lens to use would be the widest lens I have. I used my smartphone compass to determine the direction I am pointing my camera at. The rest of the equipment helps to stabilise the camera as much as possible. It is also good to wear warm clothes while shooting in the cold night.
Canon 16-35mm F2.8 lens
Canon 5D Mk III
- Recce for location beforehand is important. I found a knoll near the University of East Anglia to be a much better location compared to Mousehold Heath. For a few nights I came over to see how the condition was like, testing exposures and observing the night sky; how the clouds move and look out for light trails of planes.
- Recognize key constellations on the internet. Perseids meteors are so-called because they appear near the Perseus constellation. While I’m not an expert in reading constellations maps but learning to recognise simple constellations such as the Big Dipper or the Orion helps to establish the directions I should not be pointing my camera at.
- Read weather forecasts before heading out. Some nights would be cloudy the whole night while some nights cloudy only for a certain time. Having moonlight could be detrimental to capturing meteors. It does pay to be patient most of the time, and reading weather forecast, particularly the direction of the clouds has helped me to determine when to wait for the clouds to pass, or not to waste time and return back home.
- Doing Risk Assessment is helpful for me since it was dark in the night and there are certain details I have to consider before heading out.
On location shoot
- Get setup as soon as possible after arriving. It takes a while for our eyes to get used to the dark night sky. Having experimented the right exposure settings beforehand helps me to set up my camera fairly quickly. The more time the shutter is open, the more chances of capturing the meteor shower.
- Meteors appear unpredictably and last less than a fraction of a second. I only realised this after my failure on my first session of capturing the meteor shower. The second session I did Timelapse photography. I used my cable release to set the shoot timing at every 15-second interval.
- Think about composition, not where the meteors might appear. This is also a common mistake I tend to commit during the shoot. Some of the most frustrating things I realised about capturing meteors is that they seem to appear where the camera is not pointing. However, if the composition is right, all there is to have are patience and luck, hoping that the meteor would appear where the camera is pointing at.
I have also Considered morning sunrise. Meteor showers may last through all the night till the blue hour, just before sunrise. So while at it and if not tired, might as well stay on for a sunrise?