How To Photograph Meteors

How To Photograph Meteor Showers

By Chris Attrell

This article explains how to photograph meteor showers. Each of the recommended settings below is a starting point from which you experiment with based on moon phase, quality of equipment and light pollution.

Basic Camera Settings (with a kit lens)

  • ISO: 1,600
  • Exposure Time: 30 Seconds
  • Aperture f/3.5

Camera Basic Settings With A Wide Angle Lens

  • ISO: 1600
  • Exposure Time: 15 Seconds Exposure
  • Aperture f2.8

Recommended Equipment

  • Any digital camera that allows M (manual) or Bulb shooting.
  • Tripod. I find it is easiest to use a ball-head tripod for night photography.
  • A wide angle lens with at least f/2.8 aperture, f1.4 will capture more. 
  • A flashlight so you can see what you are doing.

Focusing

It is vital to get your focus perfect! If you know how to put your lens on infinity, do that. Try setting up your focus during the day, and tape your lens in place. Or if all else fails, manually focus on moon, star or distant light with live view on your camera. Do not neglect this part, a great meteor out of focus is still a bad photo, where as an over exposed shot can be fixed in post processing. 

Location

Not all meteor showers are the same nor have a consistent area of the sky they are most common. However, each time a meteor shower is forthcoming, websites such as this one will offer tips on where to look. However, North to Northeast seems to be the most common and safest direction to point. To make a neat photograph, try scouting a location during the day that has an interesting light pollution free foreground.

More Tips:

  • Remove filters from your lens.
  • Try using a release cable instead of using shutter button.
  • The lower the ISO the better to reduce noise. If you can shoot between 800-1600 that is better, or 400 if you have a really good lens.
  • Shoot in .RAW so you can make more adjustments in Lightroom or other image editing software later.
  • The consensus is the best meteors are in the last few hours of night, so getting up early might be better than staying up late.
  • If you are shooting in RAW, bring at least an 8GB memory card. I would use a fast quality card at least 16GB however.
  • I personally prefer shooting 15 seconds or less to avoid star trials. To do this, you need a f/1.4 lens.

Advice

Don’t wait for a meteor shower to practice. Go out and try this in advance, so you have the focus and composition parts mastered. This way when the real thing comes, you will be experienced.

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