Photographing the beautiful Perseid meteor shower is made easy

Photographing the beautiful Perseid meteor shower is made easy

The Perseid meteor shower is often the most spectacular meteor shower in the Northern Hemisphere due to its frequency and appearance in the summer. That’s how you photograph it!

On average, there are about 100 visible meteors per hour on average. Of course, how many are visible depends on your weather and lighting conditions.

Find dark clear skies

Find the darkest skies you can away from light pollution, preferably with wide open spaces to view the night sky. Of course you also want to find a place with as little cloud cover as possible. They usually peak in early August. However, on other nights around the summit, you can see many meteors. The most important thing is that you have a dark, clear sky, preferably when the moon is not shining. You can find out when the moon is shining and other shooting information by using some of these apps.

The southern portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California

When should you go?

Although the moon sets soon after it gets dark, the most visible meteors should still be between midnight and sunrise. On August 12 and 13, when the meteor shower is likely to peak, the moon will be dim and set quickly. However, the Perseids should be visible from July 17 through August 24, 2023.

What do you need to photograph the Perseid meteors?

There are a few gear that make life great when photographing the meteor shower:

  1. A camera with manual mode. This includes just about any DSLR or mirrorless camera. A wide-angle lens captures more of the night sky, giving you a better chance of capturing the streaking meteors.
  2. A tripod to keep your camera steady.
  3. Other useful equipment may include: a shutter release cable.
  4. Gaffer’s tape (I like orange colored tape so I can see it at night)
  5. Headlight (try to use these as little as possible to preserve your night vision; use a red headlamp if possible)
  6. Lawn chairespecially one that reclines so you can watch the glorious light show of the universe.
  7. Favorite drink
  8. snacks
  9. Friends

Where are you aiming the camera?

I could be snarky and say “the sky,” but no, you want more information than that! The Perseids meteor shower is named after the constellation Perseus because that is the location in the sky where the meteors appear to originate. This is also called the radiant point. Perseus will appear more or less to the north and drift northeast if you’re in the northern hemisphere, where it’s most visible.

However, I should mention that the meteors will be visible in many places in the night sky. You are not limited to pointing your camera to the north or northeast. Also consider the composition. Maybe there’s an interesting foreground nearby that makes your shot more interesting, or point it to the south or southeast so you can capture the Milky Way as well.

meteor, shower, night, tips
Near the border of Mexico in California

Take many consecutive shots

You can’t wait for a meteor to blast across the sky and then try to trigger your camera. It would already be too late!

The secret is to keep your camera clicking continuously, then sit back and enjoy the meteor shower.

The other secret? Disable Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) on your camera. Why? Because it pauses for the duration of the exposure to apply noise reduction, and we don’t really want that here. We want the camera to shoot continuously.

We’ll discuss two ways your camera can take continuous shots.

1. Wired remote shutter release

Use a cheap one remote shutter release. You can get one that connects to your camera via a cable. Once you have this, set your camera to Continuous Burst mode. This is the same mode that lets you shoot bursts at lightning speed, like sports photographers do. We night photographers can also use this, but in slow motion.

Just set your camera to your ideal settings, such as an exposure time of 20-30 seconds, f/2.8 and ISO of 1600-6400, depending on how bright the scene is (or how wide your aperture is). Lock your remote shutter release. This should keep your camera clicking merrily, snapping one shot after another. Many cameras have a limit of 100 consecutive photos, so keep that in mind and set a timer if necessary. Then just restart it.

2. Interval meter

Your camera may already have a built-in intervalometer. Or you buy one external intervalometer and attach it to your camera. There are countless options including Bluetooth camera controllers. You can set the exposure time, the time between each shot (which should be as short as possible, usually one second), and how many separate shots you want to shoot. If you want to learn more about setting up your intervalometer, read this handy article that walks you through it!

meteor, shower, night, tips
A very special photo of Manzanar, California

Camera settings

Set your lens to infinity. If you’re not sure how to focus on infinity and the stars in the sky, this article on how to find infinity might help! Assuming you’re using a wide-angle lens and the moon isn’t shining, try a shutter speed of around 20-30 seconds. Choose a wide aperture, something like f/2.4 or f/2.8. And then adjust the ISO to something relatively high, like ISO 1600 or 3200, whatever works for decent lighting and lots of stars.

Take a test shot. Can you see the night sky, the stars and everything else? Is everything reasonably well lit? If that doesn’t work, adjust something in your exposure triangle, such as shutter speed or ISO.

However, remember this. If you adjust it for much longer than 30 seconds on an ultra-wide angle lens, the stars will appear elongated instead of pointy. And if you adjust the ISO really high, it gets noisier and has less dynamic range.

Keep people away from your tripod. Do not shine lights around the area. Relax and watch the celestial show.

meteor, shower, night, tips
Vasquez Rocks, California

What am I supposed to do with all these photos?

You may have hundreds of photos of the night sky. Hopefully some have meteors! If so, congratulations! Choose them and show them to your friends and family.

But there is another bonus. Whether you have meteors or not, you also get to take all these sequential shots and create an image of long star trails with or without shooting stars! If you’re interested in this, read more about shooting the time-lapses in the field and creating a time-lapse video in less than three minutes.

Will you be heading out to photograph the meteor shower this month? Don’t forget to submit your favorite images to the Photofocus Community!