Space: the really awesome final frontier. Coming up on August 12th, be sure you don’t miss out on the Perseid meteor shower as the Earth passes through the trail left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids will be in “outburst” this year for the first time since 2009, meaning they’ll be appearing at double the normal rate. And though Earth has been passing through this starry trail since mid-July, August 12th is the peak point, meaning you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time – so you know it’s going to be a great show. If you have big plans to head out and snag some images of this event on camera, here are the tips and gear you’ll need to make it a success:
1. Get caffeinated
The best time to start viewing the meteor shower is around midnight and it only gets better as the night wears on – the wee hours before sunset will be really active. If you’re used to early nights or being in bed by 10pm, it’s probably a good idea to liberally supply yourself with coffee or take a nap (or even both) beforehand. That way, you won’t miss a thing!
2. Find the darkest spot
If you live in any major city, the abundance of light pollution will drastically decrease your risk of catching any really great photos of the meteor shower. Since you’re going to be using long exposures with wide apertures, environmental lights will inevitably take over your whole image. If you can, travel out a little bit into the country or desert where bright neon signs and streetlights won’t be as present. The darker and more remote the locale, the better your shots will be.
3. Know where to point your camera
A little Googling goes a long way. Before you head out for the night, search up the direction and path that the shower will be taking, as no two meteor showers are ever the same. When you get to your spot, observe for a few minutes without your viewfinder to get a feel for where you’ll need to be looking before you shoot.
4. Consider composition
If you’re aiming your viewfinder at just the sky, the long exposures are going to mean you get a lot of light streaks in your frame, but not much of anything else. Composing your images with things in the foreground like mountains, cacti or trees can help make more satisfying images with interesting silhouettes. If you don’t mind using space on your SD card, shooting in RAW will enable you to edit your white balance much easier later on.
5. Bring a shutter release
For long exposures, tripods are an obvious must, but shutter releases can also be great tools in capturing amazing photos. By keeping your hands off the shutter button, cable releases like the Remote Shutter Release Cable for Canon Full Frame Cameras can aid in preventing blurry images.
6. Choose the correct lens and exposure time
To make the most of the brief time the shower will be in your sight, it’s probably a good idea to keep your aperture wide open. A lens that is both wide and fast like the Sigma 20mm F1.4 will greatly increase your chances of snapping the best starry images throughout the night. Additionally, exposure time is key. Most digital cameras can do a 30-second exposure before noise starts to really be an issue, so a length around there is a great kicking off point.
7. Charge your batteries
Even if you’ve still got the green light of battery life, it really won’t hurt to juice up your batteries in full before heading out to catch the shower. Long shutter times also mean you’ll be getting fewer shots from one charge-up. If you’re especially worried you’ll run out of power, bring along an extra battery pack like the Canon LP-E6.
8. Just keep shooting
Like many things in life, meteor showers are unpredictable. Don’t be stingy with the room on your memory card, and don’t be afraid to shoot one frame after another. You never know when you could miss the perfect shot!