If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and want to see shooting stars, the best time of the year to stargaze is during the Perseid Meteor Shower. If you can make it to someplace dark, it’s all but guaranteed that you will see not one, but many shooting stars per hour. Although your stargazing depends on the weather cooperating, there is still a lot of other prep to consider when trying to see -and photograph- the Perseid Meteor Shower. Here’s how I captured the following photos.
online research and prep
There are several online references I use to help prep for star photography. The most obvious and easiest to check is the weather. In short, if it’s cloudy, there’s no hope to capture photos of the stars. Always check the forecast to see if there’s a chance of clear skies.
The second website I check is www.darksitefinder.com to look at light pollution maps. In order to see the night’s sky in all its glory, you must go to a place with minimal light pollution. The darker the location is, the more stars you’ll see and the more stars you can photograph. On top of that, if you get to a place that’s dark enough, you can also photograph the Milky Way and potentially the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights.)
Light pollution maps help in general location scouting but you still need to find an exact place where you can spend the night taking photographs. I’ve found this more difficult than expected; most national and state parks close around dusk and most camping grounds lack a photogenic vantage point. I error on the side of caution when it comes to private property and try to stick to public lands. For these photos, I found a rare National Park that stays open 24 hours: the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb.
Another factor to consider is the phase of the moon. Similar to city lights, a bright moon can create light pollution that makes stars and meteors difficult to see. I have www.moonconnection.com bookmarked so I can check the phases of the moon for any upcoming date. This year was optimal for viewing the Perseids as it was a new moon and the sky was perfectly dark. This doesn’t happen often so I recommend taking advantage when it does.
One other website I’ve found useful is for checking whether the Aurora Borealis will be visible. Go to http://www.spaceweatherlive.com/en/auroral-activity/aurora-forecast to see what is predicted in your area.
At a minimum, the only gear that is 100% essential to photographing stars and/or meteors is a camera and a tripod, but beyond that, there are several other items you can bring that will really help your effort. Wide-angle lens:
This should arguably be under the “essentials” list, but if you don’t have a wide and fast lens, you can still take star photos. Intervalometer:
I can’t recommend this enough. It prevents you from creating any camera shake and also enables you to take exposures over 30 seconds and timelapses which can highly increase your chances of capturing a shooting star. Flash light:
This is helpful in general when walking around in the dark but can also enable you to light paint your foreground. Some people prefer a headlamp, which can be really nice if you’re trying to work with two hands. Star map app:
I have an iphone and love SkyView Free. There must be better and more accurate apps available but I’m cheap and don’t want to pay $0.99 for another app. This app, or any like it, will help you get oriented with the night’s sky and know which direction to look to find Perseid’s or the Milky Way. Everything x2:
I don’t necessarily recommend this in general astrophotography, but capturing shooting stars is difficult and requires luck. Setting up two cameras can double your chances at getting a good photo of a meteor burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. To put this into context, on the night I took these photos, I used two cameras taking photos every 30 seconds and only managed to capture three good shots. THREE! It may have only been one or even none if I hadn’t set up two cameras.