Another meteor shower is here, ladies and gentlemen! The Lyrid Meteor Shower is one of the “regular”, semi-predictable meteor showers that the planet earth experiences each year. The Lyrid meteor shower usually takes place between April 16th and April 25th, with a short, un-predictable peak that occurs some time on either the 22nd or 23rd.
The Lyrids are not as perfectly predictable as some other meteor showers, unfortunately, and different astronomical calendars / sources list different times that vary by many hours spanning two different nights / days. For example, here on the West Coast of the United States, different sources quote 9 PM on Monday, April 21st as being the peak, or 10 AM April 22nd, or 11 AM on April 23rd. Of course, as you might imagine, viewing meteors when the sun is up is simply not going to happen, unless they are as large as the Chelyabinsk meteorite, which was a phenomenon completely un-associated with any regular meteor shower. Predictions aside, though, if you’d like to get a good chance of witnessing (and photographing) the Lyrid meteor shower, your best bets are going to be this coming late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, here on the West Coast. Or, you can use a website like www.worldtimeserver.com to convert these times to your own local time zone. Also, this year may be a little difficult to view due to the brightness of the moon during the potential peak times. Still, considering that cloudy weather and light pollution are the #1 and #2 causes of “missing” a meteor shower, I’d say that if you can go somewhere with a remote, clear sky, you might want to check it out regardless of the moon’s effect on this astronomical event! A good meteor shower will usually display meteors in the entire night sky, however the meteors will radiate from a specific point. To find the Lyrid meteor shower’s “source” in our night sky, simply observe near the Lyrid and Hercules constellations. For those of you (like myself) who don’t have every constellation memorized, that would be (approximately) in the northeastern sky. For more information about the Lyrid Meteor Shower, click check out this article on www.universetoday.com.
More 2014 Meteor Showers
There are also plenty more meteor showers and other celestial events coming up this year, including another regular meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids on May 5th-6th, and a potentially epic new meteor shower (meteor “storm”, some say!) on May 25th, as well as one of our favorites, the Perseids on August 12th and 13th. For a full list of celestial events, check out this page here on www.seasky.org.
How To Photograph A Meteor Shower
There is a plethora of different aspects that go into capturing a meteor / meteorite in a still photograph. Mainly though, your primary tactic is going to be using a sturdy tripod and very, very long shutter speeds. If you’re an expert with manual exposure, you should have no problem figuring things out if you just follow your histogram. (Note, however, that usually your camera’s built-in meter will be borderline useless when photographing the night sky!)
Click to read the full article “How To Photograph A Meteor Shower“
In addition to using a rock-steady tripod and very long shutter speeds, you’re going to also want one more thing: A fast, wide-angle lens. You can certainly get the job done with an f/3.5-4.5 zoom kit lens (the one that came with your camera), however, this will force you to use very, very long shutter speeds and very high ISO’s. Usually, if you can acquire (rent?) an f/2.8 wide angle lens, or an f/2.0 or f/1.4 wide angle prime, then your job will be a lot easier.
The Best Lenses For Meteor Shower Photos
There are so many lenses on the market these days that are well-suited for night photography, thankfully, and here are just a few. First, probably the most common lens is an f/2.8 mid-range zoom. This is a lens that many serious photographers are likely to have, even if they‘ve never considered astro-landscape photography before. If you have a 24-70mm f/2.8 on your full-frame camera, or a 17-50mm f/2.8 on your crop-sensor camera, then slap it on, zoom all the way out, and shoot wide open at f/2.8. Focusing is a little tricky in these conditions, but we cover this in some of our other tutorials on night photography. If you’re a serious landscape photographer, you may also own an ultra-wide lens such as a 16-35mm f/2.8 or similar. This would also be a great choice, however we have actually found that if you zoom out too far, such as to 14mm or 16mm, most meteors will become rather small in the sky, and therefore less exciting. So you’re better off trying to find a good composition in the 20-28mm range using your full-frame camera, or 14-18mm on a crop sensor. For an example, check out our specific lens recommendations below!
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 EX ART Review
If you’re on a crop sensor, there is no better wide-angle zoom lens than this one for astro-landscape photography and timelapse. Since its focal range doesn’t even overlap with my other favorite astro-landscape zoom lens, the ultra-wide Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, I consider them both to be equally valuable tools for such types of photography. If you’re using a crop sensor, that is. Check out our video review of the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 below, or click here to read the full review. Now before you dismiss crop-sensor camera systems for such purposes as photographing a meteor shower, keep in mind one thing: unlike ordinary low-light photography where the need to hand-hold is a huge factor, astro-landscape photography is 100% tripod work, and 99% of the time allows for shutter speeds of 30-60 seconds or more. Because of these differences in the shooting techniques, most of the current generation crop-sensor cameras are actually much more well-suited than you might think. For example the Canon 7D is one of the most efficient power consumers in the Canon lineup, and can last far longer on a single battery for night photography than the likes of either the 5D-series, or the Canon 6D. (Then again, many night photographers prefer to use battery grips or external power sources.)
Rokinon 16mm f/2 Review
A similarly fantastic wide-angle fast-aperture lens for crop sensors, our review of the Rokinon 16mm f/2 can be found HERE. In short, what it lacks in build quality compared to the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 ART, it makes up for by being equally razor-sharp wide open, and a few mm wider which can sometimes make all the difference in composing the right astro-landscape image. Check out this video clip below to see a sample of the quality of timelapse footage created by the Rokinon 16mm f/2!
Full-Frame 24mm F/1.4’s
There are quite a few of these on the market today, and, generally speaking, if you use a full-frame camera body, then you’re going to want one of these lenses to pursue astro-landscape photography. They offer a whole two stops of light beyond an “ordinary” f/2.8 zoom, which can really make a difference if you are shooting on a night when the moon is not shining on your landscape. Our favorite is the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, (The Bower & Samyang versions should be the same) however if you require autofocus for another type of work that you do, the Canon and Nikon 24mm f/1.4‘s are decent performers as well. The Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 definitely has superb sharpness wide open at f/1.4 and especially at f/2, however, and we find that its corners are even better suited for astro-landscapes than the Canon or Nikon versions. Full-Frame Ultra-Wide F/2.8 Lenses
Full-Frame Ultra-Wide F/2.8 Lenses
Once again, there are just too many to list them one by one. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is so popular that even some Canon shooters will use it with an adapter, however the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L is no slouch either. Personally, my favorite is the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, as well as the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8.
What Exposure Is Best For Meteor Showers?
Here’s a quick question I got on Facebook about exposure for such situations as meteor showers. The premise being, what if we’re using an f/4 lens, instead of f/1.4 or f/2.8 or whatever? First, a few videos that we might not have already linked to yet:
https://www.slrlounge.com/how-i-shot-it-15-minute-self-portrait-under-the-stars https://www.slrlounge.com/shot-havasupai-falls-night-star-trails https://www.slrlounge.com/joshua-tree-star-trail-photo-shot-how-we-shot-it
Simply put, if you’re using an f/4 lens then you just need to expose for twice as long as you would with an f/2.8 lens. I know that sounds like a “for dummies” answer, but that’s really all it comes down to. However, you might need a cable release that allows you to program longer shutter speeds, such as for 60 sec. or 2 min… Other than that, you should be good to go at ISO 3200 and 30 sec, 60 sec, 15 sec, …who knows!
Like I said earlier, it really all depends on the brightness of the moon. At f/4 and ISO 6400, for example, under a full moon you might need just 4 sec. exposures! (Based on my experience, as sort of a “sunny sixteen” rule for moonlight lol) …Oppositely, if there is zero moon in the sky and little or zero light pollution, at f/4 and ISO 6400 you’ll be making 4 minute or 8 minute exposures. That’s a total of six or seven stops of possible exposures, right?
By the way, despite how easy it is to use an f/4 lens for this, the one wild card reason that I recommend a fast lens for a meteor shower can be found in the video above titled “How To Photograph A Meteor Shower”.
Basically, a meteor is a very fast “flash” in the sky, and as such its brightness in your picture is entirely affected by your ISO and aperture, not your shutter speed. So let’s say you can make a perfect exposure at 15 sec. at f/1.4 and ISO 3200, or a perfect exposure at 2 mins, f/4, and ISO 3200. Both exposures would be equally bright, however a meteor in the f/4 exposure would still be three stops darker, which unfortunately means that in a meteor shower situation, many of the dim meteors simply won’t show up in your images.
Either way, good luck! There are lots of meteor showers each years, and a new, potentially epic one this coming May 25th, so all you gotta do is get out there and practice!
Astro-Landscape Inspiration: Mauna Kea Heavens
Just to get you a little more excited about going out and photographing the stars, (and hopefully catch some meteors too!) here is one of our favorite astro-landscape videos, Mauna Kea Heavens. If you look very closely at the 1:46 mark, you can see a huge “fireball meteor” that leaves a dust cloud lingering in our atmosphere! Video by Sean Goebel, www.sgphotos.com