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Shooting Tips

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015 | Everything You Need to Know to Photograph It

By Matthew Saville on August 10th 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015

The Perseid Meteor Shower is here again, and this year, its peak will coincide with the blackest sky possible: a new moon! If you can find an area with clear weather, even just a few minutes outside city limits, you may see some exciting meteors.

The Perseids tend to peak late at night (early AM) on August 11th, 12th, and 13th. In a night sky without any light pollution, you might see as many as 100 “shooting stars” per hour, with dramatic “fireballs” here and there.

perseid-meteor-shower-photograph-how-to-650Perseid Meteor Shower, 2013 | Canon 60D, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, Oben Tripod

So, grab your tripod and a remote trigger or intervalometer device, and watch this crash-course in how to best capture meteors!

How To Set Your Camera For Capturing a Meteor Shower 

By the way, what happened to my timelapse?  Well, clouds rolled in 10 minutes after I recorded this video. Go figure. Better luck tonight!

Critical Tips For Capturing Night Skies

1. Remember to set the interval of your camera’s timer to be slightly greater than the exposure time. A 30-second exposure usually requires intervals of 32-33 seconds. Alternately, if you have a Canon camera or a camera with an “unlimited shutter,” simply set your camera to 30 sec exposures, and then “jam” the shutter using a simple wired / wireless remote. Or even taping / rubber-banding a folded-up piece of paper onto your shutter, if you’re in a pinch.

2. Be sure to set your camera’s drive mode to continuous, and remember to turn off image playback, autofocus and stabilization features.

3. Turn down your camera LCD’s brightness as low as possible; it will help your night vision, and it will also help you avoid being fooled into underexposing your images.

4. Always check your histogram to confirm your exposure, when shooting in near or total darkness!

5. Remember that the infinity focus marking on your lens doesn’t always guarantee perfect star focus. Depending on your lens, and also depending on the ambient temperature, you may find that focus for stars is just to the left or right of infinity. On some lenses, a single millimeter on the focus ring can be the difference between sharp and soft stars!

6. Triple-check your focus, battery life, and memory card space before you click “go” and let the camera start running!

Unfortunately, there are a lot of satellites and airplanes in the night sky as well.
Click here to watch a video about how to tell the difference!

Best Camera Gear and Settings for Meteor Shower and Astro-Landscape Photography

First and foremost, don’t feel overwhelmed if your camera is just a beginner model, and not an expensive full-frame system. Even a basic kit DSLR and zoom lens can do the trick! What is far more important is having a solid tripod, and some sort of interval timer device. Combine these tools with the right settings, and you’ll be very impressed with the results!

  1. Any recent or current digital camera body will do!
  2. A wide, fast lens, preferably f/1.4 or f/2.8, but f/3.5 will do in a pinch. Get at least 18mm for a crop-sensor, or at least 28mm for a full-frame sensor.
  3. A solid tripod. If your tripod is very lightweight, or very unstable, try weighing it down with something, or setting the legs at their lowest setting. Sometimes I even lay the legs flat and put rocks on top of the legs!
  4. A remote trigger. One that can do interval timing is preferred, but any trigger will do. Most Nikon cameras actually have a built-in intervalometer!
  5. Start at about 30 seconds, f/1.4 or f/2.8, and ISO 1600, 3200, or 6400. If you’re in a suburban area with lots of ambient light, you might need to darken your exposure a bit, maybe even go down to 15-second exposures. Or if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you might find yourself at the brightest of these settings, and maybe even use a 60-second exposure.

Before

After
Click here for a tutorial on how to create a star trail from your 30 second exposures!

Additional Tips for Good Nightscape and Astro-Landscape Photography

Once you start your timelapse, stick around and listen for a couple of “clicks” to ensure that your camera keeps firing and isn’t skipping any shots

If you don’t have a battery grip or external power source, to get the longest possible recording time, remember to use a half-dead battery for all your test shots, and then switch out to a fresh, full battery right before you start your timelapse. (Be sure to double-check that it’s at 100% first!)

Don’t forget to check the batteries in your intervalometer, and carry a spare set of AAA batteries or whichever button-type battery your remote trigger needs.

Also, be sure to turn off image review/playback so that your camera LCD doesn’t come on for a second or two in between each frame.

If you’re out shooting with a handful of friends and you’re considering setting up a camera within the composition of another person’s camera, be sure to cover up any blinking lights on the back of your camera with a bit of tape, even if the camera is hidden from view.

Having trouble figuring out what to do with all these photos later, after you’ve captured them? We have lots of tutorials on blending night images together on our Youtube channel!

[Rewind: Get Ready for the 2014 Lyrid Meteor Shower!]

Oh, and as I learned the hard way, don’t forget to check the weather!

Take care, and good luck out there! If you have any additional questions or tips of your own, please comment below! I’ll look forward to seeing what folks capture in various parts of the world!

=Matt=

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Kellen Stadler

    Hey, awesome article! This has really helped me to learn more about astrophotography. I have a Nikon D3300 and Id like your opinion on the best lens for me to use without breaking the bank. Please let me know, thanks!

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  2. Matt Molloy

    Great article! I’m starting to think that 30 second exposures are too long for meteors, because it leaves too much time for the static or slow moving elements like stars to be exposed, washing out the meteors, which only last a second or so. I haven’t fully tested the theory yet, but the first test seems to agree. So, I think its better to do 10-15 second exposures and turn the iso up to compensate.
    Here’s one I did a few days ago with 30 second exposures. https://500px.com/photo/118388617/perseid-meteor-shower-2015-by-matt-molloy

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Matt,

      It really depends on how bright the ambient light is. Even a night sky can vary in brightness, depending on the level of light pollution around. However if you can truly escape the light pollution, I find that 30 sec is a great shutter speed for meteor showers.

      If you’re in the city, or anywhere suburban, and you have to choose between 30 sec at f/2 and 15 sec at f/1.4, then yes i’d go with 15 sec because f/1.4 would allow the meteors to be brighter while the rest of the stars would be the same exposure. Your example about ISO is similar and also valid. However in nearly pitch black conditions, you might be needing to turn your ISO up AND use 30 sec, AND f/1.4! Some moonless nights in the wilderness are just *that* dark…

      Hope this info helps!

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    • Kellen Stadler

      Hey, could you tell me your settings you used for that photo, as well as the lens and camera? that would be awesome! thanks

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  3. Danny Caro

    I’ll be using some of these tips tonight to attempt to photograph The Perseids meteor shower, from Fort Myers, FL.

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    • Dave Lyons

      I’m in tampa and was just looking to see where in sky it is and we are on wrong coast for this. I’m thinking my only real hope is that i might get a few with downtown tampa as foreground as the ones I saw last night were all really low on horizon.

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  4. Dustin Baugh

    I use the charts from the site cleardarksky.com to help predict how good the star seeing will be. It’s great because it aggregates info from multiple sources to give you a rough prediction on how good the stars will be the night you’re out.

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  5. Daphne van Tulden

    Why does it have to be cloudy over here?! :( Really want to try this out!

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  6. Graham Curran

    Turning down your viewfinder brightness will also save battery life if you are going to be imaging all night.

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  7. Dave Lyons

    Matthew… did you end up dumping your nikon gear for the pentax?

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    • Matthew Saville

      I’m still shooting Nikon full-frame, since Pentax’ full-frame camera has yet to arrive, but I have indeed sold off 100% of my Nikon DX gear, and am building a K-3 mk2 kit.

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    • Dave Lyons

      after shooting full frame the last 8 months i just don’t see much point in dx anymore, i kept a d3300 which i’ve used but just sold it and picked up a used d7000 for less than I sold d3300 for just to have. I figured the extra reach would be nice but the better AF and iso leave me not caring about that lil extra reach anymore.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Unfortunately there are too many apples and oranges floating around the FX vs DX arena. Some of the latest DX sensors themselves are phenomenal, in fact the D7200 beat the D750 for dynamic range on DXO, albeit by a miniscule margin.

      The point is, unless you’re truly obsessed with precise measurements of quality or quantity, a solid DX camera is more than 75-90% of photographers will really ever need. Contrary to what the internet will have you believe, ultra-thin DOF isn’t absolutely mission-critical in most work. Nor is incredible high ISO performance, or that last fraction of a stop of dynamic range.

      The real problem is that most crop-sensor bodies themselves are kind of underwhelming, with the exception of bodies like the Canon 7D mk2 and the Pentax K-3 mk2. Those are truly professional bodies with killer feature sets. All they need is a sensor with the dynamic range of the Nikon D7200, and/or the high ISO performance of a Fuji 1.5x crop sensor. Only then would I consider an FX vs DX comparison to be apples-to-apples.

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    • Dave Lyons

      It’s like everything, it depends on what you’re shooting and/or if you know what you’re missing from the other. For example I “thought” my d7000 was pretty good for birds in flight as i’d get some decent ones but over all it’s about a 50/50 chance of nailing it… then I got the d700, set it up the same (af) with back button af, etc… and 50/50 jumped to over 99%. I’ve literally shot over 1000 pics a few times during late afternoon and might get 7-10 misses out of a 1000, absolutely blows my mind every time I shoot birds and i’m assuming the newer fx models have even better af.

      Another would be… like yesterday I was out shooting bee’s and started with d7000 with a tokina 100mm 2.8 macro (talk about a kick*ss lens!) and a diy speedlight/macro light setup. It was very sunny but a wind kept coming up so needed faster shutter speeds especially since shooting macro at f22. As clouds came in and I had boosted ISO to 400 without thinking went to car and grabbed d700 since it gives me less noise at 1600 than dx at 400 and the noise you get is much more manageable. I could take the shots on 1600 on d7000 but why?? the noise would take away all the macro crispness.

      I’d love a d7200 but then again you can get a new d610 for close to same price. I guess I haven’t seen anything on how the d7200’s af is now which if it’s way better than the d610 then that might edge me over. My only regret with fx is that I didn’t do it sooner and it makes me understand why nikon is trying to get people over to fx and i’m definitely hooked on the d700/d8*0 body style so I guess that’ll edge me to next d8*0 over d750.

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    • Matthew Saville

      “it makes me understand why Nikon is trying to get people over to FX”

      In a sense, yes, but in many cases Nikon could simply deliver a better more well-rounded DX body. As I said, if you look around at all the 1.5x crop bodies on the market, there is perfection in one category or another, but none of it has come together to make the ultimate camera. Fuji’s latest 16 MP 1.5x sensor has high ISO performance that shockingly matches that of most all full-frame bodies. Nikon’s D7200 has jaw-dropping dynamic range. Sony’s A6000, and Canon’s 7D mk2, have killer AF for sports tracking.

      At this point my assessment of consumerism leads me to believe that camera makers have less and less reason to deliver the perfect, ultimate camera. Technology is moving so fast, they might as well push the latest hottest thing, and kick the “well-rounded” cameras down the road another generation. Or two. The D700 just happened to be by far the most well-rounded camera of its generation, and now the D750 is another incredibly well-rounded camera. Meanwhile we have no D400, and the DX cameras that are quite decent in general haven’t received the recognition they deserve because of one problem or another, plus the general brainwashing that full-frame is the only way to go for 99% of the photographer population.

      Dave, it sounds like you’re one of the folks who really does push the envelope. I know those exact types of working conditions where you just cannot afford any camera related frustration, and when that becomes the case, I would never suggest compromising. However, let’s be honest, most people are casual shooters. All they really “need” is a Fuji X-T1, or a Sony A6000, or a Canon 7D mk2, or a Nikon D7200. Heck, often times that’s all I need too. But when it comes time to aggressively push our cameras, then yeah, turn to the winning option.

      I guess my point in all of this is, in relation to photographing a meteor shower: A fancy high ISO full-frame camera is nice, but absolutely not necessary. It is far more important to have a solid tripod and a fast lens, plus a working knowledge of night exposure techniques. Those things, combined with any ‘ol camera at ISO 800 or 1600, will produce very inspiring results.

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    • Dave Lyons

      I don’t know if I push the envelope (obviously since I chose a d700 over d610) but i will milk a camera for everything it’s got but I definitely see the differences. That being said i’m perfectly fine using my d7000.. love that camera… my first one and I went over 200k actuations together lol but I do know when i’m going to push it to far. I wish I had the d700 the last few years when I was getting all my hummingbird shots…

      But yes you’re right most people don’t care, hell most people go buy a canon rebel and think they are getting current tech!! they have no idea. Speaking of canon they seem to be taking a different route, instead of pushing the tech envelope they seem content with image IQ & DR from yester-year and now seem more like selling you different cameras for different things… I dunno what they’re doing and really don’t care at this point lol

      that’s beaten to death so…

      Anyways.. on the subject. Have you ever used the in camera multiple exposure setting to cut down the noise? Meaning say setting it for 9 shots and at the end it pops out one shot averaged… Just curious if that’d work on noise, if i go shoot meteors I might try it.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I’m experimenting with those types of in-camera multiple exposure techniques, but so far I’ve found that everything is still better off in post. Except in-camera long-exposure noise reduction, I do like that. If my camera can last long enough, that is. It tends to give up if I do anything longer than a 29 minute exposure haha…

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    • Dave Lyons

      I don’t use the in camera nr… my d700 eats batteries alive doing long exposures as it is, seems like i can’t even get 100 shots out of a battery (so i take 4 batteries )

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yeah D700 batteries die real quick, only 1500 MaH powering a full-frame sensor is not much apparently. But I used to get about 1000 clicks back in the day when I was shooting weddings on a D700. I dunno what happened. Even counting the extra juice that is required to do 30 second exposures. Have you got any fresh, brand new EN-EL3 batteries to compare against? Or are all the batteries you have getting kinda old? Some of my EN-EL3’s are getting to be seven or eight years old by now… Time to buy fresh ones I guess…

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  8. Alexander Europa

    I’ve never done Astrophotography, this gives me a reason to try it out. Thanks for the info!

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  9. Brandon Dewey

    great video!

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