Thursday, December 10, 2009

Geminid Meteor Shower this weekend!

The annual Geminid Meteor Showers is happening this weekend! So get out your tripods, your warmest clothes, and go shoot them! Here's some tips on how!

Pre-Shooting Preparation:
Charge your batteries fully before going out. It will be cold and that can affect battery life.
Wear some warm clothes, a hat, and gloves. Bring some hot beverages, some friends, and make it a fun outing! At least you'll have someone to talk to between exposures.
Also bring a flashlight or LED keychain light so you can see what you are doing when changing your settings. A headlight looks dorky, but it let's you works with both hands.

Time to Go Out:
Here's the problem. They are best viewed after midnight, with 1-2am being the prime time. There could be as many as 50-80 meteors per hour. The peak night will be Sunday December 14th, but you should see some the nights before or after. There won't be any moon out either so you don't need to worry about it ruining your pix!

Where to Go and Sky Conditions:
You want to be as far away from the City/Town as possible to reduce the amount of light pollution. Find a dark road out in the country somewhere far away from street lights.
Obviously it has to be a clear night that you can see the sky. Long range forecast looks clear for Sunday, but COLD!

Finding the Meteors

The key is finding Orion, which is one of the easiest constellations to find. (it's the three stars close together that form the belt of Orion). At the time you are going out, it should be in the South East/Eastern part of the sky. Basically look where the sun rises from usually. I'm lucky enough that I can walk out on my deck, look up, and there's

Do I Need A Tripod?
Yes, and the heavier the better!

Start with 400 ISO and see how much detail you can pick up. If you aren't getting enough details, try 800 ISO.

You want to use a wide(16-35mm) to normal lens(50mm) so you can get a wide range of sky area.

Shooting Mode:
Has to be MANUAL as you need to set the shutter speed and aperture.

Shutter Speeds:
The longer the speed you use, the more meteors you will get. However, if you go too long, the stars will begin to form trails.
To figure out how to long to shoot the stars without getting trails, divide 600 by the length of your lens, and that is how many seconds you should use. For example, if you are using a 17mm lens, 600/17mm= 35 seconds.
However, if you do long exposures like 30minutes to 1 hour(or longer), you will get star trails that look neat along with the straight lines of meteors. The photo above was done for three hours(although you can see the light pollution made the sky brownish instead of black!) Note you will need a cable release or remote, and use BULB mode to do this. No way you can hold the button down for 1-3 hours...

Use your widest aperture (smaller number, for example 3.5/4.5/5.6) to let in as much light as possible. If you find the meteors coming out a bit bright, you can stop down one setting. If you have a lens that has a really wide aperture(1.8/2.8) that is even better!

You have to use MANUAL focus and focus on the stars or set the focus on the lens to Infinity.

Other Shooting Tips:
-If you want to include trees, mountains, the horizon, etc they will provide an interesting silhouette shape and scale.
-You could also try using a flash during the exposure to light up the trees!
-Have an old film camera kicking around? Haul her out, throw in some ISO 400 film, and take some long exposures!(You have to have to use a cable release)

So go out there, have some fun, try not to freeze to death, and send me some great shots or post them in the online student galleries if you have a login!