Trying to Catch a Shooting Star

Exposure Straight out of camera

Exposure Straight out of camera

If you didn’t know the last few days have been the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occurs every year between July 17 and August 24. The shower tends to peak around August 9-13. These meteor showers are really interesting to see, however if you live in an urban area being able to see them let alone photograph them can be an issue.

Light pollution is the scourge of anyone wanting to take a picture of the night’s sky in a city. I really wanted to photograph the Perseid meteor shower and decided to dig around the internet to see how I could do this. Most astrophotography sites state that you need to go to an area outside of an urban area; for me this is hard as my city is surrounded by smaller towns. However there was another option that I found; exposing to the right and then correcting the exposure in Lightroom.

The idea was straight forward; first work out the longest shutter speed you can have to capture the light of the stars but not so long as the stars start to leave trails. The equation I used (that seemed to work) was 600/focal lengt; as I was using a 18mm lens (because I wanted to have as much of the sky as possible in my image) my equation was 600/18=33 seconds.
With an exposure of 33 seconds I had to have a tripod and a cable release, also with an exposure of 33 seconds I would need to use the bulb mode as my cameras set exposures stops at 30 seconds.

After Basic Adjustments in Lightroom

After Basic Adjustments in Lightroom

Second get the exposure right; this is more trial and error depending on where you are. I set up my camera set my lens to its lowest aperture (for my 18mm kit lens it is f/3.5) and then focused the image. Most advise using a depth of field calculator or the markings on your lens. A depth of field calculator is great but it is hard to know where you are focusing in the dark, and my lens does not have markings. In the end I made a guess of focusing with the depth of field to infinity.

To expose to the right you need to keep an eye on the histogram. You need the histogram to be all on the right side but with no clipping. To do this I started shooting at 400ISO and then slowly moved up the ISO scale until the histogram was looking right by chimping. Once you have the right exposure the image will look over exposed but there is no need to panic. As you zoom in on the preview you can see star details and check there is no tails to the stars.
The reason why the ISO is used to change the exposure is because ISO is the third variable in the Exposure Triangle. Both my shutter speed and aperture are fixed the ISO is the only variable that I can change. This did leave this time to shooting at 6400ISO.

Back in Lightroom to develop module I just reduced the saturation and increased the contrast and clarity as well as correct the white balance. Although you can have a nice image at this point further editing was needed in Photoshop. For me it was mixing an exposure of the foreground elements with the starry sky in Photoshop. I also colour toned the image using curves.

Did I catch a shooting star?

Perseid Meteor Lodz

I think so in the image above I caught one entering the frame possibly at the end of the long exposure. This star is in no other picture and I am claiming it is a shooting star.

It is great to know that I can do some astrophotography in the city. I think there are some improvements I would like to make the method I used as I think a third darker exposure would be great to take to mask in over the brighter areas around the horizon. I can’t wait to experiment more.

 

I would really be interested in what you think, and if you have had any success in astrophotography in urban areas.

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19 thoughts on “Trying to Catch a Shooting Star

  1. Great Ben! I was watching some and standing there wondering what he math would be on how to catch them. I saw a few going but never even broke my camera out. Are there more in the works according to the astrological predictions?

      • lol yeah…I feel your pain totally! I’ve been reading about this huge El Nino due this fall/winter/spring. Supposedly it has a 96% chance of coming to fruition and that it will be the El Nino for a generation. We’ll see… I’m glad you got what I was saying btw. 🙂

  2. You did good. I also was out photographing the meteor shower. I live on a farm with small towns in the distance. At 10:00pm the sky was still bright from the towns, bust as it got later about midnight the sky was perfect. I captured several little blurs throughout the night, I was having fun and I stayed out till 3:30am. At 3:07am I captured my best shot of the night and I posted to my blog. I was really hoping for a nice bright shooting star but in never happened. I do not photograph stars too often and it was a lot of fun. Getting up the next day was not too much fun.

    • Hi Julie, sorry for the late reply. The cable release allows to to push the shutter with out touching the camera. even on a tripod pressing the shutter with your finger and holding ti for a long exposure will result in some camera shake from the vibration of your finger. a cable release eliminates this.

  3. I think this is an exciting experiment Ben.. and successful. Looks like a shooting star.
    I’ve tried shooting the Milky Way once only and will definitely try it again sometime.

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