Press Release

Hints on Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower the Night of Wednesday, August 11

By SpaceRef Editor
August 11, 2004
Filed under ,

PASADENA-The annual Perseid meteor shower will peak the night of
August 11. Members of the news media are presented with an excellent
opportunity to witness and photograph the event.

The best views of the meteor shower will be from dark, rural
locations. The darker the observing site, the easier it will be to
observe or photograph the meteors. Most of the best sites in
Southern California are in the desert and mountain areas located east
of the major cities.

Meteor photography should not begin until it is completely dark,
after 9 p.m. Early in the evening meteors will appear in the
northeastern part of the sky. As the night progresses, the meteors
will be more numerous and can appear anywhere in the sky. Most of
the meteor shower activity will take place after midnight, when
observers may see them at the rate of about one per minute.

Meteors occur at random times and locations in the sky. The best
technique tfor capturingthem photographically involves using a
standard 35-mm camera that has a “B” or bulb setting. The camera
needs to be securely fastened to a tripod. A cable release will allow
for control the exposures with a minimum of vibration. Film with a
speed of ISO 400, 800, or 1000 is recommended. Avoid using a
telescope or a telephoto lens,because they reveal only a tiny
fraction of the sky, thus greatly reducing your chances of catching a
meteor. On the other hand, wide-angle lenses are more likely to
catch a meteor, although the meteor will appear small on the
photographic image. A 50mm lens is probably a good compromise.

To photograph the meteors, pick an area of the sky, focus on infinity
and start the exposure. Those shooting with film may wish to hold
the exposure until a meteor is captured, end the exposure, and then
start another. Any interesting foreground objects in the shot can
be nicely “painted in” to the picture with a flashlight beam shining
on them. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Photographers shooting digitally have some advantages and
disadvantages over those shooting with film. Digital photography
provides the photographer with rapid feedback as to how the exposures
are going. However, it should be noted that for most digital
cameras, longer exposures mean more noise in the image. This can be
defeated by either taking short exposures (less than a minute) or
taking a dark frame of the same length as your exposures of the sky.
This dark frame can later be subtracted with a program such as

For anyone attempting to capture the meteor shower on video, the
International Meteor Organization recommends using a fast lens and a
powerful image intensifier. Specific details are online at

Cloud-free skies are essential to having the best view of the meteor
shower. The National Weather Service often does not provide the kind
of forecast necessary for astronomical observations. A good choice
is to check out the Clear Sky Clock. A list of all of the Clear Sky
Clock sites in California can be found online at

An explanation of how to read the data is provided on the web page.
Simply choose a site close to where you will observe the meteor
shower. Should clouds intervene, it is important to remember that
the shower lasts for several nights, giving you another opportunity.

SpaceRef staff editor.