Jim Doty - Photo Blog

Photography: Photos, News, and Tips
Sunday, August 12, 2007


The annual mid-August Perseid Meteor shower is usually one of the year's best as the Earth passes through debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle.

Peak viewing time should be around 3-4 am, EDT, Monday August 13th, but you can begin viewing anytime after dark on August 12. The number of "falling stars" will peak in the early morning hours at one or more per minute or about 60-100 per hour.

The meteor shower will continue for a week or more after August 12-13 but the frequency per hour will drop dramatically. Best viewing will always be after midnight each night.


In the early evening, look east. In mid-evening look northeast. At midnight and later look north and high in the sky. Look around a bit, not just in one direction.

If you live in or near a large city, head north and get away from the big city lights. The darker the sky the better.

A lawn chair that you can lean back in makes for nice viewing. A blanket is nice if it will get chilly.

Use your unaided eyes so you can scan large areas of sky for those momentary streaks of light. Binoculars and telescopes are fine for some night sky viewing but not for a meteor shower.


To photograph the meteors, you need a camera with a bulb setting or long exposure setting, spare batteries, a fast (f/2, f/2.8, or f/4) normal to wide angle lens and fast 200 or 400 speed slide film (like Kodak Elite Chrome 200), or 800 speed negative film, or set your digital camera to ISO 400.

If you use 200 speed slide film set the film speed on the camera for ISO 320 (not 200). When you get your film processed, ask for "PUSH 1" processing. If you use 400 speed slide film, set the camera for 400 and get normal processing.

If you use negative film, use Kodak or Fuji 800 speed film and set your camera film speed at 400 (not 800). Get your film processed normally.

With a digital camera, set the ISO to 400. If your digital camera is known for low noise at high ISOs, set it at ISO 800.

Little dots and streaks of light on film are hard to interpret so give you film processor a break. If you are using a film camera and you are at the beginning of a roll, take a normal picture inside before going out to do meteor pictures. This will be a big help to the person that cuts and mounts your slide film after it is processed, or makes prints from your negative film.

Put a 50mm, 28mm, 24mm or wider lens on your camera and set the aperture to f/2.8 (f4 for zoom lenses) and focus the lens on infinity (turn off autofocus). Put the camera on a tripod (or bean bag), and point it from northeast to north (depending on the time of the evening - see above) and aim high in the sky. Put the camera on bulb, and lock the shutter open for anywhere from 15 seconds to 15 minutes and wait. If you are lucky, one or more meteors will streak through your field of view. Take lots of photos. Have spare batteries. Switch when your "in camera" batteries get tired. Don't discard the tired batteries - warm them in your pocket and they may bounce back.

A wider angle lens means you have more chance of catching meteors, but the light trails will be shorter. Even if you don't catch a meteor, you should get some interesting star trails with the longer exposures. With short exposures the stars should be points rather than trails.

It is best if there are dark skys (no city lights) to the north and east of your location.

Have fun!


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