Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Capturing the Orionids Metor Shower with your camera

The annual Orionids Meteor Shower is near its peak and can be seen in the night sky around the world. The week long meteor shower is caused by the earth passing through a trail of tiny debris left by Hailley's Comet when it passes by earth every 76 years. The earth passes through this debris trail each October, causing a meteor shower as the particles flare up in the earth's atmosphere.

Watching meteor showers can be fun, but capturing a fleeting astrological event with your camera can be even more exciting. With clear to partly cloudy skies forecast for the next several days, this a great opportunity to capture this rare event on film. Here are some quick tips on shooting the night sky (and meteor showers).

Taking photos of the night sky requires some basic photographic equipment. First off, you'll need a tri-pod or camera mount (a car window mount works great for chilly nights) that can hold your camera completely still for long periods of time. You'll also want a camera that allows you take long exposures - anywhere from five seconds to five hours. Any SLR camera or digital SLR camera should qualify, as well as many mid-level to high end point and shoot camera.

Take your photo equipment to a dark area away from major light pollution. Think country roads, far from the city. Mount the camera on the tri-pod and observe the sky. The Orionids Meteor Shower should be visible in the direction of the constilation Orion, appearing in the southern sky. Because you can't predict exactly when and where the shooting stars will occur, open your camera's shutter for long exposures and see what happens. Do this using the "Manual" (M) exposure feature on the camera and adjusting the shutter speeds. Use an f-stop of f/4. Try bracketing your exposures for varying lengths of time. Start with 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 min and so on. For exposures longer than 30 seconds use the Bulb (B) setting and hold down the shutter manually or with a cable release cord. Because there is very little light in the sky aside from the stars, all these different exposures will produce acceptable photos. Pick the best looking exposure and continue to shoot at the best shutter speed. While the camera is recording the shower, watch closely where the most meteors are falling. Adjust, experiment and have fun!

For a more in-depth description of star photography read my article Shooting the Stars on my website

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