BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: All About Photography : Photographing Specific Subjects : Night Photography Tip

Photography Question 
Luke Dantuono

Time-Lapse Photos of Upcoming Meteor Shower

I'm not sure if any of you are aware of the meteor shower that will happen in the pre-dawn hours of 11/18. There will be an estimated 4k+ shooting stars an hour (which is like more than one a second). I think it would be really neat to get some time-lapse photos of this event. But the only problem is that I am used to just normal 35mm camera operation. I need info on such things as: what speed film do I use? What lens is best to use (wide angle/telephoto etc.) What aperture to use? And how long do I leave the shutter open?

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11/9/2001 5:10:38 PM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  Hi Luke,

Thanks for bringing this to our attention - should be fun.

If I head out, this is what I will do (unless somebody tells me differently on this Q&A):

* Choose a slow speed film (say 100);
* Use my tripod, of course;
* Use a telephoto;
* Set it at f8 and get a shutter reading from meter.

Then I would add a bit to this shutter speed. Another possibility is you could use a wider lens and do a star trails kind of effect.

Have a ball!

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11/14/2001 11:39:33 PM

Yonatan    Hi Luke,
I'm planning on going also to take photos of the "shooting stars", I plan on making a "star trail" photo (using a 35mm camera).

For this I would recommend to do the following:
a. use a wide angle lens.--> This will allow me to see a wide area in the sky.
b. operate manually the camera= not on automatic/built in modes.
c. use speed shutter : BULB
d. use a tripod. required for BULB mode)
e. for aperture no., I will decide when I'll be there, since this depends on the amount of light there will be outside.

Hope this helped you.

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11/15/2001 4:01:55 AM

Daniel Dimitroff   If you've read anything on lightning photography, it works almost the exact same way.

For me, I use 100ASA film, an old Olympus OM-1 on the 'B' (bulb) setting mounted to a sturdy tripod and a long trigger release cable (this is a must).

If you're camera needs a battery to keep the shutter open, take a spare with you.

Whatever lens I'm using, I click up a couple from the widest f-stop, unless the sky is unusually bright, then I go up one or two more.

I will be using two lenses on 11/18, a 17-35mm zoom & a 28mm wide. I'll be using Fuji Astia 100ASA film.

I'll also be varying my exposures from 15-30 seconds. At 50mm, I can start to see star trails at about 30 seconds.

I have an example of using this exact setup for lightning photography at the Illinois Chasers of Adverse and Severe Weather.

But equipment is only part of it. Don't forget about developing.

Shoot a frame or two of regular pictures of you dog, house, etc. at the front of the film (and back if possible). This will help prevent the developer from cutting your negatives down the middle of the frame. Since I use slide film mostly, I tell them not to cut & mount them. After having two of my Hale-Bopp shots sliced down the middle, I've become gun-shy.

If you can talk directly to the person developing the film, ask them to turn off the auto-balance on the machine making the prints. This will help keep sky dark on the print. If you send the pictures off, just write 'night shots' or such in the comments area.

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11/15/2001 10:50:32 AM

Ashby A. B.   By pre-dawn hours, are we talking 3am? 4am? I live outside of San Francisco and hope to catch some of the meteor shower. Thanks!

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11/15/2001 1:20:10 PM

Daniel Dimitroff   Leonid Observing Tips has a great deal of information. Links to NASA seem to be broke, though. Here is a list of cities. Looks like between 2 & 3am would be the time to be ready.


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11/15/2001 3:26:22 PM

Luke Dantuono   Thanks for the help everybody! Armed now, with more info, I should be able to get some good stuff :)

BTW Nice picture of lightning, Daniel D.

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11/16/2001 3:39:07 AM

Delwin C. Davis   Does it matter if you use b&w or color film? I have some b&w t-max 100 loaded in my camera now. Would that work ok or would a regular color film work better? Also, does anyone have any experience as to how long I can leave the shutter open before the stars start showing as streaks due to the earth's movement?

I appreciate your help.

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11/16/2001 9:54:43 AM

Daniel Dimitroff   B&W should work fine. You will only lose out if there are fireballs of brilliant color. How long you can leave your shutter open before the stars start to leave trails depends of lens length.

With a 50mm lens, I'd go 30-45 seconds exposure. But a nice effect if it is really dark is to go with a higher f-stop & let that baby expose for 10-15 minutes. The star trails become curves with the meteors being straight lines across them.

How long you can leave it open in general has to do with how bright the ambient lighting is, what f-stop you're at & film speed.

I've shot lightning in a very dark field with 100 film and accidentally left the shutter open for over 3 minutes. The frame turned out just a bit brighter then the 30 second frames. Part of it had to do with receprocity failure (the longer you expose film, the less sensitive it becomes). For this reason, I don't agree with NASA's comment to use a high-speed film. I've found them to have funky uneven receprocity failure rates that can give dark skies green or purple hues.

And the event will last over an hour at its peak, so you'll have lots of time to try lots of things. I'll be doing long exposures with people standing in silhouette to the stars, slow zoom-out, slow zoom-in, etc.

Other things to keep in mind: If it is cold out, drop film & camera into a plastic bag before you go back inside the house to keep condensation to a minimum. I've had storm shots ruined by taking a camera from an air conditioned car to a humid outside.

Thanks for the compliment, Luke. Now if I could only get people to buy copies of it to pay for my habit... I mean hobby.

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11/16/2001 10:50:55 AM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  I know that this great follow-up info will be coming too late for many SnapShot subscribers but I wanted to post it all the same. If nothing else, I would like to ask everybody who did get out there how it went and invite you to share your favorite photos from the event.

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11/19/2001 11:27:48 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/20/2001
I'm reposting my questionable meteor photo so that those reading this thread will see it. I would appreciate ideas on what this might be. So far, the guesses have been: a meteor with a squiggly tail, a satellite, a drunk airline pilot, a UFO--I think you get the picture...

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12/1/2001 12:47:37 AM

Luke Dantuono   My guess would be something falling from space (rock, space junk, etc..) that exploded once getting hot from the re-entry, causing a piece to spin very rapidly while burning to its demise. It looks squigily from the side but perhaps the burning matter is in a cork-screw. You will also notice the peeks and valleys of the line come together on the lower side, suggesting the object is slowing down from pushing through the thickening atmosphere. But thats just what I see......
Any other ideas?

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12/1/2001 5:17:18 AM

Luke Dantuono   Its cool looking, whatever it is!

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12/1/2001 5:23:55 AM

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