Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting up for the Leonid Meteor Show

I never tried to take pictures of a meteor shower before. This year I decided to keep an eye on the sky. It was cloudy early in the evening the night before but it gradually cleared up giving me a bit of hope.
I had read that the best viewing location was somewhere in Asia but that I might see 10 meteors an hour.

How to take pictures of a meteor shower?
Lots of advice on the internet. Clearly this is something to be done with a camera on a tripod and a longish exposure and probably a wide lens.
The widest lens I have is a Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye. The nice thing about using it is that it will cover a lot of sky.
Next question, shutter speed. Long time. The camera can take a 30 second picture on its own but that did not sound long enough. Last year I bought a Canon TC80-N3 timer/remote. Tonight I decided to actually use it. Opened the box, nice piece of equipment but where are the instructions? Not to be seen. Fortunately, found a pretty decent set of instructions by Julian Loke. Spent a bit of time playing with the device. It has four functions that can be combined with each other. It lets you set the camera to take a series of long exposures at specified intervals. In my case, take half a dozen shots of five minutes each, wait a few seconds in between and wait a few seconds to start the sequence.
Outside I headed. I live across the street from the Moose River. This is a big, wide, tidal river. The river bank is steep now due to stabilization work but nicely frozen so it made a good platform. The only obstacles are the street lights (remember the fisheye is picking up 180 degrees of light) but I managed to keep those mostly out of frame. The lights and haze from Moose Factory across the river probably didn't help but a lot of stars were visible anyway.
I stayed out for about 45 minutes. I saw five meteors myself but only captured one with the camera. Not sure why. None of the meteors that I saw had very long tracks but four of them were within the area of sky the camera was covering. I was leaving a few second between frames so it is possible that I missed one or two that way. I shot the first five minute exposure at f4 and then switched to f5.6. That could be the problem but the later exposures had lots of stars too. However, the stars are there for the whole five minutes and the meteors only for a second or so perhaps the exposure change was the problem.
Still I did get one shot of a meteor which to me justifies getting up in the middle of the night. Next time I will keep the lens open and perhaps increase the exposure time to give each shot a better chance of capturing a meteor trail.

I looked more carefully at my shots later and did find one that had a potential meteor trail. So I suspect the problem was the change in aperture (although the one track I did get was bright enough that it is hard to image that a one stop change would make such a difference).

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