Perseids of interest: Pro tips for shooting this weekend's meteor shower

Perseid meteor shower

Nathan Trail

Nathan Trail took this photo of the Perseid meteor shower over Maryland on August 12th using KPCC's tips. Try your camera out on the showers and send them to us at pix@kpcc.org.

The Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Offers Celestial Show In Night Sky

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A Perseid meteor streak across a starry sky early August 12, 2008 near Rogers Spring in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. The meteor display, known as the Perseid shower because it appears to radiate from the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky, is a result of Earth's orbit passing through debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle.


Perseid meteors are going streaking this weekend — bring a camera.

The Perseids appear every summer when Earth passes through a cloud of ice and dust specks from the Swift-Tuttle comet. The ancient debris burns up in the atmosphere to create bright stripes in the sky.

No telescope necessary, this "shooting star"-effect is available to anyone looking up into the clear, dark night. Here are the meteor particulars, via NASA:

  • Comet of Origin: 109P/Swift-Tuttle
  • Radiant: constellation Perseus
  • Active: July 17-Aug. 24, 2013
  • Peak Activity: Aug. 11-12, 2013
  • Peak Activity Meteor Count: Up to 60 meteors per hour
  • Meteor Velocity: 37 miles (59 kilometers) per second
  • Notes: The Perseids is known as one of the best meteor showers to observe, and this year is no different. A crescent moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving dark skies from late night until dawn. The Perseids are typically fast and bright meteors that frequently leave trains.

Shooting for the sky

KPCC's Mae Ryan has some expert photography advice for trying to capture the upcoming Perseid meteor shower.

Step 1: Put down your iPhone. That little guy isn't man enough for the meteors. (Caveat: The app Slow Shutter Cam miiiight work, but the odds aren't great)

Step 2: Bring out your digital camera. Your best bet is a digital dSLR camera, but you can also try out your point and shoot if it has manual settings.

Step 3: Put your camera on a tripod. To get all the beautiful streaks you'll need an exposure that's at least 30 seconds long so your camera has to be still — very, very still.

Step 4: Try to find a location that's a little further from the city. All the lights in L.A. will drown out those meteors and your image won't be as pretty.

Step 5: Set your exposure for at least 30 seconds. Set your camera to "B" mode if you've got it. That will let you keep your shutter open for as long as you desire.

Step 6: Set your aperture to somewhere between f2.8 - f5.6. The longer you want to keep your shutter open the higher you can get your  f stop. If you want your shutter open for 3 hours then you can go up to f22.

Step 7: Set your ISO to between 100 and 400.

Step 8: Set your focus to infinity… and beyond.

Step 9: Take some test shots. Check out if your image is under or overexposed and then adjust your aperture or shutter accordingly.

Step 10:  If you have a cable release you're going to get clear images without any motion blur. If you don't have a cable release then press that shutter down really carefully so you don't move the camera while it's exposing the stars.

Step 11: Breathe. Relax. Take in the shower. Let that shutter stay open and don't touch the camera while it's exposing all those streaks.

Step 12:  If you're on B mode then press that shutter down again really, really carefully. The longer you keep your camera exposing, the more streaks you're going to get.

Step 13: Send us your pictures! Share them with us and your fellow listeners on Twitter ("@" mention @KPCC), on our Facebook page or by email at pix@kpcc.org. We'll post the best of them.

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