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Meteor shower photography: where, when and how

From the best kit and camera settings to tips for post-production, astrophotographers Fergus Kennedy and Timo Oksanen share their expert advice for photographing meteor showers.
Meteors streak across a night sky, reflected in a still lake surrounded by silhouetted trees.

Photographer/videographer Timo Oksanen captured this image of the Perseid meteor shower in Marttila, south-west Finland. The silhouetted trees and reflection on the surface of the lake combine to form a striking image. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm with multiple exposures of 8 sec, f/2.8 and ISO6400. © Timo Oksanen

Meteor showers occur around a dozen times every year, when Earth passes through streams of particles left by a comet or asteroid. Most of these particles are the size of a grain of sand, though they can be up to a metre wide. They travel at tens of kilometres per second and produce bright streaks in the night sky as they burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Pro photographer Fergus Kennedy has plenty of experience of shooting meteor showers. "They offer great opportunities to get unique images," he says. "They don't come around too often and quite a few elements need to come together before you get a good shot, so it's exciting when they do."

Individual meteor showers vary in intensity; at their peak, they can produce between 10 and 150 meteors per hour. Each shower occurs annually, when the Earth's orbit takes it through a specific cloud of particles, and is visible in a particular part of the night sky. One of the best is known as the Geminids, because the shower approximately aligns with the Gemini constellation. It takes place in early December and usually peaks around 14 December.

Here, Fergus, in the UK, and fellow astrophotographer Timo Oksanen, based in Finland, offer their expert advice for photographing meteor showers.
A night sky filled with circular star trails above an old-fashioned windmill. Several meteors cross the star trails in the top right of the picture.

This star trail shot, taken with over two hours' exposure time, shows two meteors in the upper part of the image. "Depending on where you're photographing, you might find the majority of the big lines in your images aren't meteors," says photographer Fergus Kennedy. "If it's a line going across the image that appears in several subsequent frames [as in the lower part of this image], then it's a satellite or plane." Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens. © Fergus Kennedy

Stars and a single meteor fill a night sky above a glimmering lake. The image is framed by two silhouetted trees, and an orange and green glow can be seen on the horizon.

Timo recommends including some of the landscape to add context and scale to your sky and meteor shower photography. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1.3 sec, f/2.8 and ISO4000. © Timo Oksanen

Check the calendar and the weather conditions

When planning a meteor shower shoot, first find out exactly when and where in the night sky the showers will be taking place. Several websites and apps are available which tell you when specific showers will happen, where to look in the sky and the period at which they're most active and therefore likely to give the best images. They are generally best in the hours just before sunrise.

Favourable conditions on the day are essential. "All night-sky photography is weather-dependent and obviously a clear sky is ideal," says Fergus. "Meteor shower photography is also quite moon-dependent, and you need to check a moon-phase calendar as part of your preparations. If you're shooting when there's a full moon, it will bleach out the sky and make it much harder to get good shots."

Phone apps are also available which will pinpoint the area in the sky where you're likely to see the most meteors for any particular shower.

Incorporate landscapes to add interest

As with other astrophotography, you're going to get the best results by shooting in a dark sky area where there's no light pollution from built-up areas. Look online to find out the best dark sky areas near you.

Timo, who lives in south-west Finland, chooses dark sky locations which also offer good foregrounds, such as hillsides, lakes and silhouetted trees, to give a sense of scale and context to his meteor images.

"My go-to location is a national park about 30 minutes' drive from my home," he says. "There's very little light pollution. I think it's a bit boring if you only have the sky in your images. I'm into landscapes, so I want to include some landscape features in the photos as well."
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A Canon EOS R5 camera and lens are positioned on a tripod, tilted to face up at the sky, in front of a field, pond and windswept tree.

Fergus mounts his Canon EOS R5 on a tripod and hangs a weight on the hook underneath the head for greater stability if it's a windy night. When your camera is out for long periods at night, a common problem is condensation forming on the front element of the lens, fogging your shots. This can be avoided by using a dew heater band, which keeps the lens warm enough to keep it clear. If you don't have one, Fergus suggests wrapping a small hand-warmer around the lens, securing it with an elastic band. © Fergus Kennedy

Key camera features and the best lenses

Fergus uses the Canon EOS R5 for his meteor shower photography, mounted on a sturdy tripod. "I like its high 45MP resolution and the low-light ability – the two key features for meteor shower photography," he explains. "That resolution is especially useful if you find all your meteors are on one side of the picture – you can still crop in and have a good resolution image.

"The EOS R5 has definitely made a difference to my astrophotography," he adds. "The camera's high ISO performance is at the cutting edge of sensitivity in terms of full-frame sensors."

Timo has recently replaced his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EOS R6, which shares the EOS R5's excellent low-light performance. "I think it's slightly better than the EOS 5D Mark IV in how it handles noise," he explains. "It's also an improvement shooting mirrorless, because instead of an optical viewfinder, which shows you the same view as the naked eye, the electronic viewfinder shows you what the sensor sees. Or you just use the big screen on the back. So it's easier."
Both photographers use the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens for astrophotography. The ultra-wide-angle zoom excels at capturing innovative angles and features aspherical and UD elements for impressive optical quality. Timo says: "I use the lens at the 15mm setting and try to get in as much sky as possible, especially when I'm also trying to include some of the landscape. I cover a wide area to maximise the number of meteors I'm capturing, as they go in all directions."

If you're looking for a full-frame prime lens for astrophotography, Fergus also recommends the ultra-wide Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM, which offers excellent creative potential for shooting big views, especially in low light. "It's fast, small and light, as well as affordable," says Fergus. "In the EF range, I'd suggest using the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens."
The moon rising over Manstone Rock on the Stiperstones ridge in Shropshire, UK.

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A man wearing a hat and warm clothes is silhouetted against a lake and night sky, next to two cameras on tripods pointing upwards. Two meteors cross the sky above him.

Timo shot this image at Kurjenrahka National Park in south-west Finland. He says: "It always seems to happen that when you try to shoot meteors it's difficult, but when you're shooting something else you keep seeing them!" Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 8 sec, f/2.8 and ISO6400. © Timo Oksanen

Use an interval timer

The unpredictable nature of meteor shower photography means you'll get the best results with a series of images shot over a long period, rather than several long exposures. To do this, both photographers use their cameras' built-in interval timers. This enables them to automatically set how many shots they want the camera to take and how long the interval will be between shots.

"If you're shooting from your garden, you can just leave your camera clicking away with the interval timer while you go to bed, then get up in the morning and see what's there," says Fergus. If your camera doesn't have a built-in interval timer, you can use a separate intervalometer, such as Canon's TC-80N3 Timer Remote Control.

Using the interval timer, Fergus sets his camera to shoot exposures of around 25 seconds with the lens aperture wide open and an ISO of 1600 or 3200. He shoots in RAW, so he can record maximum detail. "It may take a little trial and error to get the exposure right, but these settings are a good starting point," he says.

Even with the camera shooting steadily over a long period, the success rate for capturing meteor showers is usually low. "When I was photographing the Perseid meteors in August, I shot almost 500 photos over about 90 minutes," says Timo. "Only around 40 frames had some sort of meteor in them, and only 20 or so had good meteor images."
A single meteor crosses the sky, in front of several clouds. The line of the meteor is purple at the front, changing to green at the back.

This cropped-in image of a single Perseid meteor shows its distinctive shape, tapered at either end. The colours are caused by different elements within the comet burning in the upper atmosphere. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 17mm (at time of shooting), 15 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Fergus Kennedy

Post-processing your meteor shower shots

Both Timo and Fergus select their best images and layer them in Adobe® Photoshop® or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom® to get a good number of meteors in the same frame.

As their meteor shower shots are taken over a long period, the stars gradually change position in the frame because of the Earth's rotation. To avoid star trails in their images, they select just one of their images for the background stars, then use the eraser brush to remove everything apart from the meteors in the other layers. Detailed tutorials on how to make meteor shower composites in this way are available on YouTube.

Patience and persistence

Making all the preparations Fergus and Timo have suggested will make it more likely that you'll get some great meteor shower shots, but results are not guaranteed. "You have to be patient and persistent," says Timo. "Usually, if you point the camera in one direction for at least an hour, then you start to capture some pretty good meteors."

Fergus agrees. "There's quite a lot of luck involved," he says. "If your shoot doesn't work out, try again next time. Even if you don't always catch all the meteors you want on camera, it's fun being out there."

Shkruar nga David Clark


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