Meteor Shower or Meteor Storm?

Tomorrow evening a meteor shower is predicted. That’s Friday May 23, 2014 for those who may read this years from now (I can dream can’t I?). The meteor shower might be so intense that it could be a meteor storm, whatever that is, but no one knows for sure. I’ve seen the odd shooting star but I have never seen a meteor shower. Well, in reality I have been out watching for a meteor shower but not much happened. Only a few brief streaks across the sky and nothing more. People have been asking how to make images of tomorrow’s event. Well here are a couple of post from this blog that might help:

15 Tips for Creating Star Trails

Prefocus for Astrophotography

To be honest there is plenty of information that you can find about how to photograph tomorrow’s meteor shower out on the inter webs. People have been asking about which setting they should use so here is a post by Ken Rockwell with some setting for photographing the Milky Way. In order to photograph the Milky Way you need to find a place what has little or no light pollution. A search will turn up several sites with maps showing where you might go to have far less light pollution than I have here at our house. Tomorrow night I will be out in the yard hoping to catch a few shooting stars and this is what I am going to try.

Moonlit Yard
Moonlit Yard

This is looking north in our yard the exposure for this one was 3 minutes, f5.0, ISO 100 (this is from a Point and Shoot by the way). I’m going for star trails and some shooting stars. A long exposure and widish aperture should be enough to allow the streaking meteors to burn a path through my images in the same way lights on an airplane burn a path through the night sky. Yes, there was a full moon on the night I made this images but tomorrow afternoon the moon will set at 3:15 p.m. and not rise again until 3:16 a.m. Saturday morning. If the night is very clear, which is predicted, there won’t be any clouds like the ones you see in this image. I’m looking forward to seeing what I get. I will be playing around with the exposure and I might have more than one camera going. At least one of them will be a Point and Shoot. I’m not too worried about the light pollution because I know we live in an area where I have no control over that. I will be in my yard, having fun, doing what I love, making images.

Moonlit Yard

Just having fun!

I received a new camera the other day, a Ricoh GR IV. While I was looking through the owner’s manual I saw something I had to try. The longest exposure possible on this small point and shoot camera is 180 seconds. A three minute exposure to work with! My other point and shoots only go up to 60 seconds so I wanted to see how this camera did at 3 minutes. This particular night there was a full moon and clear skies, the perfect conditions for making some images using long exposures.

Moonlit Yard
Moonlit Yard

Our front yard faces northeast and there are lights from a nearby city that were lighting up some clouds. Perfect! As you can see the clouds were moving in the breeze and a truck drove by while the shutter was open.

Moonlit House
Moonlit House

Next I thought I’d use the house as my subject. Again, a three minute exposure but the house is a bit backlit as it faces northeast. The moonlight created some shadows on the grass and lit up the trees behind the house. I like being able to make exposures longer than one minute with a point and shoot. I think I’ll be out just having fun with this camera quite often!

Technical info: 180 sec., f5, ISO 100, 28mm lens, Auto White Balance, Matrix Metering, Self timer set to 2 seconds.

I have my tripod but…

Have you ever gone out to make some images and were sure you had your tripod with you? Because you knew you were going to need it and you knew your efforts would not be very successful if you didn’t have it. Then you get to the location only to find you don’t have the mounting plate with you? I have to admit that I did this. Yep, I left the quick release mounting plate for my tripod at home! It is bad enough not bring your tripod but it is really frustrating to have a tripod that you just can’t use. André, a photographer friend of mine, and I went to Washington DC to do some night photos near the Lincoln Memorial. When we got out of the car and started getting setup I found that I did not have the mounting plate for my tripod. I had done some photos in my backyard a few days before and I had removed the mounting plate from my camera at my desk when I downloaded my images. My tripod lives in my car so I don’t forget to pack it for a shoot! So, with no mounting plate, I had a tripod that I couldn’t use.

When you forget your tripod, or the mounting plate for your tripod, all is not lost. Be creative, as photographers we are creative beings so don’t let something like wanting to shoot at night and not having a tripod ruin your evening. Improvise, find some way to support your camera so that you do not need a tripod. Leave some home made bean bags in your car to help support your camera. They are dead easy to make. Take a zip-lock bag fill it 2/3 full of coffee beans or some other dried beans and you are in business! You can also use rice if that is easier to come by. They don’t have to be very heavy, they just have to prop up your camera. I told a class about this and one of the students made everyone in class a bean bag. Very cool!

Even without my tripod, and no bean bags, I got several nice images from that night including the one below. I used my lens cap and camera strap to help support my camera. By propping up your camera using just about anything that comes to hand you can get by without a tripod. Once you have your camera stabilized proceed just as you would with a tripod. Use your camera’s self-timer or, if you didn’t forget it as well, your cable or remote release.

Rosslyn VA at night

So what did I learn from the night? I learned to keep an extra quick release mount for your tripod in my camera bag and pack a couple of bean bags in my car. The extra mounting plate doesn’t cost too much so having an extra one is not prohibitively expensive. I already had a spare one from a magic arm that has the same sort of camera mount attachment so I had two mounting plates at home and none with me. Yeah, I know…

Prefocus for Astrophotography

Yesterday I found a blog post on by Luis Argerich titled How to Photograph the Milky Way. I posted a link to the article on the Night & Low Light Facebook page and also shared it with the Create Photographics Facebook page (for full disclosure, I’m an admin on both Facebook pages). One of the comments was about how the camera had trouble finding something to focus on. Luis responded with nice tip about using Live View to zoom in and check on the focus. What do you do if you don’t have Live View or if you are still having trouble getting the stars in focus?

Here is something I do and you might want to try: prefocus your lens before you go out to photograph the night sky. It’s not very hard to do if you have lenses that have a little window that shows the focusing distance. Most of my Nikon lenses have them but I do know that some lenses don’t (more about that in a little bit). All you need to do is set the center of the infinity symbol (∞) on the line at the middle of the window. Once you have done that tape down the focusing ring so it will not move. That lens is ready to make images all night of any celestial body you want to point your camera at. Do this to all the lenses you might want to work with and you can carefully change lenses as often as you want to. One thing to keep in mind when using zoom lenses: don’t tape down the zoom ring. When you tape down the focus ring make sure you only tape down that one ring because you will want to use the zoom feature to frame your images.

The next step is to turn off the auto focus on your camera. The camera will still try and focus even though you have the focusing ring taped off. Some lenses can still be focused by the camera even with the focusing ring taped down. Other lenses will try to autofocus and will push against the tape. That can also hurt the bearings in the lenses if your camera fights hard enough to force the lens to focus. If you lens has a M/A M button on the lens turn that off as well, just to be sure.

So what do you do if you have a lens that does not have the little window that I spoke about earlier? You will need to do a bit of planning ahead. If you know you are going out at night to make some images prefocus your lenses on a distant subject earlier in the day while you have enough light to focus the lens. When the camera has focused the lens take your finger off the shutter release or the focus button (if you use back button focusing) and tape down the focus ring then turn off the autofocus on your camera. Repeat this process for all the lenses you might want to use.
Have fun out there making images of the night sky!

Wilson Bridge at Night

Recently, as the organizer of the Night and Low Light Photography Group I went to Alexandria to photograph the Woodrow Wilson Bridge with several members of the group. This was the first time that I have gone to photograph the bridge since the new bridge was completed. I have driven across it several times and I think it’s a great looking bridge, not as nice as some, but a lot nicer than what was there. I plan on going back and photographing the bridge again and again. There are a lot of great angles and views to explore from both sides of the river and from the river itself. I like finally getting out to photograph something that I have been thinking about photographing for a while. Not that I have checked it off my list but because I want to go back again and again to see how I can make photos of something that many people look at everyday and never give it much thought. Why don’t you find a subject that you think many people take for granted and show everyone what they are not seeing?

Woodrow Wilson Bridge at Night

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