Perseids 2019: how to photograph "shooting stars" in the sky?

Fig. Jeff Sullivan / Flickr

A few August nights ahead of us, during which we will be able to admire the real performances of "falling stars", i.e. the Perseids. How to photograph them well? Where to find the best place? Will we be able to take photos with a regular smartphone? This year will not be as easy as the year before, but it's still worth starting the night.

What are Perseids?

The name Perseida comes from the constellation Perseus, from where they appear to fly when we look at the sky. Perseids are one of the most regular swarms of meteors whose orbit intersects with the Earth every year. The vast majority are cosmic particles lost by comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle, flying near the Sun. "Falling stars" we can observe when these particles fall into the Earth's atmosphere.

Perseids - when to photograph?

In 2019, "shooting stars" is best photographed at night from August 12 to 13 (Monday-Tuesday), when the Perseid maximum falls. The greatest severity is expected between 4:00 and 17:00 on August 13. On this day the sun will rise around 5:35, so this is not the best time system - in the morning and on the Perseids day it will not be clearly visible. In addition, August 15 will be the full moon, which will further hamper photographed "shooting stars" at night. Fortunately, Perseids are also clearly visible on other days of the month. Between August 11 and August 14, we expect over 100 "falling stars" in one hour.

Perseids - where is the best to observe?

As a general rule, the darker on earth, the brighter in the sky. In some sense. Lamps on the streets, in buildings or city cars generate so-called light pollution. Such artificial light limits the number of stars and meteors we see in the sky. It is best to leave the city to a place where it is really dark. So where do you look for the best place to observe Perseids?

The best places will be dark sky parks, i.e. areas designated for protection against light pollution of the darkness of the night in a unique natural environment. In other words, they are dark sky reserves, where instead of protecting animals, trees and bushes, it also protects the naturally dark sky at night. These places are distant from strong sources of artificial light, so we can admire the truly dark and starry sky at night.

However, if a trip to one of these places is not possible, it is worth at least looking for a place with less light pollution in the sky than in Warsaw or Wroclaw. On the www.lightpollutionmap.info map you can check exactly where it is the darkest in your area.

Being outside the city, away from sources of artificial light, it is worth looking for an open space with the possibility of observing the sky in all directions, such as glades or hills. In order to find the right place in the sky where the "shooting stars" or radiant stars will be visible, you can use the free Google Sky Map application or other sky observation programs.

What if we can't get out of town? Let's not expect that we will take fascinating photos of Perseids in the center of Warsaw, Wrocław or Gdańsk. Of course, you can just try to make an appointment with your friends and watch the night performance together. Joint observations of "falling stars" are organized in the capital. For example, you can go to the Copernicus Science Center. The Warsaw authorities decided to turn off the lights of the Copernicus Science Center, the National Stadium and the Świętokrzyski, Poniatowski and Śląsko-Dąbrowski Bridge for the time of joint observation. Even if you can't take good pictures there, at least it will be good fun together.

Living in Krakow, you can go on the Krak's Mound. In Olsztyn, the Warmian Night of Perseids will be held in the Central Park. In Szczecin, Perseida will be on show together in Kasprowicz Park at 21:00.

How to photograph Perseidy? You can't do without a camera

Night sky photos are one of those types of photography where the smartphone will not work - even Huawei P30. You must have a camera. It doesn't have to be an expensive SLR or full-frame mirror immediately. Even an ordinary amateur camera can do it. Under several conditions.

Tripod and long exposure times

The camera must stand on a tripod to be able to set the shutter speed long enough without blurring the picture. To capture beautiful, long streaks of light, you need to use the longest possible exposure time, e.g. 25 seconds or even more. At such a long time, even a slight camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button can spoil the picture. It is therefore worth using the trigger hose, trigger the camera remotely from a smartphone or set the self-timer for a few seconds.

Wide angle and the lowest aperture possible

It would be ideal to set the focal length to a wide angle, somewhere between 10-24 mm. In this way we will be able to capture a large range of the sky in the frame. It's best to use low apertures like f / 2.8 or even f / 1.4, if of course possible.

Reasonable ISO sensitivity and intervalometer

The higher the ISO sensitivity value, the easier it will be to capture the falling star. On the other hand, higher ISO means more noise. It is therefore worth checking yourself how the camera is doing, starting at ISO 800. Usually, photos above ISO 3200 will be noisy.

Shooting will certainly be easier thanks to the time interval timer, i.e. a camera function that allows you to automatically take pictures at specific intervals. The intervalometer has some cameras, but also some applications for wireless camera control. By using this function, we will not only be able to program cameras to take a series of photos, but also to assemble images from several photos later. In this way we will get many more "shooting stars" in one frame

Sharpness and recording format also matter

Focusing is good to set manually, but it's not that simple. So you can focus on the moon and lock it there, i.e. simply turn off autofocus. It's worth saving the photos in RAW format, i.e. lossless format.

Perseids 2019 - what else is worth knowing about?

When photographing Perseida, it is worth dressing properly, taking a blanket or deckchair / folding armchair and comfortably enjoying the night performance. At night, it is better not to look at the smartphone every now and then, because every look wears our eyes away from the prevailing darkness for a moment. As a result, we will see fewer Perseids.

Many modern cameras and lenses have image stabilization. It's a great invention, but not if the camera is on a tripod. So remember to turn off stabilization. Let's also take care of the right number of memory cards and batteries so that in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere there is not enough space for photos or power.



Perseids 2019: how to photograph shooting stars in the sky?

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