Friday, August 14, 2015

Shots in the dark

I set my alarm for 3 o'clock Thursday morning. 
There was a meteor shower in progress and I was determined to get some pictures of it. 
The 7MSN may not have garbage pickup or pizza delivery service, 
but by golly we've got dark skies. What better place to view and photograph meteors, right?
I studied up on the recommended meteor-shooting settings for my camera
and walked outside with confidence that I would capture a pile of blog-worthy images.


Turns out taking pictures of the night sky is basically shooting blind.
I knew I was supposed to focus my lens on "infinity" 
but these stars must have been further away than that. 

After much trial and error and lens-swapping, I finally got the focus right.
I had the camera set on a tripod and was making 30-second exposures.
Meteors were raining down from all parts of the sky, but do you think
a few would have the courtesy to streak through my field of view? Nope.

Every time I pointed the camera to a different place, the meteors would shoot across
the sky where I had just been. I'm quite sure they were messing with me.

Lessons learned from trying to photograph meteors:
1). It's hard. 2). I need to spend more time outside in the middle of the night
because the stars out here are jaw-dropping awesome.
3). Memories can be just as good as pictures but they're not as much fun to blog about.


  1. But I love these pictures!

  2. Looks like you got the hang of it. Beautiful sky!

  3. So glad you got some pictures. I miss it. Thanks, they are amazing.

  4. Sweet! I have never been able to get my dopey camera to let me take a night time picture! It always autocorrects to a light quality somewhat near daylight. It is creepy. Yours are gorgeous!

    We spent some time last week in a very dark place and our kids were mesmerized by the joyous wealth of stars. Just look up!

  5. love all your pixes, even the first one. Maybe you have been photographing the particules coming from the explosions in China! just joking

  6. Gorgeous skies.

  7. Great shots. I have yet to capture a meteor, but I did get a comet once. Love shooting at night.

    Emily in NC

  8. Your lessons are hard won from experience. A night sky can be so beautiful without distracting lights. Without meteors your photos are still worth seeing!

  9. Good for you. I'll bet you will have a real plan for next August. Did Johnny come keep you company?

    1. After repeatedly sneaking up and scaring the hell out of me, then playing the weave-through-the-legs--of-the-tripod game, JCC was locked in the feed room for the duration of the photo shoot.

    2. An American in Tokyo8/20/15, 7:18 PM


  10. The local weather forcasters were encouraging people to get out and watch the show. Living in NC, most of the time we have high humidity and partly cloudy or more skies at this time of year. A good cold front pushed thru and we had a clear view! So I was up and outside (in the suburbs) at 4am. We were told to focus on the North East skies and look for a particular constellation (shaped like a stretched out "M" , can't recall the name).

    I saw one as soon as I walked out the door a little before 4. Then I waited (shading eyes from the streetlight.).
    It seemed that if I stared at the sky, nothing of note happened. If I walked around and then glanced up ... SWOOSH! there went ONE!
    And boy, they were FAST! Blink and you missed it.

    The prediction was for up to 100 viewable meteors per hour (closer to 4am to sunrise). I didn't catch but about 6 to 10 in the 30 minutes I was outside. Timing and all the ambient lighting doesn't help.

    Being in the desert enviroment at altitude, you should have a much better chance of catching some great viewing .... planets and constellations. I remember being at a remote Fiji island resort(years ago). I was awake all night and spent most of the hours before sunrise just watching the Milky Way and listing to the waves. It was so beautiful! I don't get those opportunities where I live (light pollution and weather).

    Keep playing with the camera and settings. Those were some great shots!

    M in NC

  11. Beautiful skies anyway you look at them!

  12. Night skies can be magical. Glad you experienced it, even if the photography part frustrated you a little. One time as a teenager we lucked into the meteor shower while camping out in back yard. Wonderful.

    We had a clear night here, but I didn't stay up late to watch.

  13. Well done. Early bird gets the worm! Beautiful skies.

  14. The small format camera lens manufactures made it more difficult about 25 years ago when you could no longer turn the lens barrel fully one direction and be focused on infinity. Now you have to search for that infinity focus. Of course, 4x5 is a much better format. just try to get the film processed today, much less get a print from a negative. And forget E6...big yellow doesn't even make transparency film any more.

    Before my father passed away five years ago, he lived in the Texas hill country, about 100 miles west of San Antonio. During a full moon, he would go outside at night and read a book, the moon light was so bright. Wish I was there now, instead of living in the city.

    You did have a fantistic view. Time lapse photos are always tricky. Even though you are using a continous light source, you have to look at the finished image to tell what was recorded.

  15. Love this post! The progression of shots had me chuckling ... and then the last two definitely were 'ahhhhhhhhhhhh' some!

  16. I REALLY wish this was a video. It would've been a hoot to listen to you everytime you missed one or JCC walked up on you.

  17. These are awesome pictures. You have a blanket of stars above the 7MSN. I snuck out the back door of our house hoping I wouldn't wake our donkeys and have them think it was some special feeding time. I finally saw one beautiful meteor burst before deciding I was going to have a stiff neck if I didn't go back inside. But I thought the same thing -- I should go outside in the middle of the night and look at the stars more often.

  18. How wonderful you saw the meteor showers! We almost always have clouds in early August. I've only seen it one time where we live, but I'll never forget how amazing it was and I keep trying every year! And I am in awe of your nighttime photos. I can't even get a clear picture of the moon with a tripod.

  19. be still my heart.... those are beautiful pictures even if there weren't a gajillion shooting stars in them.... thanks for sharing :) the first one had some nice bokeh on it anyway!

  20. "Shots in the dark" - well, yes, but geez... For a second there I thought your neighborhood had gone downhill!
    Also, what wenparl said!

  21. I have been on a staycation and I am back (strapped) to the government computer yet again. These photos made me gasp! I cannot believe you captured it! Amazeballs!!!

  22. An American in Tokyo8/17/15, 6:05 PM

    I love that you are not afraid to show your "mistake" photos!
    I have a hard time getting good photos of the night skies as well. Sometimes there is a perfect moon and I just can't get the right exposure!

    I love the bright photo with the silhouettes! Reminds me of staying up all night just to see the starry night sky turn into a beautiful sunrise! =)

    You live in such a magical place!!!

  23. Gorgeous shots by the end! I went camping last week, in an area specifically geared toward astronomers, with not one but two serious photographers. I sat in an empty campsite with my wife as she went through all the troubles you describe: focus like this, that lens, ISO here, zoom like so, 30 second exposure... ... ... blobs, try again. I have to say you photographers are a patient bunch. She finally found the magical combination around 1am, and then the function that lets you activate the shutter manually (which means minutes-long exposures where you can see the trails left by the stars as the earth rotates! Highly recommended if you have a remote for your camera). She didn't end up capturing any meteors either (though we saw dozens every night for the whole trip - you get the best viewing during the peak night, but there are still lots for a few days on either side), but it was still worthwhile. I think city-dwellers' souls would be healthier if light pollution weren't so prevalent and everybody could see a good sky full of stars once in a while.