Meteor Showers 2020: The Definitive Photography Guide

By Antoni Cladera

Maybe you're looking for the 2020 calendar of the best Meteor Showers in USA, UK, Australia, Chile, India or any other place on the planet. Maybe you want to know at what time tonight's Meteor Shower is peaking in your hometown.

Or maybe you just want to learn how to photograph a Meteor Shower.

Well...

You came to the right place!

In this guide you'll find everything you need to successfully photograph Meteor Showers...

From a complete Meteor Shower 2020 calendar, inspiring photo ideas and how to plan them with the PhotoPills app to all the gear you need and how to photograph a Meteor Shower step by step.

And even how to use a star tracker and how to stack your Meteor Shower photos to create amazing effects.

You're about to learn all you need to enjoy watching and shooting one of the best late-night shows served by nature: Meteor Showers.

My goal with this article, using the same words that the night photography Master Lance Keimig uses in his most famous book, Night Photography and Light Painting, is to help you:

"Find your way in the dark"

Content

  1. Meteor shower calendar for 2020
  2. How to find the Meteor Shower's radiant point (where to frame)
  3. The 9 best Meteor Showers' key information
  4. How to plan a Meteor Shower step by step
  5. All the gear you need to photograph a Meteor Shower (low-end, mid-range, high-end)
  6. How to photograph a Meteor Shower step by step
  7. 4 amazing Meteor Shower photo ideas to inspire you
  8. Join the quest!

1.Meteor Shower calendar for 2020

NameActivity DatesPeak (UTC)MoonMeteors/h
QuadrantidsDec 28-Jan 12Jan 4 at 8:32 am61.0%110
LyridsApr 14-30Apr 22 at 6:40 am0.8%18
Eta AquariidsApr 19-May 28May 6 at 8:11 pm99.3%50
Delta AquariidsJul 12-Aug 23Jul 30 at 11:30 pm85.2%25
PerseidsJul 17-Aug 24Aug 12 at 1:13 pm41.9%110
OrionidsOct 2-Nov 7Oct 21 at 5:35 am25.9%20
LeonidsNov 6-30Nov 17 at 10:54 am7.2%15
GeminidsDec 4-17Dec 14 at 12:48 am0.6%20
UrsidsDec 17-26Dec 22 at 9:13 am53.9%10

Meteors are caused by streams of cosmic debris entering the Earth's atmosphere at extremely high speeds. Smaller fragments burn in the atmosphere producing a shooting star, but the bigger ones can really produce an amazing big fireball.

And when the space rocks (meteoroids) of the Perseids, the Geminids, the Quadrantids or any other powerful meteor shower enter the Earth's atmosphere, you'd better be ready for a great night of shooting stars.

The table above gives you the basic information of the 9 most important Meteor Showers in 2020:

  • Activity dates: The period of time the Meteor Shower is active.
  • Peak (UTC): The date and time the maximum activity of meteors is expected in GMT time zone (Coordinated Universal Time or UTC). If you want to know when the Meteor Shower is peaking in your exact location, you can do the math for your local time zone or you can use PhotoPills. I'll show you in a second how to figure it out with the Meteor Shower pill.
  • Moon: The Moon phase during the peak. The higher the Moon phase (in %), the worse photographing conditions you'll have (more Moonlight). But, obviously, it also depends whether the Moon is above or below the horizon during the peak. So knowing local Moonrise and set times is key.
  • Meteors/h: The maximum number of meteors/h you could theoretically capture during the Meteor Shower's peak. The truth is that the number of meteors you should expect is lower. It depends on the conditions you'll have in the location where you are: your local peak time, Moon phase and Moonrise/set times, the light pollution at your shooting spot and the position of the Meteor Shower's radiant in the sky. The radiant is the point where meteors appear to originate. It's key to know where the radiant is to decide your shooting spot and framing. I'll tell you everything about the radiant in section 2.

Now...

If you've been searching for Meteor Showers information on the Internet, you'd probably come across similar tables. All of them are great. They give you a generic understanding on when to photograph a Meteor Shower and how great the show could be.

But the catch is, it's just generic info!

And if you're serious about photographing a Meteor Shower, you need accurate local information... No matter where you are in the world!

Period!

You need to know

  • When is the best time to photograph the Meteor Shower, and
  • How good it'll be for the location you are or plan to be to photograph it.

And there is a quick way to figure it out.

Long story short...

Open your PhotoPills app, go to the Pills Menu, scroll down a bit and tap the Meteor Shower pill.

Meteor Showers > Info. All the key info about the active Meteor Showers for a selected date and location. And also a shortcut to the most important Meteor Shower peaks.
Meteor Showers > Calendar. The calendar of the most important Meteor Showers for the selected year. Swipe left or right to change the year.

Here you'll find all you need to know about any Meteor Shower for your location (and local time), no matter where you are on the planet – Northern or Southern Hemisphere. It includes:

  • A complete Meteor Shower calendar, including all the major and minor Meteor Showers.
  • Dates and local times of Meteor Shower peaks for the selected location.
  • Meteor shower visibility and quality for your location (taking into account local peak time, Moonlight and radiant position). The blue energy bar next to the Meteor Showers points out how intense it's expected to be.
  • Radiant position and path. In the field, use the Augmented Reality view (AR) to visualize the Meteor Shower radiant position and path (even offline). It's key to decide your shooting spot and framing.
  • Detailed information for each Meteor Shower. In the Calendar, tap a Meteor Shower to see its information sheet.
  • Sunrise and Sunset times, Moonrise and Moonset times, Galactic Center visibility times (Milky Way). Why not photographing the Milky Way with some meteors? Just an idea!
  • Number of hours without Moon that you can enjoy during the night.
Meteor Showers > Info. Scroll down the screen to discover more info. Including the key Sun, Moon and Milky Way info; a graph showing the peak of activity and the paths of the radiant and the Moon; the azimuth and elevation of the Moon and active Meteor Showers, and meteors/h of each shower.
Meteor Showers > AR. Augmented Reality view of the radiant at the beginning of the shooting session.

But this is just a quick introduction to all you can do with PhotoPills...

There is much more!

In section 4, I'll show you step by step how to plan your Meteor Shower photos with PhotoPills using

  • The Meteor Shower Pill to have instant access to all the key Meteor Shower information. It's super useful to plan your Meteor Shower images in the field.
  • The Planner's Meteor Shower features to plan your Meteor Shower photo ideas from home, using the map view.

But before that, let me show you how to locate the radiant in the sky.

Keep reading!

2.How to find the Meteor Shower's radiant point (where to frame the camera)

Knowing where the Meteor Shower's radiant is at all times is key.

It helps you decide the shooting spot and where to frame the camera based on the image you wish to capture...

But first things first!

Let's start from the beginning...

What's the radiant of a Meteor shower?

During the meteor shower, you'll observe that meteors appear to radiate from one point in the night sky. This spot is called the radiant.

Each radiant (the point of origin from where the meteors appear to converge) is located within or near the constellation that give the name to the meteor shower.

For example, the radiant of the Geminids meteor shower is located in the constellation of Gemini, near the Castor star, one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. So you could frame anywhere and eventually capture meteors...

Having said that...

Locating the radiant in the sky will help you decide the shooting spot and where to frame your camera, depending on the image you wish to capture:

  • You want the radiant in the frame if you intend to create an image in post-processing where all the meteors appear to converge in one spot in the sky. Like I did to create the cover image of this guide your're reading. It’s a cool effect. You can create it too in post-processing by using the technique described in this video by David Kingham.
  • The further away a meteor appears from the radiant, the longer its tail might be. So to increase the odds of capturing longer tails, frame an area of the sky that is away from the radiant.
  • Also, to capture the maximum number of meteors, use the shortest possible focal length (wide angle lens). The more sky you include in the frame the more meteors you’ll potentially capture.
  • But don’t forget to include an interesting subject in the foreground. Connecting the action in the sky with a powerful foreground will make your image shine!

How to locate the radiant

NameRight AscensionDeclinationConstellationAssociated Comet
Quadrantids15h 20m+49.0ºBoötes2003 EH1 (asteroid)
Lyrids18h 04m+34.0ºLyraC/1861 G1 Thatcher
Eta Aquariids22h 32m-1.0ºAquarius1P Halley
Delta Aquariids22h 40m-16.0ºAquariusUnknown, 96P Machholz suspected
Perseids03h 12m+58.0ºPerseus109P/Swift-Tuttle
Orionids06h 20m+16.0ºOrion1P Halley
Leonids10h 08m+22.0ºLeo55P/Tempel-Tuttle
Geminids07h 28m+33.0ºGemini3200 Phaethon
Ursids14h 28m+76.0ºUrsa Minor8P/Tuttle

As you can see in the table above, the position of the radiant in the sky is defined by two coordinates: right ascension and declination.

  • The right ascension is the angular distance measured eastward along the celestial equator between the vernal equinox (or autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere) and the celestial body. Together with the declination, it defines a position of a celestial body in the sky. It's measured in hours (1h equals to 15º), minutes and seconds.
  • The declination is the vertical angular distance between the center of a celestial body and the celestial equator. A declination of +20º means that the celestial body is located 20º north of the celestial equator. The south polar cap is at a declination of -90º, the equator is at declination 0º, and the north polar cap is at a declination of +90º. Declination is to a celestial globe as latitude is to a terrestrial globe, a vertical positioning of an object.

Yes, I know, I know...

Both coordinates have horrible names and even worse definitions.

But the good news is that you can use the PhotoPills' Night Augmented Reality view to easily locate the exact position of the radiant in the sky.

Meteor Showers > AR. Augmented Reality view of the radiant at the beginning of the shooting session.
Meteor Showers > AR. Augmented Reality view of the radiant at the end of the shooting session.

Follow these steps:

  • When you're at the shooting spot, open PhotoPills. In the Pills menu, scroll down a bit and tap Meteor Showers.
  • Select the Meteor Shower peak you want to plan from the Info tab or from the Calendar tab.
  • Tap the AR tab. PhotoPills will show you what's happening in the sky for the location where you are and the selected peak date and time. Use it to locate the radiant in the sky.
  • It's always a good idea to calibrate the AR view to make sure that what you're seeing through your smartphone is accurate.
  • Swipe the AR view from left to right to move time backwards to the beginning of the shooting session and then move your smartphone until you find the radiant.
  • Swipe the AR view from right to left to move time forward and see how the radiant moves across the sky to know where it is at all times.

Once you've located the radiant in the sky for both the beginning and the end of the shooting session, you'll know exactly the path the radiant will follow. Then, you'll be able to decide the shooting spot and framing based on the image you wish to capture.

3.The 9 best Meteor Showers' key information

The Quadrantids, December 28 to January 12

The Quadrantids, well known for their bright fireball meteors, which produce larger explosions of light and color, are also known to be tricky.

With a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) reaching 110 meteors/h, the Quadrantids could be the most powerful shower of the year. But it turns out that the peak only lasts a few hours, which makes it difficult to catch.

The shower runs from December 28 to January 12. The best night for the watching is the one between the 3 and 4 of January. The Peak has been predicted for January 4 at 8:32 am UTC.

The Moon, with a phase of 61.0%, will be an issue this year. It might block part of the meteors. So use PhotoPills to check the time the Moon will set in your location and get ready for the show.

Unfortunately, this Meteor Shower is only visible from the Northern Hemisphere. These meteors are not visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

Highlights:

  • When: December 28 to January 12, 2020
  • Best night: January 3-4
  • Peak: January 4 at 8:32 am UTC
  • Moon phase: 61.0% (poor viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 110 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 41 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Boötes constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 15h 20m, declination +49.0º
  • Associated asteroid: 2003 EH1
  • Northern Hemisphere: Medium rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Not visible

Do you want to have the Quadrantids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Quadrantids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Quadrantids. All the key information you need about the Quadrantids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

The Lyrids, April 14 to 30

With a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of just 18 meteors/h, the Lyrids is an average shower.

It runs from April 14 to 30. The best night for the watching is the one between the 21 and 22 of April. The Peak has been predicted for April 22 at 6:40 am UTC.

This is a great year for the Lyrids. The Moon, with a phase of 0.8%, will let you enjoy the show.

This Meteor Shower is visible from both hemispheres. Although it's weaker in the Southern Hemisphere.

Highlights:

  • When: April 14-30, 2020
  • Best night: April 21-22
  • Peak: April 22 at 6:40 am UTC
  • Moon phase: 0.8% (good viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 18 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 49 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Lyra constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 18h 04m, declination +34.0º
  • Associated comet: C/1861 G1 Thatcher (discovered in 1861)
  • Northern Hemisphere: Medium rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Low rate

Do you want to have the Lyrids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Lyrids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Lyrids. All the key information you need about the Lyrids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

Eta Aquariids, April 19 to May 28

The Eta Aquariids is known for its high percentage of persistent trains, but few fireballs. It's usually a very active meteor shower when viewed from the southern tropics. Its Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is 50 meteors/h, but it gets down to 10-30 from the equator northward.

It runs from April 19 to May 28. The best night for the watching is the one between the 5 and 6 of May. The Peak has been predicted for May 5 at 8:11 pm UTC. Trying the night before and after is also a great idea.

This year the challenge is to deal with a Moon phase of 99.3%. Moonlight will work against your interests washing out the stars... But PhotoPillers never give up :P

The Meteor Shower is best visible from the Southern Hemisphere. It's also visible from the Northern Hemisphere but at a lower rate.

Highlights:

  • When: April 19 to May 28, 2020
  • Best night: May 5-6
  • Peak: May 5 at 8:11 pm UTC
  • Moon phase: 99.3% (poor viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 50 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 66 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Aquarius constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 22h 32m, declination -1.0º
  • Associated comet: 1P Halley
  • Northern Hemisphere: Medium rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Good rate

Do you want to have the Eta Aquariids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Eta Aquariids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Eta Aquariids. All the key information you need about the Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

Delta Aquariids. July 12 to August 23

As it happens with the Eta Aquariids, it's better to watch this shower from the southern tropics. With a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 25 meteors/h, don't expect to see many meteors.

It runs from July 12 to August 23. The best night for the watching is the one between the 29 and 30 of July. The Peak has been predicted for July 29 at 11:30 pm UTC.

This year the challenge is to deal with a Moon phase of 85.2%. Moonlight will work against your interests washing out the stars... But PhotoPillers never give up :P

The Meteor Shower is best visible from the Southern Hemisphere. It's also visible from the Northern Hemisphere but at a lower rate.

Highlights:

  • When: July 12 to August 23, 2020
  • Best night: July 29-30
  • Peak: July 29 at 11:30 pm UTC
  • Moon phase: 85.2% (poor viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 25 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 41 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Aquarius constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 22h 40m, declination -16.0º
  • Associated comet: Unknown, 96P Machholz suspected
  • Northern Hemisphere: Medium rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Good rate

Do you want to have the Delta Aquariids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Delta Aquariids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Delta Aquariids. All the key information you need about the Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

The Perseids, July 17 to August 24

The Perseids is considered to be the best meteor shower of the year. With a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of above 110 meteors/h, the night of the peak is usually epic.

It runs from July 17 to August 24. The best night for the watching is the one between the 12 and 13 of August. The Peak has been predicted for August 12 at 1:13 pm UTC. It's a good idea to give it a try also the nights before and after.

This is a great year for the Perseids. The Moon, with a phase of 41.9%, won't be a problem. Just use PhotoPills to check the time the Moon will set in your location and get ready for the show.

The Meteor Shower is visible and intense in both hemispheres.

Highlights:

  • When: July 17 to August 24, 2020
  • Best night: August 12-13
  • Peak: August 12 at 1:13 pm UTC
  • Moon phase: 41.9% (good viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 110 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 59 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Perseus constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 03h 12m, declination +58.0º
  • Associated comet: 109P/Swift-Tuttle (discovered in 1862)
  • Northern Hemisphere: High rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: High rate

Do you want to have the Perseids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Perseids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Perseids. All the key information you need about the Perseids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

The Orionids, October 2 to November 7

The Orionids are associated to the comet 1P/Halley, the same that's associated to the Eta Aquariids in May. It's an average shower with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of just 20 meteors/h.

It runs from October 2 to November 7. The best night for the watching is the one between the 19 and 20 of October. The Peak has been predicted for October 20 at 5:35 am UTC.

This is a great year for the Orionids, the Moon, with a phase of 25.9%, won't be a problem. Just use PhotoPills to check the time the Moon will set in your location and get ready for the show.

The Meteor Shower is visible in both hemispheres.

Highlights:

  • When: October 2 to November 7, 2020
  • Best night: October 19-20
  • Peak: October 20 at 5:35 am UTC
  • Moon phase: 25.9% (good viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 20 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 66 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Orion constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 06h 20m, declination +16.0º
  • Associated comet: 1P/Halley
  • Northern Hemisphere: Low rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Low rate

Do you want to have the Orionids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Orionids to see all the key information.

See the two screenshots below, they show the meteor shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Orionids. All the key information you need about the Orionids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

The Leonids, November 6 to 30

The Leonids has a peak above 100 meteors/h every 33 years. The last great peak occurred in 2001, so we'll have to wait until 2034! Usually, It's an average shower with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of just 15 meteors/h.

It runs from November 6 to 30. The best night for the watching is the one between the 16 and 17 of November. The Peak has been predicted for November 17 at 10:54 am UTC.

This is a great year for the Leonids. The Moon, with a phase of 7.2%, will let you enjoy the show.

The Meteor Shower should be visible in both hemispheres.

Highlights:

  • When: November 6 to 30, 2020
  • Best night: November 16-17
  • Peak: November 17 at 10:54 am UTC
  • Moon phase: 7.2% (good viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 15 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 71 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Leo constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 10h 08m, declination +22.0º
  • Associated comet: 55P/Tempel-Tuttle
  • Northern Hemisphere: Low rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Low rate

Do you want to have the Leonids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Leonids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Leonids. All the key information you need about the Leonids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

The Geminids, December 4 to 17

For many astronomers, the Geminids is considered to be the queen of the meteor showers. With a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 120 meteors/h, you can expect to see a good number of bright meteors.

It runs from December 4 to 17. The best night for the watching is the one between the 13 and 14. The Peak has been predicted for December 14 at 12:48 am UTC.

This is a great year for the Geminids. The Moon, with a phase of 0.6%, will let you enjoy the show.

It's visible from both hemispheres. Although it's weaker in the Southern Hemisphere.

Highlights:

  • When: December 4 to 17, 2020
  • Best night: December 13-14
  • Peak: December 14 at 12:48 am UTC
  • Moon phase: 0.6% (good viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 120 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 35 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Gemini constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 07h 28m, declination +33.0º
  • Associated comet: 3200 Phaethon (discovered in 1982)
  • Northern Hemisphere: High rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Medium rate

Do you want to have the Geminids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Geminids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Geminids. All the key information you need about the Geminids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

The Ursids, December 17 to 26

With a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of just 10 meteors/h, the Ursids is an average shower.

It runs from December 17 to 26. The best night for the watching is the one between the 21 and 22 of December. The Peak has been predicted for December 22 at 9:13 am UTC.

The Moon, with a phase of 53.9%, will be an issue this year. It might block part of the meteors. So use PhotoPills to check the time the Moon will set in your location and get ready for the show.

Unfortunately, this Meteor Shower is only visible from the Northern Hemisphere. These meteors are not visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

Highlights:

  • When: December 17 to 26, 2020
  • Best night: December 21-22
  • Peak: December 22 at 9:13 am UTC
  • Moon phase: 53.9% (poor viewing conditions)
  • Number (ZHR): 10 meteors/h
  • Meteors velocity: 33 km/s
  • Origin (radiant): Ursa Minor constellation
  • Radiant coordinates: Right ascension 14h 28m, declination +76.0º
  • Associated comet: 8P/Tuttle (discovered in 1790)
  • Northern Hemisphere: Medium rate
  • Southern Hemisphere: Not visible

Do you want to have the Ursids' information for your current location and for your local time zone?

Open PhotoPills, go to the Meteor Shower Pill (you'll find it in the Pills Menu), tap Calendar (at the bottom), swipe the calendar to choose the year and then tap Ursids to see all the key information.

Have a look at the two screenshots below, they show the Meteor Shower information for Madrid (Spain), my current location at the time of writing this article.

Meteor Showers > Calendar. Choose the year and tap a meteor shower to see all the key information.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Ursids. All the key information you need about the Ursids Meteor Shower for the selected location and your local time. Scroll down to discover more information.

4.How to plan a Meteor Shower step by step

Let's say you want to photograph a Meteor Shower in a beautiful location. It has little light pollution, amazing views and an interesting subject.

Suddenly, your mind is filled up with questions:

  • When is the next cool Meteor Shower happening?
  • Will it be visible from where I live?
  • And from the location I want to photograph it?
  • How intense will it be?
  • When is the Meteor Shower peaking?
  • What's the peak local time?
  • Where will the radiant be relative to my subject?

The good news is that you can answer all these questions (and a few more) with PhotoPills.

So open PhotoPills and enjoy planning your Meteor Shower shots:

  • In the field, with the Meteor Shower pill.
  • From home, with the new Meteor Shower features added to the Planner.

Let me show you how to use both tools.

Planning a Meteor Shower with the Meteor Shower pill (1)

You'll find the Meteor Shower pill in the Pills Menu, next to the Night AR.

This tool gives you instant access to all the key information of the most important Meteor Showers, including an Augmented Reality option to help you locate the radiant in the sky... And it works offline!

This is how it works...

Step 1. Select the Meteor Shower

Tap the Meteor Shower pill.

PhotoPills will use your current date, time and location to show you all the key information about the upcoming Meteor Showers.

Notice that your location, date and time appear at the top of the screen (Info tab). Change the location, date and time from the Settings option (at the top right hand corner).

Now...

Choose the Meteor Shower peak you want to plan either from the Info tab (choosing one of the major upcoming showers) or from the Calendar tab.

Meteor Showers > Info. All the key information about the active Meteor Showers for a selected date and location. And also a shortcut to the most important Meteor Shower peaks.
Meteor Showers > Calendar. The calendar of the most important Meteor Showers for the selected year (2020). Swipe left or right to change the year.

Notice that to help you choose a cool Meteor Shower, the information PhotoPills provides includes the name, the period of activity, peak date, peak time, peak meteors/h and peak Moon phase.

It also includes an energy bar showing you how good is the Meteor Shower in terms of the number of meteors you could capture. The more filled the energy bar is, the better the Meteor Shower is expected to be.

Let's say that you have a look at the 2020 Meteor Shower calendar and decide to plan a photo of the Geminids. It seems to be a great year for the Geminids. The peak is on December 24 at 2:45 am, the Moon is super thin (0.5%) and the shower is expected to be super intense (117.8 meteors/h) from my location.

In the Calendar, when you tap a Meteor Shower, you'll access the Meteor Shower information sheet. Tap the Meteor Shower peak info to select it (first row of the table).

Meteor Showers > Calendar. The calendar of the most important Meteor Showers for the selected year (2020). Swipe left or right to change the year.
Meteor Showers > Calendar > Geminids. The 2020 Geminids information sheet. Tap the first row to select it and see all the information in the Info tab.
Step 2. Find the Meteor Shower key information

Once you've selected the Meteor Shower, all the key information will appear in the Info tab.

What you're seeing now is all the information you need to know about the Meteor Shower activity for your current location and for the date and time the 2020 Geminids is peaking (December 14 at 2:45 am). If you want to change the location, the date and time, tap Settings (at the top right hand corner).

Meteor Showers > Info. All the key information about the active Meteor Showers for a selected date and location. And also a shortcut to the most important Meteor Shower peaks.
Meteor Showers > Info. Scroll down the screen to discover more info. Including the key Sun, Moon and Milky Way info; a graph showing the peak of activity and the paths of the radiant and the Moon; the azimuth and elevation of the Moon and active Meteor Showers, and meteors/h of each shower.

In the big box, you have:

  • The number of meteors/h for the selected date and time (the Geminids peak date and time: December 14 at 2:45 am). Notice that this number takes into account all the active Meteor Showers. You can see these Meteor Showers listed further down in the screenshot.
  • The expected peak time and expected peak meteors/h (taking into account all active Meteor Showers).

Below the big box, you find the Moon phase and the amount of time you can enjoy the Meteor Shower activity without Moon: 11h 25min.

Pretty cool, isn't it?

Swipe your finger on the big box to change time and see how the Meteor shower conditions change throughout the night.

If you scroll down a bit, you'll also find the key Sun, Moon and Milky Way information.

And below it, there is a super interesting graph.

This graph is great to quickly know at what time the maximum intensity of meteors will happen and how intense the shower will be. Moreover, visualizing the paths of the radiant and Moon gives you valuable inputs on how the Moon and the radiant will affect the shooting session.

Swipe your finger on the graph to change the time and see how the Meteor Shower intensity evolves.

Finally, at the bottom, you'll find the azimuth and elevation of the Moon and all the radiants of the active Meteor Showers. It also includes the number of meteors/h of each shower.

Step 3. Find your shooting spot and framing (locate the radiant in the sky)

When the Meteor Shower peak date finally arrives (December 14, 2020), go to the shooting location when the Sun is still up.

Yes, in this example, the peak is at 2:45 am on December 14th, but you should get to your shooting location on the 13th, before Sunset.

Why?

Because finding a cool composition in the dark is much more complicated. And also because you need to spend as much time taking photos as possible to capture as many meteors as possible.

As soon as you arrive, open PhotoPills, select the peak date of the Geminids from the Calendar and tap the AR button to locate the radiant at the beginning and at the end of the shooting session.

AR view of the radiant at the beginning of the shooting session.
AR view of the radiant at the end of the shooting session.

It's always a good idea to calibrate the AR view to make sure that what you're seeing through your smartphone is accurate.

Swipe the AR view to visualize how the radiant moves across the sky.

The radiant is the point in the sky where meteors appear to originate. Locating the radiant in the sky will help you decide the shooting spot and where to frame your camera, depending on the image you wish to capture:

  • You want the radiant in the frame if you intend to create an image in post-processing where all the meteors appear to converge in one spot in the sky. Like I did to create the cover image of this guide your're reading. It’s a cool effect. You can create it too in post-processing by using the technique described in this video by David Kingham.
  • The further away a meteor appears from the radiant, the longer its tail might be. So to increase the odds of capturing longer tails, frame an area of the sky that is away from the radiant.
  • Also, to capture the maximum number of meteors, use the shortest possible focal length (wide angle lens). The more sky you include in the frame the more meteors you’ll potentially capture.
  • But don’t forget to include an interesting subject in the foreground. Connecting the action in the sky with a powerful foreground will make your image shine!

You can also use the AR view to plan the Milky Way ;)

So...

Decide your shooting spot and framing...

And you're all set!

It's time to enjoy a fantastic night under the stars ;)

Planning a Meteor Shower with the Planner (2)

I love the Planner...

It's my favorite tool in PhotoPills.

And now that I can use it to plan any Meteor Shower, for any location on Earth, from my couch...

I love it even more :P

Let's see how it works...

Step 1. Choose the Meteor Shower

Go to the Planner and place the Red Pin where you want to plan the Meteor Shower.

Then,

  • Tap the Map Settings button. You'll find it on the Map, next to the (+) map button.
  • Switch off the map layers you don't need (like the Sun layer for example). To do it, tap the eye icon you have next to each of the layers.
  • Tap the Meteor Shower layer.
  • And choose the Meteor Shower peak from the calendar.
Planner main view. Place the Red Pin at the desired shooting spot. Tap the Map Settings button and then tap the Meteor Shower layer to see the calendar.
Planner > Map Settings Button > Meteor Shower layer. Choose the Meteor Shower from the calendar.

Notice that to help you choose a cool Meteor Shower, the information PhotoPills provides includes the name, period of activity, peak date, peak time, peak meteors/h and peak Moon phase. It also includes an energy bar showing you how good is the Meteor Shower in terms of the number of meteors you could capture. The more filled the energy bar is, the better the Meteor Shower is expected to be.

Let's use the Geminids again as an example and say that you want to plan shooting them in 2020. On the Calendar, tap the 2020 Geminids to select it and see all the information on the map and on Panel 11.

Step 2. Find your shooting spot and framing

To find your shooting spot and framing, you need to know the Meteor Shower radiant's position and path during the shooting session.

When you select a Meteor Shower from the calendar, the peak date and time will be set in the Planner (check the Time Bar below the map).

And you'll find all the information you need to plan the photo on the map and on Panel 11.

Planner. Map view of the Meteor Shower radiant and path, and the Meteor Shower information on Panel 11 at the beginning of the shooting session.
Planner. Map view of the Meteor Shower radiant and path, and the Meteor Shower information on Panel 11 at the end of the shooting session.

On the map you have the following information:

  • Radiant path: The path the radiant will follow during the night. It looks like an arch on the map. It's where the radiant is moving.
  • Radiant position: The radiant is displayed as a circle on the path. The radiant azimuth line (that starts at the Red Pin) shows you where the radiant is at the selected date and time.
  • Concentric circumferences: A kind of contour lines that help you understand the elevation of the radiant. The azimuth and the elevation of the radiant also appear on Panel 11.

And on Panel 11 you have the Meteor Shower name, activity period, peak date and time, radiant coordinates (azimuth and elevation) and the number of meteors/h (of all active meteor showers) for the position of the Red Pin and the selected time and date.

Swipe the Time Bar to see how the radiant changes its position throughout the night.

Knowing the position of the radiant at all times will help you adjust the position of the Red Pin, and thus find your shooting spot and framing.

Step 3. Locate the Radiant in the sky

Finally, use the Planner's Night AR bottom option to view the radiant position in the sky. Notice that what you're seeing is the view from the Red Pin position (not from the position where you currently are).

So when the Meteor Shower peaking date arrives, go to the shooting spot (where the Red Pin is), and use the Planner's Night AR view (or the Meteor Shower Pill > AR) to locate the radiant at the beginning and at the end of the shooting session.

Planner > Night AR. Tap the Night AR option to visualize the radiant position and path.
Planner > Night AR. Night AR view of the radiant at the beginning of the shooting session.

Again, calibrate the AR view to make sure that what you're seeing through your smartphone is accurate.

Swipe the Night AR view to visualize how the radiant moves across the sky.

Cool!

Now you know how to use the PhotoPills' Meteor Shower tool and the Planner's Meteor Shower features to plan your Meteor Shower shots.

It's time to let your imagination fly...

And plan a stunning Meteor Shower image ;)

5.All the gear you need to photograph a Meteor Shower (low-end, mid-range, high-end)

"Toni, what gear should I buy to successfully capture any Meteor Showers?"

Well...

It depends on your budget, obviously.

But one thing is certain...

You should get the gear that allows you to photograph the Milky Way, Star Trails and Meteor Showers with an acceptable quality level.

If you love astrophotography, my one and only piece of advice would be: invest in the best camera, the best lens, the best tripod and the best ballhead that you can afford.

Or at least in the bare minimum:

  • A camera that performs great at high ISOs, one that doesn't produce too much noise, and
  • A very sharp lens.

These two elements are key to produce high quality images.

In our guide on how to photograph the Milky Way, I extensively discuss the pros and cons of the low-end, mid-range and high-end equipment for Milky Way photography. I recommend you to have a look at section 8 of that guide. There, you'll find what to buy and not to buy depending on your goals and your budget ;)

Having said that...

Please, don't take anything for granted. This is just my personal opinion. At the end of the day, your choice of gear is your call!

Let's see what gear you need.

Camera

These are the key features I believe a good camera (either DSLR or mirrorless) for night photography should have:

  • Full manual exposure controls of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focus.
  • A Full Frame sensor is better (but not mandatory), because its noise performance is much better than in APS-C cameras. This allows you to use higher ISO values, collect more light and, thus, capture more stars. For a given number of megapixels, Full Frame cameras generally produce less noise in the image than APS-C cameras.
  • Good noise performance when cranking up the ISO to 3200 or higher.
  • Full manual control of the white balance.
  • External buttons to directly access most of the settings (ISO, white balance, etc.) without having to dig into the camera menu.
  • The option to shoot in RAW.
  • A perfectly sealed camera body with optimal construction to withstand the effects of wind, water, rain, humidity, sand, dust, etc.
  • Good heat dissipation system to prevent the sensor to heat up and, thus, avoid thermal noise in the picture. Besides the noise, if the sensor temperature is too high, the sensor might start producing a magenta vignetting in the picture.
  • A built-in intervalometer. It comes very handy when you forget to bring the external intervalometer or when it runs out of battery.
  • The option to use non-CPU lenses.

I know, I know...

Not every single camera on the market fulfills all these requirements. Obviously, the most expensive cameras come with more features and are, in my opinion, the best ones.

But you can still get a great camera to achieve acceptable Meteor Shower and Milky Way images at an affordable price.

These are my recommendations depending on your budget.

Low-end cameras

These cameras allow full manual exposure and manual white balance (or, at least, choosing a white balance preset).

With all of these cameras you can shoot multiple short exposures for one or two hours, even at ISO 1600. If you go beyond two hours, you start getting noise in your images because of the sensor heat.

When shooting Meteor Showers or the Milky Way, these type of cameras suffer from noise at ISOs of 3200 and higher.

Remember, these are basic cameras with small sensors. So always check how much noise the sensor has produced when shooting a single long exposure.

Obviously, this limits the exposure time you can set and, thus, the number of meteors you can capture.

Mid-range cameras

These cameras give an acceptable quality when shooting both Meteor Showers and the Milky Way. The cool thing here is that their noise performance at ISOs of 3200 and above is great.

High-end cameras

The following are great cameras if you are (or want to become) an advanced night photographer. Their performance at very high ISOs (3200, 6400,...) is just stunning.

You won't regret getting one of these babies... :D

Lens

The summary is: get a wide angle lens!

The typical focal lengths you would use in night photography go from 10mm to 35mm depending on how much landscape and sky you want to include in the frame. So you could even get a very cool shot with a fisheye lens, for example.

The shorter the focal length the more sky (that is, meteors) and landscape you'll capture.

In addition to this, the lens should have a very wide aperture (f/1.4, f/2.8...). The aperture is crucial because the sensor needs to capture as much light as possible. This results in a picture with the maximum number of stars that look as bright as possible.

Low-end lenses

If you only have a basic 18-55mm lens f/3.5-f/5.6, you shouldn't think twice: invest some money in a better one.

The lens is an extremely important part of the equation: it's the element that makes the image. Remember, the camera records it only. Therefore, investing in quality lenses is a synonym of capturing sharp pictures with less noise (provided they have a wide aperture, of course).

If you're looking for an affordable wide angle lens, try the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 with AE chip and the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Firefly.

Mid-range lenses

For Micro 4/3 cameras all the following lenses are great for night photography:

For APS-C cameras, I'd like to highlight the following lenses:

For Full Frame cameras, these prime lenses are great:

Keep in mind that these lenses also work on APS-C cameras, but you need to take into account the crop factor. For example, for a camera with a crop factor of 1.5x, the Rokinon 14mm would be equivalent to 21mm for a Full Frame camera.

High-end lenses

Are you're seriously getting into night photography?

Yeah?

Are you sure?

Then, you should have a close look at these beauties... XD

One of my favorite lenses due to its quality is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. It's an incredibly sharp lens with very little coma and vignetting.

Not only Nikon photographers use it. I've encountered photographers using other camera brands like Canon and Sony. If you want to use it, make sure to get a top quality adapter ring like the Novoflex EOS NIK NT.

You also have the iconic Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8. Despite suffering from coma, it's a great option for Meteor Showers at f/4.

Another alternative, but much more expensive, is the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8. It's an incredibly sharp lens without coma. But it has an over contrasting glass, and this is a problem at night.

The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 will show details in the blacks where the Zeiss only shows pitch black.

If you're looking for a very sharp lens, try the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8.

Similarly, the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 give exceptional results. Both lenses have little coma.

On the Canon side, you have the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III.

Other awesome lenses are the:

Tripod & head

You need a sturdy tripod, a tripod that weighs!

Why?

Because you'll be shooting long exposures. So you need to keep your camera steady and avoid any vibration that could potentially blur your photos.

Low-end tripod and head

You can't imagine how many students come to my workshops with equipment worth thousands of dollars and who want their $100 tripod and head to be stable and sturdy.

Don't try the impossible. A $100 tripod and head kit is not stable, nor sturdy. Quite the opposite in fact.

You risk having a bad experience and losing hundreds of dollars because on a windy day your tripod fell off and your gear crashed against a rock...

Please invest in high quality gear. It lasts many years and you won't regret it.

Mid-range tripod and head

I've been recommending the Manfrotto 055XPRO3 to a large number of advanced amateur photographers for many years now. It's good value for money and it's a very robust aluminium tripod.

And you know what? To date, I haven't received any complaints ;)

That being said, if you have a slightly higher budget, I suggest you to invest in a carbon fiber tripod. They offer the same strength and stability as an aluminium tripod. But they're much lighter and your back will be extremely happy.

I mentioned Manfrotto. Have a look also at the tripods from Gitzo, Benro, Induro or Really Right Stuff. They are fantastic brands as well.

Oh, and make sure they can bear at least between 5 and 25 kg.

High-end tripod and head

As you've probably guessed, the lighter the tripod, the more expensive it will be. Have a look at the brands I just mentioned: all their carbon fiber tripods are very good.

If you'd ask me where to invest your money (on a good set of tripod legs or on a good head), the answer is obvious: on a good head.

My favorite ballhead is the Really Right Stuff BH-55.

Although I also like the Gitzo GH1382QD, the Kirk Enterprises BH-1 and the Arca Swiss Monoball Z1 SP. All of them are extremely solid, reliable and allow you to work with great precision.

There are many excellent ballheads on the market. Just make sure that the ballhead can bear between 5 and 7 kg and that it has a removable plate.

Oh, I almost forgot. When I use a super telephoto lens I use a Benro GH2 gimbal head.

Star tracker

An equatorial mount, or star tracker, is a device that automatically rotates your camera while tracking the stars. This allows you to shoot longer exposures, capturing much more detail and preventing stars from trailing.

As a result, the image captured is much more spectacular.

The sky of the first image was shot with a star tracker capturing many more stars, and even a meteor!

So if you're shooting a Meteor Shower using a star tracker you can easily create the effect where all meteors emerge from the Meteor Shower's radiant point.

All you have to do is to stack the images you took for the sky to reveal the meteors captured, and then blend them with the image you took for the foreground.

In section 7 I'll show you a way to create the same effect without using a star tracker. The resulting image is this.

"OK Toni, let's say I want to buy a star tracker. What star tracker should I get?"

You have many options... It would be impossible to list them all here.

The one is use is the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

The iOptron SkyTracker Pro, the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Motorized Mount Photo Package and the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini EQ Camera Tracking Mount Head are also great.

But above all, choose a star tracker that can handle the weight of your camera gear. It's the most important thing you should consider when getting yours!

Lightning gear

Headlamp

If you're thinking about getting serious in night photography, you should buy a good headlamp. Remember that you'll be shooting in the dark, so you'll need some light source to adjust your gear, change the settings, and also focus at the hyperfocal distance.

The human eye needs 20 minutes to get used to seeing in the dark. So you should get a RED Night Vision Light headlamp. It would be a shame to waste that precious time because of a strong white light...

My favorite ones are the Petzl Tikka XP, the Pelican 2750 and the Pelican 2760.

If you prefer a powerful headlamp without RED Night Vision Light, try the Led Lenser SEO5, the H14R or the H7R.2.

LED flashlight

In addition to the headlamp, you could eventually get a couple of LED flashlights:

  • A powerful flashlight to illuminate subjects over long distances, like the Coast HP7 or the Led Lenser M7.
  • A second less powerful flashlight, such as the Coast TX-10, the Led Lenser L7 or the Maglite Mini Xenon to illuminate foreground subjects.

I use them to add texture and volume to a certain area of the foreground or to a determined subject. And the best part is that I can do it very precisely.

LED panels

LED panels provide a continuous source of light and are great to illuminate a large area of the foreground.

If you can, you should bring two with you to the shooting location.

Flash

A flash is a very powerful light source allowing you to freeze your subject, like a model for example, when shooting a long exposure.

You could hold it by hand. But if you have several flashes, use stands or tripods for flashes to place them in the scene. If you need to diffuse the light, consider using softboxes or octoboxes.

Colored gels

A gel is a colored plastic sheet that you place in front of the light source to color its light.

There are two types of colored gels (or color correction gels):

  • CTB gels (Color Temperature Blue) are great to cool the scene, because they turn tungsten light of 3200K into 'daylight' color (5500K).
  • CTO gels (Color Temperature Orange) turn 'daylight' color (5500K) into tungsten (3200K), so you can warm the scene.

The gels come in several intensities or strengths (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc.). The lower the intensity, the less it will correct the color temperature of the scene.

Don't confuse them with the color gels that you can use to accentuate the color lighting of the scene and to create unnatural effects. The range of colors available is very large (e.g. red, yellow, green, dark blue, etc.).

Intervalometer

You'll be shooting multiple long exposures to capture as many meteors as possible, remember?

So it's essential that you prevent any vibration in your gear (camera, lens, and tripod) at all costs. Otherwise you're going to end up with a bunch of useless pictures.

With an intervalometer you can:

  • Trigger your camera without having to touch it. Bye bye vibrations! :)
  • Program it to shoot at regular intervals automatically.

All you have to do is set the shutter speed (exposure time), the time interval between photos, the total number of photos you plan to take and, eventually, the time delay of the first picture.

These are the intervalometers I usually recommend:

A great alternative is a device called CamRanger. Right now it's available for Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Sony cameras.

It's a stand-alone device that you connect to your DSLR or mirrorless camera with a USB cable. It creates an ad hoc WiFi network to which you can connect your smartphone or tablet (iOS, Android and Windows). Thanks to the CamRanger application you can control your camera without a computer or an Internet connection.

Best of all, this device is independent. Therefore, if your mobile device loses its connection, the CamRanger has an internal memory to keep shooting. Imagine that you are making a timelapse, your sequence would be cut if the camera stops taking pictures in the time frame you've set...

So the CamRanger is great for many types of photos: timelapses (of the Milky Way, of Star Trails, of a solar or lunar eclipse...), bracketing, focus stacking for macro and landscapes... and many more!

Memory cards

I've made clear throughout the article that you'll be shooting multiple long exposures to capture many meteors and, eventually, capture the Milky Way or create a Star Trails image.

Considering this, your memory card should have:

  • A high transfer rate. Each picture is saved into the memory card faster, so the delay between two consecutive shots is shorter.
  • A large capacity of storage (64GB or higher). You need to have enough space to store all the photos of the shooting session.

"Alright Toni, so what memory cards should I buy?"

My advice in terms of price and availability is that you should definitely buy the highest quality SD Cards (such as SanDisk, Prograde or Lexar).

It's the best option to minimize the risk of losing your photos and have the maximum transfer speed.

Nowadays their price has plummeted so even the highest capacity cards (64GB, 128GB or even 256GB) have an affordable price.

Before leaving home, always make sure you bring with you several memory cards with enough capacity. It would be a pity to run out of memory space in the middle of the shooting session.

At home, test how big your RAW files are (i.e. how many MB one of your photos has). Once you know the size of one photo (24MB for example), make an educated guess and estimate:

  • The shooting interval (e.g. 2s),
  • The shutter speed (e.g. 20s), and
  • The shooting duration (e.g. 3h).

Then, you can use the PhotoPills Timelapse calculator to find out the total memory usage ;)

PhotoPills Timelapse calculator - Total memory usage.
PhotoPills Timelapse calculator - Suggested shooting intervals.

Although there are still cameras that use CompactFlash (CF) cards, it's a system that is slowly disappearing.

And to replace it, SanDisk, Nikon and Sony launched a new card format called XQD currently available for several Full Frame (D4, D4s, D5 and D850), APS-C (D500) and mirrorless (Z6 and Z7) models.

These cards clearly excel compared to older systems such as CompactFlash and Secure Digital.

The main advantages of an XQD card are the following:

  • A very high storage capacity (from 32GB to 256GB).
  • A super fast reading and recording speed (400MB/s compared to 160MB/s for a CF card or 250 MB/s for an SD card).
  • An incredibly high security, resistance and durability.

Alas, they are extremely expensive (for now).

6.How to photograph a Meteor Shower step by step

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/1.8 | 15s (Milky Way and meteor) and 25s (foreground) | ISO 1600 | 3150K

First, you chose a strong Meteor Shower from the Calendar (section 1)...

Second, you found a beautiful location with a powerful subject and little light pollution...

Third, you came up with a cool photo idea and followed the steps in section 4 to plan it with PhotoPills...

You figured out the exact shooting spot and exact shooting date and time to capture the scene you imagined, with as many meteors as possible!

And FINALLY!

The BIG day is here...

You're patiently awaiting at the shooting spot, in front of your amazing subject, for the right moment to arrive.

It's time to nail the shot!

Ready?

Follow these steps to successfully photograph the Meteor Shower.

Get to your shooting spot in advance

This step is crucial in photography, no matter the type of picture you plan to take. It allows you to scout the location in detail and to have enough time to prepare the gear.

More importantly, you can make sure you're at the exact shooting point. And that is the key to any Meteor Shower picture!

If you've planned your shot with PhotoPills (I hope you did), then you need to be right where the Red Pin is.

PhotoPills Planner. Map view of the Meteor Shower radiant and path, and the Meteor Shower information on Panel 11 at the beginning of the shooting session.
PhotoPills Planner. Map view of the Meteor Shower radiant and path, and the Meteor Shower information on Panel 11 at the end of the shooting session.

As I explained to you in section 4, use the PhotoPills Augmented Reality view in the field, before Sunset, to visualize the Meteor Shower radiant position at the beginning and at the end of the shooting session. So you can have a very precise idea of the path it will follow across the sky.

This way you can confirm that you're at the right shooting spot and that you have the right framing.

The cool thing is that the Augmented Reality view works offline as well! ;)

Place the tripod, ballhead, camera, and lens

Place the tripod along with the ballhead on a surface as solid as possible and make sure it's stable.

Put on the lens that you're going to use during the shooting session and mount the camera and lens on the ballhead. Finally, plug the intervalometer in and check that everything works fine.

I have to insist... Double check all the equipment is stable. The slightest vibration will cause the meteors to come out of focus. And that would be a pity!

Remove the UV filter

If you have it on, remove the ultraviolet (UV) filter. It's a completely useless filter in this type of photography.

Actually, it's a filter that I never use myself because it causes problems when shooting any kind of picture and the ending result is a low quality image.

Use a light pollution filter (optional)

If there is light pollution in your scene from sodium vapor light sources, you should use a light pollution filter to remove in camera the yellowish glow they usually produce.

Turn off lens stabilization system

Some lenses include a function to stabilize vibrations. Canon, for example, calls it Image Stabilization (IS), while Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction (VR), and Sigma, Optical Stabilizer (OS). Other brands, such as Sony, Olympus and Pentax have been pushing for in-camera stabilization.

Since the equipment is stable on the tripod and ballhead, the system may try to compensate for non-existing vibrations... and the meteors could end up blurry.

Therefore, as a precaution, I recommend you to switch the lens stabilization system off when using a tripod.

Long exposure noise reduction: on or off?

Noise is one of the greatest enemies of long exposure shots.

Nowadays, almost all cameras include an option to automatically reduce noise in the final image: the long exposure noise reduction function.

How does it work?

Well, when this function is enabled, right after taking the photo, the camera takes a second exposure with the same parameters (shutter speed, ISO and aperture) but without letting any light into the system. This second photo has almost the same noise as the first one.

Finally, the camera detects the noise of this second picture and removes it from the first one.

In my opinion, this function is not useful in Meteor Shower photography because:

  • It's preferable if you shoot much shorter single exposures and if you avoid waiting for so long to see the picture.
  • It consumes battery. You could even run out of battery in the middle of the process and end up without your photo.
  • When shooting multiple short exposures (to do an image stacking later on), you don't want to have such a big gap between two consecutive photos. It halves the number of photos you can take (so it reduces by 50% de chance to capture meteors). In this case, try to take a dark frame at the end of the shooting. Put the cap on the lens and shoot to capture noise only. Then, use this frame to reduce noise in post-processing.

Summing up...

When photographing a Meteor Shower, and even when photographing the Milky Way, it's better to turn the long exposure noise reduction off.

Shoot in RAW

Always shoot in RAW!

That way you'll always have a higher quality base image that will allow you to develop, post-process and correct errors that would otherwise be impossible.

Keep in mind that the image you see on your LCD is a JPEG copy of the RAW file. So the histogram you're seeing in the camera is not exactly the RAW file one.

Use the shortest focal length you can

Pick the shortest focal length you can (14mm, 18mm, 24mm, etc.).

My advice is that you should try to keep it under 35mm to maximize:

  • The field of view and capture as much sky as you can.
  • The exposure time (set the lowest possible shutter speed) to collect as much light as possible and, eventually, capture stars as big bright spots.

You'll increase the chance of capturing a meteor with a wide angle, and it's much easier to include one or several interesting elements in the foreground.

I'll explain it better in a section below, when going deeper into the shutter speed (exposure time) settings.

Select the Manual shooting mode (M)

Thanks to the Manual shooting mode (M), you have full control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

It's the best way to get the perfect exposure in every single shot.

Fine tune your framing

As soon as you get to the location, use the PhotoPills Augmented Reality view included in the Meteor Shower Pill to locate the radiant of the Meteor Shower (section 4) at the beginning and at the end of the shooting session.

Planner > Night AR. Tap the Night AR option to visualize the radiant position and path.
Planner > Night AR. Night AR view of the radiant at the beginning of the shooting session.

Remember that it's key to visualize the path the radiant will be following in the sky.

Why?

Because you want to make sure you're framing the right area in the sky, based on your desired image:

  • You want the radiant in the frame if you intend to create an image in post-processing where all the meteors appear to converge in one spot in the sky. Like I did to create the cover image of this guide your're reading. It’s a cool effect. You can create it too in post-processing by using the technique described in this video by David Kingham.
  • The further away a meteor appears from the radiant, the longer its tail might be. So to increase the odds of capturing longer tails, frame an area of the sky that is away from the radiant.
  • Also, to capture the maximum number of meteors, use the shortest possible focal length (wide angle lens). The more sky you include in the frame the more meteors you’ll potentially capture.
  • But don’t forget to include an interesting subject in the foreground. Connecting the action in the sky with a powerful foreground will make your image shine!

So, once again, use the Augmented Reality view and recheck the path the radiant will follow across the sky during the shooting session. It will help you to confirm the shooting spot and framing.

And if you want to include the Milky Way in the frame, the Augmented Reality view is also a great tool to visualize the shot. It shows you the exact position the Galactic Center (the red dot) has at a certain time.

Set the aperture

If you want to capture the largest number of meteors, you need to collect as much light as possible during the exposure time. So use the widest aperture possible (f/2.8, f/4, depending on your lens).

The more light the sensor collects, the more meteors and the brighter.

Moreover, it helps you keep the ISO within the limits of your camera so you can control noise.

Notice that this is exactly the same workflow you should follow in Milky Way and Star Trails photography.

Select the ISO

Don't be afraid to crank up the ISO. Set the ISO to the maximum value for which your camera doesn't produce an excessive noise (ISO 1600, 3200, 6400 or higher).

The idea here is to play with the ISO to tweak the exposure according to the exposure triangle. I'll show you how in a second ;)

Focus

When it comes to focusing you have two options:

  • Focusing at the hyperfocal distance.
  • Focusing at one star.

Depending on your taste, choose one or the other.

Focusing at the hyperfocal distance

The easiest way to have both the foreground and the meteors acceptably in focus is to focus at the hyperfocal distance.

Let me explain...

The hyperfocal distance is the shortest distance at which you can focus to have the stars in focus (acceptably sharp). If fact, you'll have “acceptably” in focus from half of this distance to infinity.

It maximizes the depth of field in the scene, which is pretty cool!

How to calculate the hyperfocal distance

Once you've decided the focal length and aperture, use the PhotoPills Depth of Field calculator to calculate the hyperfocal distance for your camera settings.

As an example, using my Nikon D850 together with an aperture of f/2.8 and a focal length of 14mm, the hyperfocal distance is 2.32 m.

PhotoPills > Depth of field (DoF) calculator - It shows the depth of field values in a table for a given camera, focal length, aperture and focus distance. The hyperfocal distance appears in the first row.
PhotoPills > Depth of field (DoF) calculator - Swipe the table to the left to see the Depth of field values on a picture.
How to focus at the hyperfocal distance

Watch this video to learn how to focus at the hyperfocal distance:

Once you have the hyperfocal distance (2.32 m in this example), make sure you're not focusing at a shorter distance. If you do, you'll get the meteors completely blurred, even if you miss the hyperfocal by one inch (or a couple of cm).

It's much better to make focus exceeding the hyperfocal distance by 2 feet (or half a meter) rather than falling short. I'm serious, don't fall short!

You can learn all you need to know about the hyperfocal distance and the depth of field with our extremely detailed DoF Guide.

Lock the focus

After using the automatic focus mode to focus at the hyperfocal distance, set it back to manual focus. It's the best way to ensure your focus doesn't change.

Always check whether the stars are in focus before starting the shooting.

Finally, you need to take a test shot.

Use the Live View function on the LCD of your camera to focus accurately. And if your camera has the Focus Peaking and/or Focus Magnifier functions, turn them on too because they will help you to be even more precise.

Now, find a star and zoom in on it to magnify it (or use the Focus Magnifier option). Then, turn the focus ring to make focus on it. Turn it until you see the star as a tiny little dot (actually, the smallest possible dot).

Once the camera is attached to the tripod, take as many test shots as you need to see if everything is in focus and adjust accordingly.

The last thing you want is to spend the whole night in the cold and find out at the end that your stars are out of focus.

Focusing at one star

If you want the stars to be tack sharp, but you don't mind losing a bit of sharpness in your subject, then focus at one star.

Set the camera and lens to manual focus.

Now, find a star and zoom in on it to magnify it (or use the Focus Magnifier option). Then, turn the focus ring to make focus on it. Turn it until you see the star as a tiny little dot (actually, the smallest possible dot).

Set the shutter speed (exposure time)

You have two conditions that define your shutter speed:

  • You need to keep the shutter open as much as possible to capture as much light as possible, and thus get more stars in the photo.
  • You need to limit the exposure time to prevent stars from trailing, and thus get the stars as big bright spots.

To work out the exposure time you need, use the PhotoPills' Spot Stars calculator.

To do so, go to PhotoPills and open the Spot Stars calculator.

Once there, choose your camera and set

  • The focal length,
  • The aperture,
  • The minimum declination of the stars, and
  • The accuracy mode (default is the best option in most cases).

If you don't know the minimum declination of the stars you need to set, tap the AR button, point your smartphone where you're framing the camera and let PhotoPills to automatically calculate the exposure time you need... ;)

Alternatively, if you're in doubt, just set the declination of the stars to 0º.

On the table of results you get two values: the NPF rule and the 500 rule.

The NPF rule gives you a more accurate value than the 500 rule. It even takes into account the megapixels of your camera. If you want to learn more about the NPF rule and the 500 rule, you should read section 9 of our Milky Way photography guide.

Depending on the camera and settings you use, you should use a maximum exposure time between 10-25s.

PhotoPills > Spot Stars. The NPF rule gives you a more accurate exposure time.
PhotoPills > Spot Stars > AR. Tap the AR button, point your smartphone where you're framing the camera and read the maximum exposure time you need to use.

Set the white balance manually

If you're shooting in RAW, white balance is something you can adjust in post-processing.

But, since I'm sure you would like to capture the real colors of the stars right in camera, use the following values as starting points and then adjust it from there:

  • If the scene has a dark sky: 3900K
  • If there is light pollution in the scene: 3400K

Review the composition, the focus, and the exposure

You're almost set.

Now, take a test shot. Use it to check the composition (and the radiant position!), that the focus is right and the exposure is the one you're looking for (don't forget to examine the histogram).

You may need to make some adjustments. Maybe you'll have to recompose the shot a bit, or make focus again, or crack the ISO up (or down) to get the histogram you're looking for as I was suggesting earlier...

But after a few quick test shots, you should be ready to go :)

Use the intervalometer

First, set the camera to Bulb mode.

Then, set the exposure time in the intervalometer.

Finally, set the shooting interval between two consecutive photos in the intervalometer. Select a time frame between 2s and 5s to capture the maximum amount of meteors.

Light paint the foreground (optional)

Always add light in the first and in the last pictures of the shooting session!

At the beginning of the shooting session, test your exposure (check the histogram) and the light painting of the foreground. You may have to take a few test shots to adjust the amount of artificial light you add to the scene.

Once you're happy with the image, make sure to quickly start the shooting using the intervalometer.

At the end of the shooting session, just before stopping the camera, light paint the foreground again. This way, you have at least two great photos from where to choose the foreground for the final image.

To sum it up...

Do you need more help?

Take a look at our Milky Way and Star Trails photography guides. You'll learn everything you need to imagine, plan and shoot stunning photos of the stars.

And if you want to learn face to face with us, the whole PhotoPills Team, along with a selected group of photography masters, don't miss the PhotoPills Camp!

7.4 amazing Meteor Shower photo ideas to inspire you

From stacking a great number of photos to create David Kingham's effect or a powerful Star Trails image, to putting together a timelapse video, spending the whole night shooting a meteor shower can be very productive from the creative side.

The following images and videos are the outcome of the Geminids Meteor shower in 2015.

It was on December 14, 2015, around 10 pm local time, when the clouds disappeared from above our heads, leaving us face to face with one of the most active meteor showers we remember.

We spent the next 5 hours shooting and enjoying the show. What an epic time!

Timelapse (1)

Nikon D4s | 14mm | f2.8 | 30s | ISO 5000 | The timelapse results from a sequence of 647 still images imported at 24fps.

Star trails (2)

Nikon D4s | 14mm | f2.8 | 30s | ISO 5000 | 103 photos edited in Lightroom and stacked with StarStaX

You can create stunning star trails by merging a series of short exposure photos into a single image using softwares like StarStaX (Mac, Windows, Linux) or Startrails (Windows).

Check our Star Trails photography guide to learn how to create this images.

Meteor Exploding (3)

Who has seen the explosion of a meteor in the sky?

We did! And with a smoky tail :)

You never know what your camera will capture during the night. Each night scape is a different adventure.

Emerging Meteors (4)

Nikon D4s | 14mm | f2.8 | 30s | ISO 5000

The image is the result of stacking 120 photos using David Kingham's technique. To create this stunning effect, I rotated every photo around the Polaris to keep the radiant point of the Meteor Shower in the same place. This proves that all meteors appear to originate from one single point in the sky: the radiant.

If you want to use this technique, just make sure you frame the polaris or the southern celestial pole to have a reference when rotating each frame.

If you're using a star tracker and you want to create this effect all you have to do is

  • Stack the images you took for the sky,
  • Reveal the meteors captured, and then
  • Blend it with the image you took for the foreground.

A shooting star with the Milky Way (5) [bonus track]

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/1.8 | 15s (Milky Way and meteor) and 25s (foreground) | ISO 1600 | 3150K

Photographing the Milky Way during a Meteor Shower peak night is an amazing idea :)

All you have to do is to choose a powerful Meteor Shower and plan a legendary Milky Way shot for the peak night.

Obviously this can be easily planned with PhotoPills ;)

In this guide, you've learnt how to plan any Meteor shower in section 4. If you're curious and want to learn how to plan the Milky Way, check section 7 of our Milky Way Photography guide.

8.Join the quest!

Congratulations!

You made it!

You've reached the end of this long (long) guide.

Now you're more than capable to plan and shoot any Meteor Shower photo you imagine ;)

It's time to practice so...

Join the quest!

Pick a Meteor shower, choose a location and plan a legendary photo. Then, go and capture it!

If you don't get the picture you were looking for, come back to this guide and learn to improve.

And if you have any questions, leave a comment below.

I'm ready to help!

But, if you nail the shot, congrats!

Did you know we're rewarding creativity?

Participate in the PhotoPills Awards...

PhotoPills > Awards. Participate in the PhotoPills Awards, get featured and inspire other PhotoPillers.
PhotoPills > Awards. All featured images include the story and the EXIF data.

Get featured on our Instagram account (@photopills), compete to become the next PhotoPiller of the Month or even the PhotoPiller of the Year and win up to $6,600 in cash prices...

But more importantly, you'll help thousands of PhotoPillers while becoming a Legend!

Many PhotoPillers, photographers like you and me, have already been featured. See all the photos on our Instagram feed or within the PhotoPills app (PhotoPills > My Stuff > Awards).

Can't wait to see your photos :D

You're just ONE plan away...

Happy Meteor Showers!

 

Antoni Cladera is a landscape photographer with commitment to environment. Artist of the Spanish Confederation of Photography and member of the Spanish Association of Nature Photographers (AEFONA). He's part of the PhotoPills Team.

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