Get Ready to Shoot the Last Great Meteor Shower in 2015: The Geminids

By Antoni Cladera

In just a few days, between December 4th-16th, peaking during the nights that go from the 13th to the 14th and the 14th to the 15th, we’ll have an awesome opportunity to watch and shoot the Germinids. A meteor shower associated to the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

Make sure you don’t miss it. It’s going to be one of the best meteor showers in 2015, with up to 120 meteors per hour and meteor velocity reaching 22 miles/sec (35 km/sec).

Besides, the Moon, with a phase of 6% on December 13th, 12% on the 14th and 19% on the 15th, will be very thin. So, if you go to a place with little light pollution, the conditions for the shooting will be just fantastic.

When it happens

This year, both the northern and the southern hemispheres are great for watching the Geminids. The best moment to watch the meteor shower should be the night of December 13th till dawn on the 14th. But you can also try the night before (December 12-13) and the night after (December 14-15).

Where to frame

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.

During the meteor shower, you’ll observe that meteors radiate from one point in the night sky: the radiant.

The Geminids’ radiant (the point of origin from where the meteors appear to converge) is located near near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation of Gemini.

But you don’t have to look in the direction of the meteor shower's radiant point to see the most meteors. Meteors can appear in all parts of the sky.

If you decide to introduce the radiant point in your frame and trace the path of the meteors backwards, you’ll realize that all meteors appear to converge to one single spot in the sky.

In this case, if you're lucky enough to capture many meteors, you can create a stunning effect by using the technique described in this video by David Kingham for image post-processing.

How can you locate the radiant?

The position of the radiant in the sky is defined by two coordinates: Right Ascension (7h 28m) and Declination (+32.5º).

  • 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.
  • Right Ascension is the angular distance measured eastward along the celestial equator between the vernal equinox and the celestial body. Together with Declination, it defines a position of a celestial body in the sky. It is measured in hours (1h equals to 15º), minutes and seconds.

Yes, I know, both coordinates have horrible names and even worse definitions. The good news is that you don’t need to understand the theory to use PhotoPills’ Night Augmented Reality tool to locate the exact position of the radiant in the sky given by Right Ascension and Declination. Take a look at the following video to learn how to do it. It’s easier that it seems, I promise ;)

Once you’ve located the radiant in the sky for both the beginning and the end of the shooting, you’ll know exactly the path the radiant will follow. Then, you'll be able to frame at the right area of the sky to create an image with the same effect than David Kingham's.

How to shoot the meteor shower

Nikon D700 | 14mm | f/2.8 | 37s | ISO 3200

These are a few recommendations to help you with the shooting:

  • Go into an area with little light pollution.
  • Make sure you’re framing the right area in the sky. Use PhotoPills’ Night Augmented Reality tool to locate the radiant.
  • Us a fast wide-angle lens (at least f/2.8).
  • Focus at the hyperfocal distance. Make sure you’re not focusing at a shorter distance, because you’ll get stars completely blurred, even if you miss it by one inch (2.5cm). It’s much better to make focus exceeding the hyperfocal distance by 2 feet rather than falling short. You can calculate the hyperfocal distance with our on-line Depth of Field calculator.
  • Set the ISO to the maximum level that your camera allows without getting excessive noise (ISO 1600 or higher is recommended).
  • Use PhotoPills' on-line Spot Stars calculator to calculate the maximum exposure time to get stars as bright spots. Usually, you’ll get a value between 20 and 35 seconds, depending on the camera and lens used.
  • Use a shooting interval between 2" and 5" seconds to try to capture the maximum amount of meteors.

Need more? Take a look at our article How To Shoot Truly Contagious Milky Way Pictures. You'll learn everything you need to imagine, plan and shoot stunning photos of the stars. 

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Happy Shower!

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