[meteorite-list] Photographing the Leonids
From: John Gwilliam <jkgdiver_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:47:12 2004
For those of you that would like to take pictures of tonights meteor
shower, here are some tips that you might find useful.
If you're using a 35mm camera, us a shorter/faster lens rather than a
telephoto. Many people think they will get a better shot if they use a
long (telephoto) lens, but all but the prohibitively expensive ones has an
aperture of 5.6 or so. This really restricts the amount of light that gets
to your film plane.
I use a Pentax P30T manual camera with a 50mm F2.0 lens. 50mm lenses "see"
objects the same as the human eye with very little distortion. I open the
aperture all the way to F2.0 and set the camera focus on infinity. On your
lens scale, the infinity symbol is a "lazy 8" (an 8 laying down).
The camera needs to be mounted on a STEADY tripod. If you think your
tripod is a bit light weight or unstable, tie a thin rope unto the base and
hang a weight (sand bags are best) so it just touches the ground. This
keeps the weight from swinging and holds the tripod firm.
A cable release is a must. This is a cable with a plunger or trigger (for
mechanical cameras) or an electrical switch (for electronic cameras) that
allows you to operate the shutter without touching the camera. I don't
care how steady you think your hands are - you can't hold down the shutter
for 30 or more seconds without shaking the camera. The cable release
screws or plugs into the body of your camera. If you're not familiar
enough with you camera to know if you can attach a cable release, you
probably won't figure it out in time for tonights meteor shower.
There's a lot of debate about what film to use. Personally, I use 1600 ISO
print film. Some of you are shaking your heads thinking that must be a
typo. It's not. 1600 ISO film is four (4) stops faster than 100 ISO film
and you will need all the speed you can get tonight. It is a bit grainy,
especially when you blow up the images to 8 x 10, but you don't have many
other options. You might have some success with 800 ISO, but you will have
to leave the shutter open twice as long and you'll end up getting star trails.
Here's a trick I use when shooting pictures at night. With the aperture
set wide open, the shutter speed set to "B" (for BULB) , my cable release
attached and the focus set to infinity, I'm ready to go. My shutter
release has a locking mechanism on it so I don't have to hold the plunger
down for the entire exposure. I use a black card about 4" x 6" to cover
the lens, trip and lock the shutter, then CAREFULLY lift off the black
card. When I want to end the exposure, I simply cover the lens with the
black card. Then I can fumble around in the dark to find the cable release
and close the shutter. This way, I have a lot less chance of bumping the
tripod or camera and blurring the shot. I use a stop watch to time the
exposure. To see the stop watch in the dark, I use a small penlight and
keep it pointed away from the camera.
If your camera uses batteries make sure you take spares with you. Extended
exposures use up batteries very quickly. The cold weather also affects
As for exposure times, I like to use 30 - 35 seconds. With my setup, This
is about the max time I can shoot before I start to get star trails. Just
to be on the safe side, I shoot a few at 40 seconds. If you don't mind
star trails, us 800 ISO film and expose for a minute or more. Remember,
the meteors are fast and usually dim so the faster film will give you
When you have the film developed, make sure you tell the lab you were
taking night pictures of the stars. Also tell them to NOT cut your
negatives. Some rookie technicians will see what they think is blank film
and assume you gave them a roll that wasn't exposed. It's also a good idea
to shoot the first frame of every roll in the light so the lab will know
where to index the negatives for printing.
If you would like to see the results of some of my work, follow this link
to an image I shot of Hale-Bopp a few years ago. I used the same camera
setup mentioned above with 1600 ISO film , 50 mm/F2.0 lens, at 35 seconds.
Good Luck...stay warm,
John Gwilliam Meteorites
PO Box 26854
Tempe AZ 85285
Received on Sat 17 Nov 2001 03:55:07 PM PST