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Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

  • May 23, 2014 · 9:00 PM

If you've been wanting to try your hand at night sky photography, this weekend presents a rare opportunity to photograph during a meteor event. This is a self-guided event.

You'll want to find a location that is away from city lights and provides an unobstructed view of the sky. To catch a meteor with your camera you'll either need the use of an intervalometer, or you'll need some very good luck, as there is no predicting where or when a meteor will appear.

A few tips: Set up before it gets dark. You'll want to auto-focus on a distant object and then set your focus to manual. This will ensure that your focus remains at infinity so that the stars will be sharp. If you want to include foreground objects, you'll need to take some test shots to be sure you have the sharpness you want throughout. Once you have the focus you want, turn auto-focus OFF.

You will want to use a wide aperture and probably an ISO of 3200. If you have a fast lens - f/1.8 or faster, you may be able to bring your ISO down to 1600. The shutter speed you select will depend on your focal length and whether you want star points or star trails. To determine the longest shutter speed you can use without having star trail movement, divide 500 by your focal length. For example: if your focal length is 16mm, then 500 divided by 16 = 31.25. Your shutter speed should be no longer than 31 seconds. Be sure to include your crop factor in the calculation. A focal length of 10mm on a 1.6 crop sensor = 16mm, not 10. If you don't mind some star trail movement you can increase the length of your exposure.

An intervalometer will allow you to set your camera to take a succession of images without intervention. My typical setup is to take a 25sec exposure with a 4 second delay continuing as long as I have battery life or until I am satisfied.

Be sure to turn your long exposure noise reduction and high iso noise reduction off. Also turn your image stabalization or vibration reduction off, and be sure you've removed filters from your lens that reduce light. Make sure your batteries are fully charged and bring a spare or two. The cool night air will drain your batteries quickly.

Once your camera is setup and clicking away, you can relax in a lawn chair/recliner and enjoy the shower. Have some hot chocolate, warm clothing, blankets, etc to keep warm.

You'll want to avoid lights around the camera. Flashlights, headlamps, and car lights can ruin your images. If you have a red filter for a flashlight or headlamp with a red led, that is prefered. It won't disturb your night vision. Also be careful to not setup too close to another camera. Many cameras have a red light that is lit during an exposure. If you are too close to another camera, the red from that light will end up in your photos.

You can read more about the shower here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/05/20/camelopardalids_a_new_meteor_shower_from_comet_209p_linear.html

 

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  • Dee

    Although I did not see meteor, my friend and I had fun. We searched for clear skies in Sac and Placer counties and had a blast. Found clear skies finally but headed home around 2 am. Learned I need more night shot practice (city lights). I'd be up for more adventures like this :)

    1 · May 27, 2014

  • Steve G

    For those interested in astronomical stuff in general, there is a monthly astronomy program on Mt. Tamalpais, at the Mountain Theater. After the slide lecture, amateur astronomers set up their telescopes in the parking lot at Rock Springs for people to look through. There is a fair amount of light pollution there, but sometimes the fog sits low around the bay and blocks the light, while Mt. Tam sits above it. In any case, it's about the only way you can be up on Mt. Tam at night, since they close the gates at sunset. There looks to be an interesting program this Sat. Here's the link for the programs...there's another link on the page for the schedule.
    http://www.friendsofmttam.org/astronomy/astronomy.html

    1 · May 25, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Thanks Steve. I am interested in astronomy in general. I have not attended the astronomy program at Mt Tam though. Something I will have to check out. I have visited Chabot Space and Science Center often in the Berkley Hills. They have 3 main telescopes for viewing. A 36", a 20" and an 8". Amature astronomers bring their scopes up there as well for viewing. It's very fun and the planetarium is a treat too. Definitely worth a trip for anyone interested in planets or deep sky objects.

      May 26, 2014

  • Suzanne G. C.

    In April of 2011, I met you (Cheryl) and a few other photogs at the entrance to a park in Auburn. We were positioned on a ledge overlooking the North Fork of the American River. There was a huge bridge off to the northwest of us. It was a great place for astrophotography, but I do not remember how to get to this location. Cheryl when you get a chance...would you please update us on this local?

    Last year, I drove to the Clear Lake to shoot the Perseids Meteor Shower. The Clear Lake State Park, beach area, offers a large sky with very little light pollution. I did purchase a camp site for the night. I slept in my car until 2 a.m. then headed down to the beach for my meteor show. It is a great location that is safe enough to do by one's self. There are bathrooms right there in the large parking lot. When Napa is fogged in, Clear Lake is clear.

    1 · May 25, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Susan, yes, we were facing the Forest Hill Bridge. Take I-80, exit Elm Ave. Follow to HWY 49. Once you cross over the river, we stopped to shoot not far from there at the Quarry Trail trail head. There's a turnout on the left hand side where we parked.

      May 26, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    Unfortunately, the meteor shower was a bust. The entire 2 hour period between 11pm and 1am had significant cloud cover. Even so, all reports suggest the shower didn't happen. I saw 3 meteors between 11pm and 3:30am, though a friend saw up to 8. I took some shots of the night sky and will post what I have when I get a chance. Between 2am and 3:30 I had a beautiful view of the Milky Way reflecting off Gerle Creek Reservoir. I poured myself a glass of wine, had a nice desert, and enjoyed the view. It's great to see so many people interested in photographing the night sky. As we get later into the Summer, the Milky Way will be visibile earlier in the evening. If I can find a location that is convenient for the majority, it would be fun to do a group night sky shoot. If you are interested, order your intervalometers now. Thanks everyone for making this a fun effort!

    2 · May 24, 2014

    • Bob B.

      My new (I've broken 2 so far) intervalometer will be here by Thursday and I'm always up for a night shoot. I think "convenient" is going to be a challenge for valley dwellers. Perhaps a first meet close by with mentors available to help folks learn the technique and then schedule one farther away with better skies?? I am fond of both Ice House Rd and Mormon Emigrant Trail in the Eldorado Forest. I may also do a scouting trip to North Bloomfield / Malakoff Diggins. It is about 2 hrs from Sac and is an old ghost town (with a great old church) that has a campground and also "miners cabins" available for stays. I've only shot it during the day, but if there is interest, I'll do some more research.

      2 · May 24, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Sure Bob, I'd be interested in knowing more about North Bloomfield/Malakoff Diggins. You can email if you'd like...

      1 · May 26, 2014

  • Charlie

    I had a great night. Although I saw several meteors throughout the night in between the cloud cover, I was unable to capture one with my camera. Shot for several hours, and was happy to see the milky way emerge. Thanks Cheryl for hosting this event and for all the great pre and post information about shooting the night sky. Looking forward to next night shoot...

    1 · May 25, 2014

  • Suzanne G. C.

    I would love to do the Mt. Diablo, night event again. It was soo cool to see all those huge telescopes.

    1 · May 25, 2014

  • Jayne W.

    I didn't have much luck either. Went to Folsom area and wound up on Salmon Falls Rd. By the time I got setup and ready to shoot, the clouds rolled in and I didn't get anything. Better luck next time, I hope.

    May 24, 2014

  • Marta

    not much visibility where I went but I spent some time preparing myself and learned a lot on the technical end. I would enjoy doing a group night photo excursion

    2 · May 24, 2014

  • Will L.

    The clouds were broken enough that I should have gotten something but my intervalometer/camera/lens/brain was on the fritz. All I got was an airplane. Couldn't take more than 8 frames, no matter how I set the intervalometer. Oh well.

    May 24, 2014

    • Will L.

      It may have been due to a third party lens that my camera sometimes objects to in odd ways. I'll mess with it some more.

      May 24, 2014

    • Will L.

      And you're being generous saying that Nikon's internal intervalometer can be confusing. It's the worst!

      1 · May 24, 2014

  • Bob B.

    Looks to be clearing some, leaving now headed out of Vacaville toward 128 by Berryessa. Will be in either a green CRV or Rialta RV.

    1 · May 23, 2014

    • Bob B.

      Stayed out on 128 until 1 AM, sky was clear but saw maybe 4 *very* brief streaks. So, for those who had clouds/technical troubles...I don't know that you missed out!

      1 · May 24, 2014

  • Will L.

    5 1/2 especially for those who traveled. I set up my camera, poured a glass of wine,went back in to watch an old movie, went back out an hour later to discover I had 8 frames. :)

    3 · May 24, 2014

  • Steve G

    I'm giving this 5 stars for effort. Cheryl, thanks for posting this, providing all the info, and keeping us updated on the conditions in the mountains. At 11:20, from the backyard, the sky was mostly clouded over, especially to the north. Apparently we didn't miss much, as the meteor display wasn't what had been hoped for. I did finally figure out how the intervalometer works on my camera, so I'm ready for the next one.

    1 · May 24, 2014

  • Marta

    went to the UC Arboretum...very cloudy so I didn't stay much past 11.

    May 24, 2014

  • Will L.

    Broken very thin high clouds in the Bay Area. Hoping it all passes and clears for you.

    May 23, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    It's very cloudy up here. I don't recommend coming up the hill..

    May 23, 2014

    • Bob B.

      Cheryl, sorry to hear that but really appreciate the update! I think it is going to be too cloudy in the valley, also...but I'll check the skies after sunset and decide. If I do head out, it will probably be to the south side of Lake Berryessa on 128. I'll post which vehicle to look for if I do go. Good luck to all!

      1 · May 23, 2014

  • Will L.

    Thank you, Cheryl.

    1 · May 23, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    Will, yes, I will be shooting wide open. 5.6 will be sharper, but you will only pick up the very brightest stars. Run off a few shots at 5.6 and see what you think.

    May 23, 2014

  • Will L.

    Cheryl, are you suggesting shooting wide open? That's generally not my sharpest aperture. On my f2.8, sharpest should be around f5.6 (but 1/4 of the light.) Thanks for your work on this!

    May 23, 2014

  • Elizabeth S.

    Thanks for the info. I am looking forward to trying this! I don't guess there will be any way to get an intervalometer by tomorrow night! I almost bought one a few months ago, sure wish I had.

    May 22, 2014

    • Bob B.

      Elizabeth, I don't own one, but I am pretty sure the 90 does not have any built-in functions that will work. "Local" camera shops are a dying breed, but if you are headed up the hill, you might check Action Camera in Roseville, but it is a long shot. Should we all end up in the same area, I will have a (dusty) D300 that does have a built -in intervalometer available for borrow...but fair warning, the built-in intervalometer is (in my opinion) one of the least intuitive functions Nikon ever made!

      May 23, 2014

    • Elizabeth S.

      Thanks all. I did not get the intervalometer for tonight but I did order one anyway. I am looking forward to seeing everyone's pictures!

      2 · May 23, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    I'm just leaving town. I expect there will be spots. We are going to check out Loon Lake anyway as there are possibilities even though it's closed. I'm in a grey Dodge 3500 truck with an A-frame trailer. Come on up Steve.

    May 23, 2014

  • Steve G

    Cheryl, we may try to join you at the Gerle Creek campground. What's you're car look like? I've got a blue Prius. (I know, that's about as useful as saying I'll be wearing white sneakers.)

    1 · May 23, 2014

    • Steve G

      Scratch that. It's 3:30 and I doubt we'll get a campsite at this point. I think I'll set the alarm for 11, check the weather and online reports, and if it looks good possible drive out of town somewhere. Good luck!

      May 23, 2014

  • Marta

    any suggestions on a suitable place near Sacto?

    May 22, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Marta, if you are looking to avoid a drive, there might be a regional park near you that is a bit darker than your yard for example. I often view meteor showers from my back yard just fine. It's not a great location for composing an image, but it would certainly work well for a first attempt at something like this. Just set up to shoot the sky if you'd like. The problem with parks is that you never know when their sprinkler system might go off. I've been caught more than once doing that. If you go that route, setup on a cement pathway and avoid the grass.

      May 22, 2014

    • Marta

      Thank you for your suggestions. I may go out to UCD.

      1 · May 23, 2014

  • Dee

    Thank you Cheryl for the great info. Sugar Pine is a great location but I do not think I will make it there tonight :( Will probably have to find a place near Sac for myself. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide the suggested settings!

    2 · May 23, 2014

  • Bob B.

    Hey Jan,
    Fantastic discussion of a number of things to think about for a shoot like this! I do have to ask, why the preference for Long Exposure noise reduction OFF? Certainly there is a trade off (you get half as many chances to catch a meteor with it on), but Long Exposure noise reduction is one of a very few (perhaps the only) things your camera is more effective at than Photoshop.
    Also, a word of caution for most, ISO 3200 (while not as much so as with earlier bodies) is seriously pushing the limits.
    Where to you plan to set up your tripod? And, more importantly, can I (we) bring the RV and a bottle of vino??

    May 22, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Bob, Jan isn't available for this meetup. I added it to the calendar because I know there are many people out there wanting to learn to photograph the night sky. Yes, ISO 3200 is pushing it on many if not all cameras, but unless you have a fast lens, you are not going to capture enough light at ISO 1600. The Long Exposure Noise Reduction Off recommendation is for the reason you mention, you will have fewer exposures to capture a meteor. There is also the possibility that you may want to stack your images to produce a star trail composit. If the interval between your exposures drag much, you will have gaps in the trails. If that is not a concern, and the meteors are very active, go ahead and use the in-camera NR. Anything to get a clean image is worth going for, but there are trade-offs.

      1 · May 22, 2014

    • Bob B.

      Hey Cheryl, great answer! I just can't ever seem to avoid trying to help others answer the question "Why does my camera do that, and why do I care?)! Definitely a decision to be made depending on what is most important, here's to that decision being an informed one!

      May 23, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    My plans at the moment are to drive up to Loon Lake in the Chrystal Basin Rec Area during the day tomorrow to scope out a place to setup. Since it's Memorial Day weekend, the campgrounds should be opening up, but they may be quite busy as a result. I expect we'll be able to find something there. Bob, you are more than welcome to come up with your RV and some vino :). If Loon Lake doesn't look promising, I will head over to Gerle Creek campground down the road. That's where the image posted here was taken. Anyone who would like to make the drive is welcome to come up. Cell access is poor though. There are a couple of spots along Ice House Rd where you can pick up service. I will try to update my location once I get settled so you can check here if you're thinking of coming up. No gaurantees on that though. Look for people with way too much camera gear and you'll know it's us :).

    May 22, 2014

    • Bob B.

      I don't usually get as far north as Wentworth Springs Rd (and would normally avoid developed CG's like the plague on Memorial Day!)...any idea if there are any (small) RV friendly "dispersed camping" spots up that way if the developed places are full? And, if so, red or white? :-)

      May 23, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      There are many first come/first served spots in the campgrounds. There should not be a problem getting a spot Friday. Ice House road does have undeveloped areas where you can pull off and set up camp. Red! :)

      1 · May 23, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    An option closer to Sac but still up the hill a bit is Sugar Pine Reservoir. There's a campground and a dam that you'll drive over. You might find some nice options for water reflections there. Here's a link: http://tinyurl.com/ndlc7j3. Loon Lake looks to be closed, so I will likely end up at Gerle Creek Campground. GPS coordinates: N 38°[masked] W 120°[masked]

    1 · May 23, 2014

  • Will L.

    Ha! Darn!
    (Thank you)

    May 22, 2014

  • Will L.

    Looking forward to that 3am alarm. :)

    May 22, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Will, the 3am time frame is for EDT. We are expecting the peak between 11pm and 2am here.

      May 22, 2014

    • Steve G

      These are supposed to peak from 11 pm to 1 am, so don't get up at 3....the moon will by up by then.

      May 22, 2014

  • Cheryl G

    I want to mention that this is a new meteor shower. The experts are hopeful for something quite nice, but they can't be certain. As with any meteor shower, it could be a bust. If that turns out to be the case, you should still find yourself with many images of the night sky that should be beautiful in and of themselves, but you can also use stacking software to create a startrail image for that "wow" effect. Startrails.exe and Starstax are two free downloads that I'm aware of. I use Startrails, but it won't run on a Mac. Starstax will run on both.

    2 · May 22, 2014

  • Steve G

    The moon doesn't rise till 2:42 AM, so it will be nice and dark after sunset.

    1 · May 22, 2014

    • Cheryl G

      Yes! We should have a very nice dark sky. I sure hope the meteors show up.

      1 · May 22, 2014

  • SALLY

    Darn!...wish i could go. Maybe another time. Dress warmly you guys.

    1 · May 22, 2014

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