SLB Photography
Keystone State Park

Leonid Meteor Shower 2012

I’ve been really inspired recently by photograph’s of the night sky. Earlier this week I was googling sky photo techniques, I happened to come upon the Leonid Meteor shower. It so happens that the peak was going to be early morning on November 17th. PERFECT, I thought! I spent the rest of the week studying photograph’s of the night sky and working on formulas to get that nice starry sky. I decided that I didn’t want the star trails. I had a plan. I would arrive at my location around 1:30am. Take some test shots and get a feel for the composition I wanted. It’s pitch black, composition is a guessing game. The peak was to start around 3:00am in my area. I figured that would give me plenty of time to accomplished what I wanted to see from my test shots. This was the first time that I shot the night sky. I was done taking my test shots and had time to kill. So I bundled up in my car, turned on some tunes and waited…and waited some more. 3:00am came and went and I saw 1 fireball (which was super cool) but didn’t capture it because it was behind me and saw 1 meteor. This was during peak! Meteor shower behavior is certainly not predicable. So I settled in and took some beautiful night sky photo’s. In the process, I learned a ton! First, you have to get away from the city, at least 40 miles from downtown. Cities are well lit, and they are brighter then you think. This takes away from the night sky because of the “light pollution.” Next, you have have have to shoot in manual focus. It’s to dark for auto focus to work. Initially what I did was take my headlamp and shine it on a tree. I set my focus ring to infinity, I used live-view to get the details sharp, then turned off the headlamp and took the test photo. Sharp. Good. Done. Next I used this nice formula to find the exact shutter-speed, so my stars would not be blurry. I know that formula’s are not stead fast and you certainly don’t have to adhere to them, but if your like me, and are geeky, there is the science behind it.

My typical landscape shoot, I would be at ISO 100, shooting the stars is not the typical landscape shoot for me. I played around with my ISO, I started at 3200 and experimented all the way down to ISO 1000. What I noticed when I got the photo’s on the computer at home is that all the one’s I liked the best, were shot at ISO 3200. But again, experiment to find what you like. Same here goes for f-stops. typical landscape shoot for me would be at f/16 or f 11. I want the sharpness from front to back in the photo. Shooting the stars at these f-stops would render the photo to dark to be usable. I shot using the widest apature I had, which was f/4. I was using the Nikon 16-35mm and at f/4 it did in-fact let in enough light. I could have experimented a bit more here. But I did not.

Gear used

  • Nikon 600
  • Nikon 16-35 f/4
  • Manfrotto 055cxpro3 carbon fiber legs
  • Manfrotto 55MAG Ball Head -RC4

Recapping lesson’s learned

  • 25-27 second shutter speed at 18mm to not blur the stars
  • Use the lowest numbered f-stop you have. Again for me that was f/4. If you have an f2/8, use it.
  • Favorite ISO 3200
  • Use the built in intervalometer or obtain a shutter-release with these capabilities.
  • Use your camera’s built-in virtual horizon feature, most newer camera’s have this.

Most importantly HAVE FUN!


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