top of page
  • Writer's pictureThomas

How to Capture Shooting Stars

Shooting stars, or meteors, are one of the most spectacular phenomena in the night sky. They are caused by small pieces of dust or rock entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed and burning up. Some of them are so bright that they can be seen even in urban areas, while others are faint and require a dark and clear sky to be visible.

If you are a landscape photographer who loves to capture the beauty of the night sky, shooting stars can add a magical touch to your images. However, photographing them is not as hard as it may seem. Of course, it helps to plan ahead, find the right location, and use the right gear and settings. In this blog post, I will share with you some tips and tricks on how to capture shooting stars with your camera.




Preparation

Before you head out to shoot the stars, you need to do some preparation. Here are some steps that you should follow:

  • Check for big events: Shooting stars can occur at any time of the year, but some periods are more active than others. These are called meteor showers, and they happen when the Earth passes through the debris left by comets or asteroids. Some of the most famous meteor showers are the Perseids in August, the Geminids in December, and the Quadrantids in January. To find out when and where these events occur, you can use a tool like PhotoPills, which is an app that helps you plan your photo shoots according to the position of the sun, moon, and stars.

How to Capture Shooting Stars - PhotoPills -  - by Lonely Landscape - Thomas Junkermann
  • Find the right location: To see and photograph shooting stars, you need a dark and clear sky. This means that you should avoid places with light pollution, such as cities or towns. An app like Light Pollution Map can help you find dark locations. To find out how cloudy a location is, you can use an app like Clear Outside, which shows you the cloud cover at different altitudes for any location in the world. You can also look for places with high elevation, such as mountains or hills. The higher you get, the clearer the air.

How to Capture Shooting Stars - Light Pollution Map -  - by Lonely Landscape - Thomas Junkermann
  • Get the right gear: To capture shooting stars, you need a camera that can shoot in low light conditions, a wide-angle lens that can cover a large portion of the sky, a sturdy tripod that can keep your camera stable, a lens warmer (if needed) that can prevent your lens from fogging up due to cold temperatures, lots of charged batteries that can last for hours of shooting, at least one empty memory card (a backup memory card is always recommended!) and a remote shutter release with intervalometer that can help you take multiple shots without touching your camera.

On Location

Once you have done your preparation, you are ready to go out and shoot the stars. Here are some steps that you should follow:

  • Find a nice perspective: When you arrive at your location, scout for a good spot that offers you a nice foreground and background for your composition. You can use natural or artificial elements, such as trees, rocks, buildings, or bridges, to create interest and depth in your image. You can also use an app like [PhotoPills] to find out where the shooting stars will appear in relation to your foreground and background.

  • Get yourself comfortable: Shooting stars can be unpredictable and require patience. You may have to wait for hours before you see one or more of them streaking across the sky. Therefore, it is important that you get yourself comfortable and enjoy the experience. You can bring some snacks, drinks, and music to keep yourself entertained. I recommend dressing warmly and bringing some blankets or sleeping bags to protect yourself from the cold.

Photo Settings

After you have found a nice perspective and got yourself comfortable, switch your camera setting from Auto to Manual (M), because you need to adjust your camera settings to capture the shooting stars. There are three main settings that you need to consider: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

  • Aperture: The aperture is the opening of your lens that controls how much light enters your camera. For shooting stars, you want to use the widest aperture possible, which means the smallest f-number. This will allow you to capture more light and make the stars brighter. A wide aperture also helps you achieve a shallow depth of field, which can make your foreground stand out from the background. A good starting point is f/2.8, but you can go wider if your lens allows it. Read more of that in my other blog post "Get your f# straight".

  • ISO: The ISO is the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light. For shooting stars, you want to use a high ISO, which means a higher number. This will also help you capture more light and make the stars brighter. However, a high ISO also introduces more noise and grain in your image, which can reduce the quality and detail of your photo. Therefore, you need to find a balance between brightness and noise. A good starting point is ISO 600, but you can adjust it depending on the conditions and your camera’s performance up to ISO 6400.

  • Shutter speed: The shutter speed is the duration of time that your camera’s shutter stays open and exposes the sensor to light. For shooting stars, you want to use a long shutter speed, which means a lower number. This will allow you to capture more light and make the stars brighter. However, a long shutter speed also increases the risk of star trails, which are streaks of light caused by the movement of the stars across the sky. Therefore, you need to find a balance between brightness and sharpness. A good way to do this is to use the simple rule of 500.

The rule of 500 is a formula that helps you calculate the longest shutter speed that you can use without noticeable star trails. The formula is:

Shutter speed = 500 / (focal length x crop factor)


The focal length is the length of your lens in millimeters, and the crop factor is the ratio

between your camera’s sensor size and a full-frame sensor (which is usually 1 for full-frame cameras, 1.5 or 1.6 for APS-C cameras, and 2 for Micro Four Thirds cameras). For example, if you are using a 20mm lens on a full-frame camera, the rule of 500 gives you:

Shutter speed = 500 / (20 x 1) = 25 seconds.

But I suggest going a bit lower and start with 20 seconds.


This means that you can use a shutter speed of up to 25 seconds without noticeable star trails. However, this is only an approximation and may vary depending on your camera’s resolution, pixel size, and noise reduction. Therefore, it is always a good idea to check your images on the back of your camera or on a computer and adjust your settings accordingly.


How do I focus when it is dark? - You may ask. The easiest solution in my opinion is to set up your camera, with the main adjustments (aperture, ISO and shutter speed), then use the zoom button in your camera (not with the lens!), to digitally zoom in as far as you can. You should now see some blurry white spots. Set your camera to Manual Focus (MF) and rotate the focus ring until those blurry white spots get smaller and smaller. Try to get them to a point, where they are at their smallest.

Take a test shot with a two-second self-timer, to make sure that there is no camera shake when you release the shutter. When reviewing the test shot, zoom in as much as you can to check if the stars are crisp sharp or still a bit blurry - if so, repeat the steps.


Take Advantage of the Intervalometer

One of the difficulties of photographing shooting stars is that they are random and brief. You never know when and where they will show up in the sky, and they only last for a few seconds. Therefore, it is very hard to capture them by pressing the shutter button manually.


You may miss the opportunity or end up with shaky images due to camera movement.

The solution to overcome this difficulty is to use an intervalometer, which is a device or a feature that allows you to take multiple shots automatically at a fixed interval. By using an intervalometer, you can let your camera take pictures continuously for a period of time, without touching it. This way, you can increase your chances of capturing some shooting stars in your images.


To use the advantage of the intervalometer, you need to set up your camera on a tripod and adjust your settings according to the rule of 500. Then, you need to set your intervalometer to take one shot every second or two, depending on how fast your camera can process and save the images (make sure you have disabled the noise reduction function, to reduce the image processing time of your camera). You also need to set the duration of the intervalometer, which is how long you want your camera to keep shooting. This depends on how long you want to stay at your location and how much battery and memory space you have.


Once you have set up your intervalometer, you can start shooting and relax. You can watch the sky with your eyes or use binoculars or a telescope to see more details. You can also check your images on the back of your camera or on a computer from time to time, to see if you have captured any shooting stars.


The benefit of using the advantage of the intervalometer is that you can capture more shooting stars than by shooting manually. The drawback is that you may end up with hundreds or thousands of images that you need to sort through and edit later. However, this can also be fun and rewarding, as you may discover some amazing shots that you didn’t notice before!


After reading this post, you should be ready to capture some amazing shooting star photos with your camera. But don’t forget to have a wish ready when you see one, because you never know when it might come true. Just make sure it’s not something like “I wish I had a better camera”, because that would be rude to your current one.

Comments


bottom of page