The annual Perseid meteor shower reached a peak last night, so I thought I’d try and get a photograph of one or two, as the skies were so clear and conditions seemed perfect.
I woke around 2am (don’t ask), stumbled downstairs and boiled the kettle – kick arse coffee was in order.
Outside and I set up the camera on a tripod, and started shooting. I’ve done this sort of thing before (in fact the first photo I ever remember taking was of the Andromeda Galaxy from the recreation ground behind our house when I was a teenager, with an old Olympus OM10 (film camera).
Now of course, it’s all gone digital – which means setting up the camera on manual, a high ISO equivalent (maybe 800 or 1000), a large aperture (maybe f4) a manual focus set to far distance (but not infinity) and a shutter speed of perhaps 30 seconds, with mirror lock up if you’re feeling all techy (though I just prefer to hold my hand in front of the lens when I press “FIRE”, then remove it, to negate camera shake due to the shutter opening abruptly).
So there I was, at half two, sitting in the garden, taking 30 second exposures of the night sky. I knew where the radiant (where perseid meteors all seem to emanate from) of the perseids was (between Cassiopeia and Perseus), so the only real decision to make was where exactly to point my 10-22 lens (set at about 14mm to take in quite a lot of the night sky).
Did I point it quite far from the radiant – hoping to get a long-tailed streaky meteor? Or nearer the radiant, maximizing my chances of recording a meteor on film (or sensor I should say) but lessening my chances of recording a long-lasting, long-tailed meteor?
I chose the latter in the end – to maximize my chances of recording anything of interest on the camera sensor.
One trouble with digital photography, especially digital photography like this (long exposure), is that the camera takes the shot (30 second exposure let’s say) and then the camera effectively shuts down, whilst it “writes” the data to the SD card or in my case, with my Canon 40D, the CF card.
For every 30 seconds of the camera recording the night sky above it, my poor old 40D shut down for 40 seconds afterwards as it wrote the digital data (which makes up the photo) onto my CF card. This meant for every 80 or so seconds I was out there taking photos, I could only record 30 seconds of night sky activity – which meant I had only a 37.5% (approx) of recording a Perseid meteor, even if my camera was pointing in the right direction. Not great odds, but dems da breaks with a camera as old and cheap (now) as mine!
For the first hour and a half or so, it seemed like EVERY time my camera shut down to write the photograph onto the CF card (a photograph with no meteor in it), a gurt big hyowge meteor streaked across the piece of the sky I’d just photographed 30 seconds earlier.
To be honest it became silly for a while – my odds were bad, but not THAT bad – I reckoned I could put up with missing 2 or 3 meteors whilst the camera was “busy” - I’d get the 3rd or 4th – but time after time, the camera was “busy” when the sky lit up with long-tailed meteors.
It got so silly in fact; I became quite sulky – sitting out there in the cold, with my hat on and one of our cats purring deeply on my lap. Even the local tawny owls seemed to be hooting their derision at me. It's not as if I could even smoke (Hamlet style), as I've stopped all that months ago now (though boy do I still miss it).
Finally, as the cat decided I wasn’t being interesting enough, so slinked off to investigate the hedgehog crashing through the borders, I did manage to record one Perseid meteor on the camera’s sensor.
It wasn’t very bright. It wasn’t very long-tailed and it flashed in the sky for less than half a second. But my camera’s shutter was open at the time – and the photo below is the result.
I eventually saw dozens of meteors. Most quite faint, but maybe 8 or 9 which were very bright indeed – but only got one on camera.
Was it worth it? Yes - very much so I think (just once a year!)
I sit here now, typing this blog with blood-shot eyes and another dark coffee steaming by the computer monitor.
There’s no sound from the bedroom next door or my baby son’s room – so I guess I haven’t woken anyone during my nocturnal ramblings.
Off to work in an hour and a half. I wonder if I’ve got time for forty-winks before then….