The second week in August each year is one of the weeks I usually am wanting for more sleep. I love the Perseid Meteor shower and look forward to the challenge of trying to capture this unique annual event. The Perseids of 2015 presented a great opportunity – relatively clear skies and a new moon – meaning no light pollution from the moon so the meteors would show up even brighter. My goal was to bring this amazing event to my audience, and here is the back story to my nighttime adventure…
I ventured out two times this past week to photograph the Perseids – once to Pedernales Falls State Park in the Texas Hill Country and once to the iconic 360 Bridge outside of Austin, Texas. For this short blog, I’ll focus on the Pedernales location. I know Pedernales Falls like the back of my hand. I live close by and am over there for sunrise or sunset several times each month. Still, I wanted to scout out a perfect location that had an interesting foreground and offered a chance to include much of the night sky, as well. Last weekend, I spent sunrise and sunset at the state park with a camera and my gps. The Perseids radiate from the northeast section of the sky – generally from the middle of the Milky Way. After several miles of walking around, I found what I wanted – a portion of a small canyon into which the river flowed that faced northeast. I also took several test images with different lenses to see what look I wanted. After scrutinizing the test images, I decided to go with my super-wide angle – the 11-24L to give me more of the rugged landscape and more of the night sky.
On Thursday morning, I awoke about 1:00am, dragged myself out of bed, drove to the park, and walked to the river and upstream about 20 minutes to my chosen location. The camera was ready to go by 2:00am. I would like to note here a few observations. First, I’ve never seen anyone in the parking lot when I go out before sunrise, but there were 6 or 7 cars there, so it was nice to see other folks out enjoying the light show. To the two college girls trying to find their way down to the river without a flashlight in the complete dark…. hope you made it! I was happy to help guide you if you hadn’t had to go back to your car for your contraband! But I wasn’t waiting for around. Second, I saw more animals here this night than I’ve ever seen at one time before. They included a wild hog, a racoon, an opossum, a jackrabbit, an armadillo that I almost tripped over on the trail, a fox, several deer, and what I think was a porcupine (are there porcupines out there? sure looked like one). I might have even seen a chupacabra, but can’t be 100% sure. It was dark!
Moving along… I aligned my star-tracker to the north star, set up the camera, took a few base images of the milky way, then set everything to run on auto-pilot for the next several hours. For those interested in the technical aspects… the base Milky Way images were shot at f/5.6 ISO 800 for about 3 1/2 minutes. The meteors were shot on f/4, ISO 4000, on a continuous 30 second interval – all using the new Canon 5DS-R. The foreground was shot later in the morning as the sun’s light was just beginning to light up the landscape. I believe that image was a 30 second image at ~ f/16.
After I set up the automatic timer, I laid back on the rock and watched the fireworks, which were quite amazing. Also, my 5-hour energy drink was my friend this night!
Upon returning home, I reviewed the 180+ images, pulling out the ones that contained meteors, then aligned and stacked them in photoshop. After I was happy with that look, I aligned and merged the meteors into the base Milky Way image, then merged that with the foreground, creating what you see below. A lot more went into the final photograph – color balance, some noise reduction, etc., but this was basically my work flow.
I think when you are alone in the middle of the night under the Milky Way images, you can’t help but question our place in the Universe. We are so small and it is unimaginably big. I won’t soon forget the beauty I experienced that night – time to reflect and time to look ahead, but mostly time to just be in the moment and enjoy God’s creation not seen by many.
And that was my night.
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