Fireball!

It is possible to make pictures that technically are less than perfect, but still capture a once-in-a-lifetime moment for our own enjoyment and memories. That’s the category of today’s image, and I’m OK with that.

Perseid MeteorShower2015-08-12SMALL

Perseid Meteor Shower – August 12, 2015 Long Exposure: 303 seconds (5.05 minutes); 10mm

During the recent Perseid Meteor shower even of August 12, 2015 I experimented with use of my wireless intervalometer to try for some skyward images. I placed my camera, fitted with my wide angle lens (10-22mm), on its tripod on my rear balcony. Opened to infinity, and set the aperture as wide as it goes. This camera position was pointed away from the light pollution created by downtown Albuquerque, the North Valley and Rio Rancho.  There was no moonlight to interfere with the appearance of the stars, but there were some patches of clouds visible.

I expected to see lots of meteor activity in the sky and be able to capture it. With my naked eye, I watched several fantastic streaks in the sky. A handful of them had long tails, but of course, they are sporadic and unpredictable in where and when they will appear.  Making photos of the sky for an event like this requires enormous patience and time, and fully charged camera batteries.  Naturally, the camera needs to remain open for long exposure periods to insure it will see meteor tails. Other than image sensor noise, light trails start to form off the stars as Earth continues its orbit.

I’ve only made a handful of skyward images at night, and to say that I have a lot of room for improvement is an understatement. Ordinarily, I would never post such a low caliber image on the internet, never mind to my own photo blog. But I’m sending it out because I was so excited about having captured a fireball in one of my photos! See that streak at the bottom left corner? By its location, angle and wobble, I can comfortably say that wasn’t the international space station, but rather a marble sized meteor burning up as it entered Earth’s atmosphere. I think that is so cool!

Really excellent images of the night sky are made by photographers who photo stack hundreds of pictures on top of each other and merge them together for super high definition results. There are software packages designed for this astronomical hobby, but I don’t intend to pick up and learn them at the present time. One benefit is the specialized ability to help reduce digital noise and correct other flaws that arise by leaving the shutter open for long periods.

This image is a single shot without stacking. It had to be edited (I used Lightroom)  to remove some of the annoyingly visible sensor noise, as well as adjust the exposure, highlights, shadows and white and dark levels. As disappointing as is the quality of the final image, I’m still going to try for other meteor showers during the remainder of the year. In the autumn there were will be some other chances to shoot up and capture streaks again; weather permitting. At the very least, I will try to make an intentional light trail sort of image.

Did you ever make a great night sky exposure with a single exposure? What camera settings (shutter time, aperture, lens length, ISO) did you use? What software did you use to post process it? What do you use to reduce image noise in night exposures? Share a link to the image in the comments, as well as any of your own experiences at this. We love to learn.

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