Five years ago, I tried to capture the Perseid meteor shower with my camera gear. And I certainly came close to doing so … but not close enough.
Four years ago, in the middle of an unseasonably clear Christmas eve night, I photographed a star trail along the Sacandaga River. And in the middle of that cold, chilly evening … a stray meteorite zipped across the horizon, and I didn’t even notice it until after I went through my photos the next day.
But now it’s 2016. The Perseid meteor shower is about to make its brightest appearance in years, apparently there’s some confluence with Comet Swift-Tuttle and the planet Jupiter that promises, on the evening of August 11-12, more than 200 meteor streaks per hour across our skies.
I want this. I want to photograph this meteor shower and I want to do it that night.
So for a week leading up to the event, I planned. I scouted. I checked out every single one of my evening photographic “honey holes” – Brown Tract Pond near Raquette Lake; Paradox Lake Campground in Essex County; the Sacandaga River along the town of Edinburg, etc. I punched in nine different zip codes in weather.com, looking for any updates that would give me clear skies.
Not so good. Most of the locales were expecting rain. Heavy rain. Thunderstorms and flash floods on Thursday night.
I still tried to plan ahead. And eventually, I settled Thursday afternoon on my shooting location.
Camera gear’s ready. And I packed plenty of foods – and yes, I brought my own bottled water.
Unfortunately, what I thought would be a perfect location to photograph the meteor shower was anything but. There were two nearby street lamps which would have dumped light pollution into every shot I took. And even if I could countermand that, I couldn’t countermand the dragonflies and moths and mosquitos that swarmed around me like they were B-19’s and I was a German munitions depot.
I looked at my watch. If I’m going to call an audible… I need to call it now.
Quick check of my cell phone. Most of the other “honey holes” are expecting deluges and storms – except one. And if I hurry, I can get to that alternate shooting location – the lower reservoir in Corinth. And luckily for me – folks, this is where pre-planning is so important – I already called ahead and spoke to the Village Clerk to get permission to access the reservoir past dusk. “Just park in the lower parking lot off Route 10,” she said, after confirming my name, license plate and make and model of my Chevrolet.
Okay. One more glance at my watch. Stay here in Hoosick Falls and put up with less-than-ideal conditions…
Nah. Load everything, pull up the stakes, and burn rubber for Corinth.
10:00 p.m. I’m at the reservoir. It’s a short, half-mile hike from the parking lot to the reservoir, and I’m hauling my Nikon Df with a 28mm f/2.8 lens on it, as well as a tripod and a lawn chair. Yes, I brought a lawn chair. It’s star-gazing time, why wouldn’t you bring a lawn chair?
Okay. Time to hook everything up. Nikon Df is fully charged. Chip is installed. Hooked right into the tripod. Aim the camera due east and try to find the constellation of Perseus.
Oh yeah. Gotta hook up the intervalometer, the mechanical device that allows the camera to automatically take dozens of pictures without me touching anything. This is a good intervalometer, I got it from a Kickstarter project a couple of years ago. Haven’t used it in a while, but I’m sure it will be just fine.
Plugged it in. Programmed it. And …
Nothing. The intervalometer ain’t working.
Okay, Chuck. Keep calm. Remember your planning. The Nikon Df should be advanced enough to have its own built-in intervalometer, right?
A quick check of the menu options gave me just what I needed. Although the Df‘s internal program could not handle exposures of longer than four seconds at a time, I figured I could certainly work with that.
There’s what I want. Lots of stars. I don’t know if that’s the Perseus constellation, but right now it’s the only cluster of stars devoid of cloud cover.
Here we go. Do your thing, Df.
Nothing. The minute I set the camera and started things rolling, the clouds came churning through. Covered up the stars like fog in London.
All right. Reorient the camera. Try again. Hey, there’s a nice cluster of stars over by that tree line.
Ready, aim, and…
I swear, the clouds just moved right on top of the opening between the stars and me.
I looked around. The clouds came through and covered every possible shooting location. I guess somehow the words “partly cloudy” on weather.com should be interpreted as “cloudy, with only partly breaks of clear sky if you’re dang lucky.”
Okay, the clouds have to roll through at some point… and…
Raindrop on my cheek.
No no no.
No no no no no!!!
No, I can’t have rain right now!! Come on, I’ve planned this shoot for weeks now! I’ve battled weather conditions, travel, bureaucracy, a faulty intervalometer, a car accident in North Carolina for which I should have died, more rejections than a jukebox stuck on “All About That Bass,” health issues that are slowly robbing me of my ability to walk, and damn you, you’re going to dump rain on me in the middle of the biggest meteor shower in years?
Is this what I get for following the rules, God? Is this what I get for staying on the straight and narrow, you’re going to wait until I finally get some good karma in my life and you’re going to dump a thunderstorm on me? Is that all you got, you all-powerful deity? Fine, you want to dump a thunderstorm on me, go right ahead. Dump it. Go right ahead. Hit me with a damn lightning bolt if you want to. I don’t care any more. You win.
And then, suddenly…
No more raindrops.
And along the horizon… a small clearing. That’s Ursa Major right there in the clearing. The Big Dipper, the giant astrophysical bear, the first constellation every child ever learns and remembers.
Chuck, what the hell are you waiting for? Stop feeling sorry for your damn self, turn the damn camera toward the damn horizon, and get the damn camera in action, you damn stoopnagle!!!
Okay. Camera turned. Shoot.
And when the pictures were assembled into a star trail collage…
I got this. Three hundred and seventy-five images stitched together in a star trail capture.
Note to self. Digitally remove that dashed line in the picture, that’s not a meteor, that’s a stray airplane. But wait… is that … the other lines … are they … did I …
One way to be sure. I gotta go back to the source frames.
Image 4886 in the set.
It’s a meteor, right in the handle of the Big Dipper!
Quick… look for another one.
And there’s another meteor, right in frame 4697. And another in 4796. And a faint one in 4805.
This is incredible. I actually got the meteor shower, and right through the stars of the most recognizable constellation in the skies!!
Raindrop. And more raindrops.
And shouting at them won’t make them go away this time.
Besides… I got what I wanted. I got the Perseid meteor shower, finally finally finally. And I’ve got three hundred and seventy-five pictures to put something together that will look even more spectacular than what I have right now.
Sorry if I’m feeling a bit punchy at the moment.
I certainly hope you understand.
I got the freakin’ Perseid meteor shower, right through the Big Dipper!!
I took a few minutes this evening to enhance the detail on the “meteor and Ursa Major” picture. Hope you like it.