Perseids Meteor Shower Over Steamboat Rock
By all accounts, the Perseids meteor shower (generally known as the best meteor shower of the summer) looked to be really good this year. With very little interference from the moon, the opportunity to see a lot of meteors against dark skies was very good.
So with little more than a hunch from good friend David Kingham, I drove (hours and hours) to a place called Steamboat Rock in Dinosaur National Monument. The idea was simply to use Steamboat Rock as a foreground for an all-night composite image of the Perseids Meteor Shower. With it's arrow like shape and the positioning of the Perseus Constellation passing above, we both saw a great opportunity to combine the two for a great image. And with the dark skies of Dinosaur National Monument in remote northwest Colorado, I was hoping for some terrific details in those night skies.
I timed my drive so that I'd arrive with plenty of light to do some scouting in the area. In doing so, I found a spot where the foreground seemed to line up to my liking and then I looked to the sky. With the help of my phone apps, I was able to determine that the radiant would pass right by a spot in the sky where Steamboat Rock seemed to be pointing. This was perfect, I thought as the clouds started to clear - leaving a big patch of blue in the sky above. I showed a big smile as I saw my vision starting to become a reality.
I hunted around for a spot to shoot from that really spoke to me and finally found the spot you see captured above. There was something about the way the trees framed the image at the top and the way it worked with Steamboat Rock seemed to fit really well. Later, I worked to give the trees a little subtle light painting to give them a sense of place without becoming a distraction.
On the lighting conditions I had plans to make the most of the little bit of moonlight I was expecting to see right after evening twilight and before the moon set. I knew I had to be ready but I figured that I had a good opportunity to illuminate the scene with natural even-looking light. The moon was 20% full, hanging low in the western skies until it finally set at about 10:20 pm. So with the last light hitting Steamboat Rock, I made sure to be ready and to capture a long-exposure with the scene bathed in the moon's last light.
Sure, I could have painted the scene with artificial light and I actually did try several exposures where I light painted the rocks. But in the end, I really liked the moonlit scene much better. I'm sure glad I made the most of that last bit of moonlight while it lasted!
Then, without moving my camera or tripod, I set up for shooting the rest of the night. In running my Nikon D800 with Battery Grip, I had two EL-15 Lithium-Ion batteries to work with. I had used another approach with an external battery with an earlier meteor shower but decided that the two batteries I had for my D800 could handle the task. Just to be safe, I swapped out the battery in the grip right after the moonlight and light painting exposures so I'd be working with two fully charged batteries.
Then, I reviewed all my settings: ISO 6400 for 30 seconds at f/2.8 - shooting with a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens. Then, I set up my camera's interval timer to run for 999 images with a 35 second duration. Once the interval timer started, I stayed around until I saw it click the 3rd image in sequence. At that point, I felt like my work was done and it was time to enjoy the show!
In the end, I shot around 800 images with 15 meteors appearing over a period of about 7 1/2 hours. For anyone who has questions about how to post-process a composite image like this, I suggest taking a look at David Kingham's tutorial at http://www.davidkinghamphotography.com/blog/2013/7/photograph-the-2013-perseids-meteor-shower.
August 15th, 2013
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