Whether it’s the moon, the stars or another mysterious space oddity, we continue to be captivated with the solar system and its many phenomena. This obsession has only increased, as photographic capabilities allow us to see more than ever before. For many photographers shooting skyward is both an exciting and challenging prospect. The upcoming ETA Aquarid meteor shower in May is one such moment.
When is it?
“This year, the Eta Aquarid should peak around May 5th in the early morning,” explains Mike Cruise, President of the Royal Astronomical Society. “It’s a remarkable shower that comes in early May every year, with a meteor visible every few minutes in the South Eastern direction of the sky.
What is it?
“The Eta Aquarid meteor shower, like others, occurs when the earth passes through the remains of ancient comets, asteroids and the debris left behind”, explains Mike. “The Earth travels up to 30km per second, and sometimes small grains of sand and dust crash into the Earth’s atmosphere at huge speeds. When vaporised, this dust emits the bright streaks of light we all know as meteors or shooting stars. It’s a fantastic phenomenon, and if you capture it, you’ll be photographing something from the very beginning of our solar system.”
Canon photographer and content creator, Fergus Kennedy, shares his five top tips on capturing the moment, following his recent trip to South Africa as part of Canon’s EOS RP launch.
1. Timing is everything
“Choosing the right evening to photograph the meteor shower is really important”, explains Fergus. “On the 5th, there should be little to no moon, giving you a magical setting to capture the stars because the moon’s brightness won’t overpower the night sky. You also want to ensure there is minimum cloud cover for the best shot, but don’t be afraid if there is, clouds can provide an added element of drama to your images.”
2. Use apps to perfect your snaps
“There are so many great apps that predict the weather in detail to help you confidently choose when to capture the shower. Dark Sky, is one of the best, giving accurate and localised updates on cloud cover and rain. PhotoPills is also a fantastic app created specifically for photographers wanting to capture nature’s aesthetics. I use this to pinpoint where the moon and Milky Way will be positioned at a given time when planning shots.”
3. Adjust your camera settings
“To capture truly stunning images, you’ll need to adjust your camera settings, starting with a wide aperture and high ISO – ISO 3200 f/2.8. I find using a tighter lens, such as the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is ideal for capturing the details of the Milky Way. Use a tripod and ensure you’re getting as much light in the image as possible by increasing the shutter speed to 30 seconds. There are other ways you can increase the light in your images, but this is a great starting point for amateur photographers and the best setting for dark skies”, advises Fergus.
4. Challenge yourself to create a time-lapse
“Once your camera is sat firmly on a tripod, experiment by taking a picture of the sky every minute to create a time-lapse”, suggests Fergus. “This is best done automatically on the Canon EOS RP by choosing the interval timer mode, but you can do it manually with other cameras too. You’ll need to have roughly 25 still images for 1 second of video, so once you’ve got approximately 200-250 images and they’ve been combined you’ll get a 7-10 second sequence showing the movement of the stars relative to features in the landscape. If you get the chance, shoot with an ultra-wide-angle lens like the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM and you’ll capture the movements of the night sky seamlessly.”
5. Capture the beauty that surrounds you
“When photographing the night sky, it’s common that road or car lights appear in the background of photos, which can be frustrating if you’ve put a lot of preparation into the trip. The key is to make sure you’re somewhere secluded and aware of any roads in the distance that might disrupt your images. This is important with time-lapses, because once they’ve been sequenced you don’t want any distracting flashes of light. Finally – stay warm whilst enjoying the stars! Sitting outside for three or four hours can be rough on a chilly night.”