How to Photograph a Shooting Star

The universe is back in fashion. Everywhere you look there are amazing images of the night sky. Take to Instagram and you’ll see the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis arching in the sky above beautiful landscapes, while NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope (opens in a new tab) fill the internet with close-ups of planets, galaxies, nebulae and sparkling star clusters.

All of this requires expensive gear and travel to exotic locations, right? Bad. With the best cameras – and even a compact camera (opens in a new tab) if it has a full manual mode, you can take amazing pictures at night. We have already written about how to photograph nightscapes (opens in a new tab) in a more general sense, but here we’ll look at how to capture shooting stars, an incredibly sight to behold in the night sky.

There are few more humbling sights in nature than shooting stars whizzing across the night sky. Little more than particles called meteoroids that burn through Earth’s atmosphere in a bright, searing trail, it’s possible to see shooting stars every night of the year if the sky is dark and clear.

Geminid meteor shower

(Image credit: Haitong Yu via Getty Images)

When and how to photograph shooting stars

The best time to photograph shooting stars is during the peak night of a meteor shower, and specialist sites such as Almanac.com (opens in a new tab)have long calendars for meteor showers if you don’t know when to expect them. Shooting stars are certainly best photographed under dark skies (so pay attention to moon phases) between midnight and 3am.

Even if you get your landmark, photographing millisecond meteor trails is impossible, right? Opening your camera shutter when a shooting star appears won’t work. So here’s what you do; mount your camera firmly on a tripod (opens in a new tab) as you would any nightscape, then let the camera take 25 second exposures for a few hours (and use an intervalometer (opens in a new tab) so you don’t have to do the process yourself manually for the whole time).

It’s the same process as for a star trail. You will need an intervalometer or a locked remote shutter cable (opens in a new tab) makes the whole process hands-free, which is essential because you don’t want to touch your tripod or camera – it has to stay completely still.

Remote timer shutter with RGBS LCD time lapse

(Image credit: RGBS)

Let the camera take 25 second exposures for a few hours

When you return to your computer, scroll through the 100 or more images you took that night (the more the better) and hopefully you’ll have a shooting star in one. between them. With a bit of luck, you might even catch a “fireball,” a particularly large and bright meteor that often appears pink or green in color.

Composition isn’t as important as in other nightscape photography, but that doesn’t hurt; a shooting star shooting above a building, a tree or an old rusty car will always be more interesting than a simple white line against a few stars.

Meteor showers get their name from the constellation from which the shooting stars seem to radiate. For example, the Perseids (opens in a new tab) seem to come from the constellation of Perseus, which astronomers call the “radiant point”. However, shooting stars can appear anywhere in the sky, making this a great wide angle lens. (opens in a new tab) absolutely essential for these all-sky events.

If you want to improve your astro shots, check out the best camera for astrophotography (opens in a new tab) and the best lenses for astrophotography (opens in a new tab). You will find inspiration in Astronomy Photographer of the Year (opens in a new tab)and we also have more technical information astrophotography tips (opens in a new tab) to help you too.

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