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Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower from Mt. Baker

A joy ride on our motorcycles to Mt. Baker last week with my friend Bob resulted in a chance encounter with another photographer. He was preparing for the Perseid meteor shower which was supposed to be at its peak that night, with 200 meteors per hour. With a little nudging from Bob, we rode our bikes home and I jumped in the car with my photo gear and headed right back up to Mt. Baker. With a beautiful mountain foreground and the absence of light pollution, it was the perfect place to photograph the action in the sky.

I knew I wouldn’t be alone that night but was not prepared for the packed out party in the parking lot! There was constant motion of flashlights everywhere including all the trails up, down and around the mountains. A half moon kept the scene dimly lit until midnight. Whenever a large meteor zoomed overhead, there was a loud chorus of WhoooHoo echoing throughout the hills. Everyone I encountered was enthusiastic, friendly and helpful.

I started shooting at about 10 pm and took the last of 500 photos when the sun came up, at 5:40 am. Of those 500 shots, I might have captured a meteor in about a dozen. It was just pure luck to have your camera pointed in the right direction with the shutter open when a meteor streaked magically across the sky. I did see a few amazing streaks that generated the  WhoooHoo chorus and although I wasn’t lucky enough to capture them, I did get a few shorter ones.

So, here’s a collection of images from my all nighter. Was it worth it? Definitely! It was a humbling adventure to witness God’s amazing handiwork throughout the night.

Mt. Shuksan illuminated by the moon.
My first shot of the night. This is Mt. Shuksan from the parking lot, an area known as Artist’s Point. The moon provided the light on the mountain.
Mt Shuksan illuminated by moonlight.
A few hours later, my patience was rewarded with three at once! Can you find the third one?
Mt. Baker, time exposure, with stars and moon light
After a short climb up a trail, I had a clear view of Mt. Baker. This is a 40 minute time exposure, taken just after the moon went down. The orange light is from the setting moon. The trees were illuminated by a passerby with a flashlight. A couple of planes passed through the scene as well.
Mt Baker with Milky Way
Another view of Mt. Baker with the Milky Way and a meteor.
flashlights illuminate a night parking lot at Mt Baker
A view of the parking lot near midnight. It was in constant motion throughout the night. The lights on the hill are flashlights from campers and midnight hikers. And yes, there are still patches of snow on the ground at this elevation.
Mt Shuksan and Picture Lake with meteor.
Mt. Shuksan beautifully reflected in Picture Lake at 3 am.
The Milky Way, seen with a fisheye lens.
A fisheye view of the sky, showing the Milky Way.
Dawn on Mt. Shuksan
A panoramic view of Mt. Shuksan at dawn. Definitely worth the wait.
Mt Shuksan at dawn.
My final shot of the night was back to Picture Lake with Mt. Shuksan reflecting on the misty water.
Video: time lapse of sky movement.

This 5 second time lapse was created with 123 images taken over a 40 minute time period, ending at 4:40 AM. You’ll see a few meteors flying by as the sky brightens up. The flashes of light are caused by people walking by with flashlights.

For Photographers

I love night photography! Things look so different at night and the camera sensor often reveals things we cannot see.

For these photos, I used a starting point for my exposures of f/2.8 at ISO 2000 for 15 seconds. After making a test exposure, I then adjust the camera settings as needed.  Most of the images were shot with my 24-70 f/2.8 lens. I also like to use my fisheye lens at night because I can include more of the sky with it.

To make the time exposure with the streaks of stars (third image from top), I set up the intervalometer in the camera. This allows me to program the camera to take a series of shots for any period of time I choose. I made 135 images, each with a 15 second exposure. Then, the images were combined with a program called Startrax, which quickly and easily created the final image.

To make the time lapse movie at the end, I set up the camera in a similar way and created 122 images, ending with a brightening sky at 4:40 am. These photos, taken over a 40 minute period, were assembled with a program called Time Lapse Assembler into the five-second video above.

One of the challenges of night photography is focusing. How do you focus on a distant mountain when it is dark? Your autofocus system won’t help you when there is not enough light. One solution is to focus manually but you need to know where the infinity focus point on your lens is. The best way to determine where this point on your lens is located is to practice in daylight on a distant subject. When focus is achieved, remember the mark on the distance scale so you can set it there in the dark with a flashlight.

Photography at night is one of the topics taught in my Intermediate Photography courses. All of the solutions to the challenges of night photography are taught and practiced on our outings. This course is generally offered in the spring.

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