How to Capture the Orionids Meteor Shower

Every year, our planet orbits through a field of meteoroid debris, treating us to amazing displays of shooting stars. One such celestial spectacle is the Orionids meteor shower, a stunning cosmic event that is eagerly anticipated by stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts. In 2023, the Orionids meteor shower promises to be a captivating show that you won’t want to miss.

The Orionids meteor shower is an annual event that occurs when the Earth passes through the debris left behind by Halley’s Comet. Halley’s Comet, one of the most famous comets known to humanity, graces our skies roughly once every 76 years. As it journeys through the solar system, it sheds tiny particles, creating a trail of cosmic dust. When our planet crosses this trail, the dust particles enter our atmosphere and burn up, creating a spectacular display of meteoroids, or “shooting stars.”

The Orionids get their name from the constellation Orion, as they appear to radiate from a point near Orion’s club. The radiant rises before midnight and is highest in the sky around 2 am. However, you don’t need to locate Orion to enjoy the show. The meteors often don’t become visible until they are 30 degrees or so from their radiant point. They are also streaking out from the radiant in all directions and will appear in all parts of the sky. It’s often better to focus on the darkest part of the sky, away from city lights, to get the best view. These meteors often produce bright fireballs and leave large trails.

The Orionids meteor shower typically occurs between October 2nd and November 7th, with its peak activity predicted to fall around October 21st-22nd. The best time to witness this celestial event will be after midnight through the the predawn hours of October 22nd, but you can still catch some meteors in the days leading up to and following the peak. This year’s Orionids are expected to be particularly impressive, with up to 20 meteors per hour during the peak.

Here are some tips for finding an ideal viewing spot:

  1. Escape Light Pollution: Head to a location far from city lights. National parks, rural areas, or designated dark sky preserves are excellent choices.
  2. Check the Moon Phase: A bright moon can wash out the fainter meteors. During the 2023 Orionids, we will have a moonless sky. The waxing crescent moon sets around 11 PM.
  3. Get Comfortable: Bring a reclining chair, blankets, and warm clothing, as October nights can get chilly. You’ll want to be comfortable while you gaze at the night sky.
  4. Be Patient: Meteors can appear in clusters or sporadically. Be patient, and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness for at least 20 minutes.

How to Capture a Meteor Shower:

  • Set your ISO between 800-6400 (depends on ambient light and lunar phase – since we will have a moonless night for the 2023 Orionids, your ISO will be higher)
  • f/2.8-3.2
  • Use the NPF Rule in Photopills Spot Stars tool to find your correct shutter speed. It will probably be around 6-8″
  • Set your intervalometer to take anywhere from 250-500 images. This will equate to several hours of shooting time.
  • In post, processing, cull through all your images and find just the ones with meteors in the frame.
  • Load all the meteor images into a stack in Photoshop, change the blend mode to lighten, and mask the layers to your liking.

You can download my FREE Meteor Shower Cheat Sheet HERE.

Mastering Lunar Photography

almost full moon rising over barren trees in a marsh

The moon has captured human fascination for millennia. Photographing the moon in its various phases – full, half, or crescent – can be a rewarding and awe-inspiring experience. However, lunar photography requires careful consideration of settings and techniques to capture the moon’s stunning details. In this post, we’ll delve into the art of capturing the moon’s beauty, discussing aperture, shutter speeds, and the Looney 11 Rule.

Understanding Aperture and Shutter Speeds

Aperture and shutter speed are two crucial factors that affect the outcome of your lunar photographs. Aperture determines how much light enters the camera, while shutter speed controls how long the camera’s sensor is exposed to light.

  1. Aperture: A narrower aperture (higher f-number, e.g., f/8 or higher) is recommended for lunar photography. A smaller aperture increases the depth of field, ensuring that both the moon’s surface and surrounding stars are in focus. This is especially important if you’re aiming to capture the moon’s details during a crescent phase when shadows create depth on its surface.
  2. Shutter Speed: The moon’s brightness varies depending on its phase. For a full moon, a faster shutter speed (around 1/125 to 1/250 seconds) is suitable to prevent overexposure. During a crescent or half-moon phase, longer shutter speeds (around 1/15 to 1/60 seconds) can be used to capture more details in the shadowed areas.

The Looney 11 Rule

The “Looney 11 Rule” is a guideline that simplifies lunar photography by suggesting appropriate exposure settings when photographing the full moon under a clear sky. The rule states that at an aperture of f/11, the correct shutter speed for the moon’s surface will be the reciprocal of the ISO setting. For example:

  • ISO 100: Shutter speed ≈ 1/100 seconds
  • ISO 200: Shutter speed ≈ 1/200 seconds
  • ISO 400: Shutter speed ≈ 1/400 seconds

The smaller the moon phase, means less light hitting your sensor. You will need to have wider apertures if the moon isn’t full.

Equipment and Additional Tips

  1. Camera Equipment: A digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) or mirrorless camera with manual settings is ideal for lunar photography. A telephoto lens (200mm or more) helps fill the frame with the moon, capturing its intricate details.
  2. Stability: Use a sturdy tripod to avoid camera shake, especially when using longer shutter speeds. Even the slightest shake can result in blurry images.
  3. Remote Shutter Release: To eliminate camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button, use a remote shutter release or the camera’s self-timer.
  4. Manual Focus: Switch to manual focus and use the live view feature to focus on the moon’s surface. Autofocus may struggle in low-light situations.
  5. RAW Format: Shoot in RAW format to retain maximum image data for post-processing adjustments.
  6. Post-Processing: Post-processing can enhance your lunar images. Adjustments to contrast, brightness, and sharpness can bring out hidden details.
  7. Knowing Rise Times: Understanding the best time to view a rising or setting moon is also important for your composition. You can use the chart below to know when you need to be and where.

Capturing the moon’s beauty in its different phases requires a blend of technical understanding and creative vision. By mastering aperture, shutter speed settings, and the Looney 11 Rule, you can create breathtaking lunar photographs that showcase the moon’s intricate features and the cosmic dance it performs through the night sky. So grab your camera, set up your equipment, and let the moon inspire your photographic journey into the cosmos.

You can download my latest freebie, the Lunar Cheat Sheet here.

Discovering the Waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge

Wahclella Falls at sunrise

Nestled between the states of Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is a breathtaking natural wonder that draws visitors from around the world. Famous for its dramatic cliffs, lush forests, and majestic waterfalls, the gorge offers a unique opportunity to witness nature’s raw power and captivating beauty. Let’s embark on a journey to uncover just how many waterfalls grace the stunning landscape of the Columbia River Gorge!

The Columbia River Gorge is often referred to as the “Land of Waterfalls,” and rightfully so. With its abundant rainfall and cascading rivers, the region boasts an impressive number of waterfalls, each with its own distinct characteristics. While it’s difficult to provide an exact count due to the varying definitions and sizes of waterfalls, estimates suggest there are over 90 waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Among the numerous waterfalls, there are several iconic cascades that have captured the hearts of visitors throughout the years. One of the most famous is Multnomah Falls, a magnificent two-tiered waterfall standing at an impressive height of 620 feet. Its ethereal beauty and accessibility make it a must-see attraction for visitors to the gorge.

Other notable waterfalls include Wahkeena Falls, with its graceful plunge into a shimmering pool, and Horsetail Falls, which showcases a striking horsetail-like appearance as it cascades down the basalt cliffs. Bridal Veil Falls (pictured below), Latourell Falls, and Shepperd’s Dell Falls are also among the captivating waterfalls that add to the allure of the gorge.

To truly appreciate the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, a hiking adventure is highly recommended. Numerous trails wind their way through the gorge, offering breathtaking viewpoints and up-close encounters with the cascades. Some popular trails include the Multnomah Falls Loop Trail, Wahkeena Falls Trail, and the Wahclella Falls Trail, which takes hikers through a dense moss covered canyon. If you time this one just right, you can watch the morning sun cut through the falls.

Beyond the well-known waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge is home to a plethora of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. While they may not receive as much attention, these lesser-known cascades offer a sense of tranquility and a chance to connect with nature in a more secluded setting. Some hidden gems to explore include Elowah Falls, Punch Bowl Falls, and Dry Falls. Discovering these hidden treasures is like stumbling upon a secret world of beauty and serenity.

The Columbia River Gorge is a haven for waterfall enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its multitude of waterfalls, ranging from the towering and iconic to the hidden and serene, the gorge offers a diverse array of experiences for visitors. Whether you decide to hike on a popular trail or venture off the beaten path, the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge promise to leave you in awe of nature’s remarkable artistry and power. So, grab your hiking boots and immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of the “Land of Waterfalls”!

Tip: If you decide to visit the Gorge during the Winter months, be sure to pack some microspikes or ice cleats as well. The waterfalls are amazing to see in a frozen landscape, but are also even more dangerous to traverse.

How to Achieve the Silky Waterfall Look

Fall Color at Ausable Chasm New York

Capturing the serene beauty of a waterfall is a favorite subject of mine. The silky waterfall look creates a mesmerizing effect that can transform an ordinary scene into a stunning image. Achieving this effect may seem challenging, but with the right techniques and equipment, you can capture the magic of waterfalls in all their glory.

To capture the silky waterfall look, you’ll need the following gear:

  • A DSLR or mirrorless camera will provide you with the necessary control over settings and image quality.
  • A sturdy tripod is crucial to keep your camera steady during long exposures. My favorite one is made by Geekoto.
  • Neutral Density (ND) Filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera, allowing for longer exposures even in bright conditions. A range of ND filters will enable you to experiment with different exposure times.

Selecting the right time of day and lighting conditions can significantly enhance your waterfall photography. Consider the following factors:

  • Soft Light: Overcast days or shooting during the early morning or late afternoon will provide soft, diffused light, resulting in a more pleasing image.
  • Avoid Harsh Sunlight: Direct sunlight can cause overexposure and harsh shadows. If shooting in bright light, make use of your ND filters to reduce the amount of light and extend the exposure time.
Sun rising through the Eye of the Needle
Sun rising through the Eye of the Needle

Creating a well-composed image is crucial to convey the beauty of the waterfall. Look for elements such as rocks, trees, or surrounding landscapes that can add depth and visual interest to your image. Use the Rule of Thirds and position the waterfall and other key elements along the imaginary lines and intersections created by dividing the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically. Try shooting from different angles and perspectives as well to add variety and capture unique compositions.

To achieve the silky waterfall look, you need to adjust your camera settings accordingly:

    • Use Manual Mode: This will give you full control over the exposure settings.
    • Low ISO: Set your camera to the lowest ISO value (e.g., ISO 50 or 100) to maintain image quality and reduce noise.
    • Aperture: Choose a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number) to increase depth of field and ensure that the entire scene is in focus. I usually set mine between f/9-16.
    • Long Exposure: Set a slow shutter speed to at least 1/4″ to capture the motion blur of the water and create the silky effect. I typically aim for around 1″, but not more than 2″ if I can help it. There are usually trees around waterfalls and the slightest breeze will make the leaves or limbs move, causing motion blur in the camera.
    • To prevent camera shake, use a remote shutter release or the camera’s built-in timer function.
    • Attach the ND filter: Screw the appropriate ND filter onto your lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. I have always used a Promaster HGX Variable filter and have never had issues with banding or color changes.
    Fall Color over Rainbow Falls
    Fall Color over Rainbow Falls

    Touring An Oklahoma Refuge

    Colorful sunset on Mt Scott

    The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a protected area located in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton. It is known for its diverse geological and natural wonders, offering photographers a unique and stunning landscape. The refuge is named after the Wichita Mountains, a rugged range that stands out amidst the surrounding plains. These ancient granite mountains are estimated to be around 540 million years old, and they provide a striking backdrop to the refuge’s scenery.

    Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area section of the refuge is particularly renowned for its scenic beauty and unique geological formations. Charon’s Garden features rugged granite outcrops, narrow canyons, and boulder-strewn valleys, making it a favorite destination for hikers, rock climbers, and photographers.

    As a designated wildlife refuge, this area is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species. Visitors may spot bison, elk, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, longhorn cattle, coyotes, and a variety of bird species. The refuge also hosts the Texas horned lizard, which is the state reptile of Texas.

    • Neon sunrise over a family of buffalo
    • Prairie dog standing on a rock in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
    • Sunrise over Longhorn cattle in wildflower field

    [All wildlife images above were taken with my Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM Lens]

    Rising to an elevation of 2,464 feet, Mount Scott (pictured at the top) offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. A road leads to the summit, where you can enjoy stunning vistas of the refuge, the nearby lakes, and the surrounding prairies. Several lakes can be found within the refuge, including Lake Lawtonka, Lake Elmer Thomas, and Medicine Creek. They offer opportunities for boating, fishing, and wildlife observation. There are also seasonal waterfalls in the area that can be quite picturesque after hard rains.

    Located near the refuge is Medicine Park, a charming cobblestone resort town known for its unique architecture and scenic beauty. It features quaint shops, restaurants, and galleries, and serves as a gateway to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

    I will be leading a 5-Day, 4-Night, All-Immersive Adventure Workshop for Photographers in August and this is just one of the amazing places we are able to explore with Special Use Permits. Check out the Chasing Central Oklahoma Light Adventure Workshop for more information.

    • Blue Hour at Treasure Lake with wildflower trail
    • Sunset over Jed Johnson Tower Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge