The Perseid Meteor shower is at it's height tonight 12/13th August and co-incides with a new moon for the first time since 2007 so will be contrasted against a particularly dark sky.
Meteors are cased by tiny fragments of debris from space left over from the Comet Swift-Tuttle (called meteoroids) entering the earths atmosphere and vaporising causing the air around them to heat up and cause the streak of light known as a meteor.
The best conditions for capturing the meteor shower are clear skies with low light pollution - which is why tonight is ideal. You need to find an area well away from brightly light areas such as towns and low activity in the atmosphere from winds and moisture.
The meteor shower will be most intense in the constellation of Perseus which you can find using the Star Walk App.
You will also have the chance to capture the international space station which takes about 5 minutes to cross the sky from west to east - you can check when this will be in view by going to the Heavens Above website.
Trial and error is the key - start off with a wide to normal focal length lens and focus on infinity. Try an exposure of say 20 seconds at f2.8 with an ISO setting of 800 and see how that looks in preview. Adjust your exposure time and/or aperture until you achieve the effect you are looking for. You could also set up with a building or landscape in the foreground and allow this to 'burn in' to your image to add interest. Again trial and error is the way to go here. A cable release or remote control for your camera is essential to prevent camera movement - some models will allow you to control your camera from your smart phone or tablet too.
You could also use the intervalometer function of your camera (if it has this feature) to take a series of exposures one after the other which will then give you lots of images to choose from and the best chance of capturing more meteors. You could then combine these images to produce star trails and multiple images of meteors using a software package such as StarStaX (available as a free download here).
If you are going to spend sometime outside then it is worthwhile allowing your eyes to adjust to the darkness - this takes around 20 minutes and you should avoid all white light during this time as this will reset your night vision and you will have to wait 20 minutes again!
A Sun lounger or deckchair would also be useful allowing you to view the sky without straining your neck!
Some Olympus models (including the E-M5, E-M5 II, E-M1 and E-M10) offer a live-timer mode which takes the guesswork out of long exposures by allowing you to open the shutter and then review the image as it builds up on the rear screen of the camera or remotely using a smart phone or tablet computer. When you are happy with the image captured just end the exposure and the image will be saved. To find this feature go to the 'gears' menu, select the Exposure (EXP) setting, go to page two, and select Live Time, you will see the option for how quickly you want the display to update during the exposure - the default is 0.5 seconds but you can alter this all the way up to every 60 seconds if you are doing a very long exposure.
So, to capture the meteor shower is relatively straightforward to do with conventional cameras and requires no expensive extra equipment.
It goes without saying (but we will say it) a very sturdy tripod is essential to prevent any wind movement - you can weigh your tripod down with weights or a camera bag to increase stability. A lens hood will also be very helpful in cutting out any extraneous light and preventing dew forming on you lens.
Recent advances in camera technology have provided us with models with ultra-high sensitivity and low noise. Noise is the arch enemy of the astrophotographer so select a camera model which has excellent low light capabilities - such as the Sony A7s which is a model specifically targeted at low light work.
A really good bridge-camera for this type of work (or anything else) is the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 or the Leica V-LUX typ 114. Both offer a great lens range of 25-400mm equivalent with fast aperture, and a large (for a compact camera) 1" 20mp sensor.
As a starter SLR, the Nikon D3300 takes a lot of beating as it has excellent high-ISO performance combined with excellent levels of detail from its 24MP APS-C sensor.
The new Canon EOS 760D also offers very good low light performance and gives you access to the full EOS range of lenses.
If you prefer the Mirrorless route, the Sony A6000 is extremely compact especially considering it houses a 24MP APS-C sensor with an ISO range of 100-25,600
The Sony A7s features a 12.2MP Full-Frame imaging sensor with truly phenomenal sensitivity with ISO settings up to 409,600 available, combined with a high-speed BIONZ X processing engine for rich tonal gradations and low noise. The A7s is also easy to use with a huge range of lenses from both Sony and via adapters virtually any lens produced can be fitted.
For the committed Astrophotographer Nikon produce a model specifically designed for the job - the Nikon D810A. This model has been specifically designed with a special Infra Red cut filter for long-exposure deep-sky astrophotography. Based on the award winning D810 the D810A records the brilliant red tones of H-Alpha emission nebulae with fantastic levels of detail and sharpness and 4x better contrast than a conventional model. With a superb dynamic range and rich tonality the D810A can produce noise-free results up to ISO 12,800 with exposures up to 15 minutes long. ISO expansion up to 51,200 is also available allowing short exposure times of the faintest objects. The D810A also has a long-exposure manual mode allowing you to set exposure times of 4, 5, 8, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60, 120, 240, 300, 600 and 900 seconds in addition to bulb and time modes.
The D810A can also take advantage of the astrophototography noise reduction feature in Nikon Capture NX-2 software which will reduce the noise in photographs of stars and constellations without wiping out the pinpoint stars you are trying to capture.
If you like shooing at Night or Low Light, and want more photo advice, purchase the Night & Low Light Photography guide which not only features tips and tricks, but also includes a pull-out quick reference guide to assist you.
If you have any questions about how to photograph the night sky, please write in the comments box below and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.