The Viewfinder: Photography around Mount Hood and beyond
By Gary Randall
August brought some hot temperatures here on The Mountain. It makes us want to seek the coolness indoors, but nighttime is great for spending time outside. August is also the time that the annual Perseid Meteor Shower comes, and this year did not disappoint at all. Up here on The Mountain we have many choice options to find dark skies and beautiful views close by. Certainly, one of my favorite places to watch them is at Trillium Lake, but anywhere outside of the city lights is fine. Also, a night with a dark moonless sky will reveal more of the falling stars.
The Perseids are one of the biggest meteor shower events. Falling stars can be seen much more frequently from mid-July to the end of August. The peak of the show comes around the middle of August. It is common to see up to 100 meteors in an hour at the peak.
The Perseid Meteor Shower happens when the Earth moves through debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet. The comet is composed of ice and rock, and it sheds debris as it travels through space. This is what we see in the form of meteors that burn up as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseids get their name from the constellation Persius because they appear to originate from the direction of the constellation’s position in the sky. Where we are situated, that would be in the northeast sky. Your luck increases if you view the meteors to the north, but they can be seen passing overhead when you are looking south.
I usually choose a night each season to stay awake and photograph falling stars. When I go, I will choose a location with a good view to the north, usually with a view of Mount Hood in the frame; then I set my camera up on a tripod, with the camera set to take a series of 20 second exposures one after the other, with the hope of capturing one in as many frames as possible. If I stay up all night, I can usually photograph quite a few of them. When I get home, I choose the best one and process it into a finished photograph.
Another thing that I enjoy doing is creating a composite of all the meteors in one photo. To do that I will separate all the frames that contain a meteor. I then take each one and layer them all over the top of a single exposure of the scene that I was photographing. I am then able to mask out everything but the meteor in the photographs. This allows me to show all the meteors in the sky over the base image as if they all happened at once. To further the illusion I then take each meteor and rotate it using Polaris/the North Star as a center. I will rotate them the distance that the earth would have traveled through the night. I do this because Earth is rotating, so the constellation Perseus, and the meteors, move toward the west through the night. By rotating them they will appear to be coming out of the same position in the sky at the same time.
I have been photographing the Perseids now for over ten years. It has become a tradition each August to go outside in the dark and watch the falling stars. Perhaps, during next season’s display, you can go out and watch them, too, and even get a good photo as a souvenir of the night under the stars.