Do you need a tracking mount to photograph meteors?

Is a tracking mount necessary for meteor shower astrophotography? We explore the advantages.

Michael Rosinski captured a Perseid display near his home in Michigan, USA, last year. This image was taken with a Canon EOS 70D DSLR camera and 11-16mm lens. Credit: M. Rosinski

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the night of 12/13 August and under dark skies is an ideal target for astrophotography. In 2020 the Moon may cause some interference as it lies in the morning sky, but you can still capture meteors with a camera on a fixed tripod.

Advertisement

That’s the usual wisdom, but it is also worth thinking about using your camera in conjunction with a portable tracking mount.

This is not often suggested as meteors appear as fast blips of light in the night sky, so you might be asking “why would you want to track the stars?”

There are several reasons why the many portable tracking mounts for DSLR astrophotography can be useful when capturing meteor showers as, and I’m sure many will testify, most images will be devoid of meteors.

Aircraft trails, satellites and Perseids John Short, Dumfries, 13 August 2017. Equipment: Sony A7s, Samyang 35mm lens.
Aircraft trails, satellites and Perseids captured by John Short, Dumfries, 13 August 2017. Equipment: Sony A7s, Samyang 35mm lens.

Meteors are not that predictable, even during a shower, so why not take lots of tracked exposures of the night sky and do two jobs for the price of one?

Yes, I know, I used to work at a major retailer and buy-one-get-one-free was often the mantra!

Such mounts are highly portable too so you could go to a darker or better site with perhaps a larger expanse of sky uncluttered by houses and the such like.

This way, those images that, say show the Milky Way, can be stacked at a later time to bring out more detail such as star clouds, dust lanes and nebulae.

So even if you don’t capture many meteors, you’ll still have something to show for the night’s effort.

Perseid over Broadway Tower Andy Taylor, 21 August 2017. Equipment: Canon EOS 60D DSRL, 24-105mm lends
A Perseid appears over Broadway Tower, captured by Andy Taylor, 21 August 2017. Equipment: Canon EOS 60D DSRL, 24-105mm lends

Tracking mounts are also useful for keeping the radiant in the same position on the image for a nice composition, so you get to use the whole image on all your exposures.

Plus, if some of your images do have meteors on, then you can overlay them on your stacked, richly-detailed Milky Way image and end up with a super duper image to show off to your friends and astro colleagues, not to mention send up to our astrophotography gallery.

We’ve covered many such portable tracking mounts over the years, which can be found in our dedicate mount reviews page.

And you can find out more about how to see the Perseid meteor shower in the August 2020 issue, which is on sale now.

However you decide to view or image this year’s meteor shower, good luck and clear skies!

Advertisement

Paul Money is BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Reviews Editor. Find out more about Paul’s astronomy writing via his website Astro Space