Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower & How to Create a Layered Composite Meteor Shower Image

The annual meteor shower Eta Aquarids is this coming weekend (the night of May 4th and morning of May 5th) this is an above average meteor shower capable of 60 meteors per hour. The peak of the shower is between midnight and dawn local time. The moon will not rise until 3:00 a.m. and will not interfere with viewing until this time. Even then it will only be at 20% illumination, so only the faintest meteors will be affected. The radiant of this shower is in the Eastern sky, so if you use an ultrawide angle lens (I recommend the Rokinon 14mm) and point to the SE you should be able to capture meteors along with the milky way in the Southern sky which rises around 1 a.m.

Here is how I envision the shot: (screenshot from Starry Night Planetarium Software)

Composite Meteor Shower How To

In preparation for this meteor shower I have finally put together a tutorial to show how I created the composite image ‘Snowy Range Perseids‘. 

Meteors originate from what is called a ‘radiant‘ this varies based upon the meteor shower and is named after the constellation the radiant is closest to. You can find more information about each meteor shower at SeaSky andEarthSky.

This radiant changes position in the sky throughout the night as the earth rotates. To have a more pleasing image we must rotate each meteor to match the radiant of one of the images that we will use as a base. The video below demonstrates the technique.

This method is best explained in the video above, but if you can’t view on YouTube for some reason, here is the written description.

To start with I had to identify each image that had a meteor from the hundreds taken over the entire night. I did this in Lightroom using the color flags to identify each shot with a meteor. 

Once I had them all identified I selected all 23 shots, right clicked, Edit in > Layers in Photoshop. Once opened in Photoshop I changed the blend mode of the layers to lighten to easily identify where Polaris/North Star was located. This is the point we need to rotate around to correct the meteors to their radiant. 

I mark this point using the custom shape tool and placing a target symbol. Then I turn off all but the base layer and 1 additional layer. With the correct layer selected I activate the Free Transform tool, I then change the rotation point to the previously placed target. 

Now I rotate the layer until the stars align and finish the transform. Then I apply a reverse layer mask by Alt+Clicking on the new layer mask button. 

Then I zoom into the meteor, brush on the layer mask using white as my foreground color to show the portion of the layer with the meteor. Clean up any additional stars by switching your foreground color to black and painting them out on the layer mask. Repeat for each layer, delete the target when finished and flatten the image.


About the author David Kingham

David is a professional landscape and nature photographer originally from Loveland, Colorado who is now traveling the American West full-time in an RV with his photography and life partner Jennifer Renwick, and their two cats. David has published an eBook called Nightscape and has in-depth videos on post-processing. David and his partner Jennifer Renwick find joy in teaching others photography in their photography workshops, and through their blog.

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