Plan Your Meteor Shower Photography From Your Smartphone

Plan Your Meteor Shower Photography From Your Smartphone

Experienced night sky shooters know that some of the most challenging targets are meteors. While meteor showers, which happen several times a year, will make capturing the elusive meteors easier because there are more of them, you can still point a camera to the sky with a 30 minute exposure and get nothing. Then, suddenly, a meteor can appear where you weren't pointing.

For years, my go-to astronomy smartphone app for sky event planning has been PhotoPills, available for iOS and Android. It lets you kow what planets are up, the position of the Milky Way, and more mundane but useful information like sun and moon rise and set times. It even uses augmented reality to let you match it's maps and charts to a real time view from your smartphone camera, making finding things easy.

I've explored PhotoPills in these pages and don't do Milky Way photography without it. So this really is just an overview of the newly added meteor shower feature, as it's really just a subset of an app I've reviewed in more depth.

In the latest update to PhotoPills, the developers bring their expertise to helping photographers plan meteor photos.

It all starts with a calendar, to show you which meteor showers are upcoming. You'll get peak nights, because meteor showers can last many days, but some nights are historically better than others.You'll find the best times to view as well. It will tell you when a bright moon will interfere, and how many meteors you can expect to capture. Realistically, that's a guess based on past history. Some meteor showers do better than expected. Others can be a dud.

All this info can be found online, but where the meteor feature of PhotoPills excels is in the AR department. To get your camera pointed correctly, you'll need to know the radiant of the meteor shower, which is the point at which the streams of cosmic debris seem to originate. PhotoPills will show you this clearly by marking the radiant in your live sky view through your smartphone camera, so there will be no mystery about where to point. 

The app will have access to sun and moon data. You're better off not taking pictures during a bright moon, as meteors can be faint and the moon isn't.

Since some of the best meteor photos have foreground objects, the app will help you plan your location with an earthbound object  in the frame and let you align your shot with the meteor shower radiant. 

The new meteor feature is explained in this video from PhotoPills.. The complete app sells for $9.99 for both iOS and Android. 

I also want to point out MeteorActive for iOS, a nicely done free app that just specializes in meteor shower viewing. It doesn't use the AR capabilities of your phone though. 

If you already have PhotoPills, the latest update adds meteors to the other excellent features offered. If you don't have PhotoPills, and plan on night astronomical photography, this app is a must have. 

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Deleted Account's picture

Photopills is awesome! I still like my Sun Surveyor app for quick ephemera data on sun and moon times; the Astrospheric app for clear skies predictions... but Photopills, the tutorials, access to understandable information. The best. :)

Niklas Möller's picture

And again I don't understand why there's always this app recommended. The App "PlanIt" has this feature for months, if not years. And a lot of other features that seem to make it the better choice.

I never used Photopills so I would really be interested in the opinion of someone who used both.

Deleted Account's picture

I'll play the opposite for you, Niklas. I've never heard of PlanIt. Which is probably why I like my Photopills as much as it sounds like you do your PlanIt.

I believe it just depends on where one's information comes from... who happened to pass on tips to a nube like me... and which app sunk in to my age-challenged brain first.

I hope this helps elucidate the issue.

Robert Huerbsch's picture

I’ve also not heard of PlanIt. You only know what you know... personally I know the sky well, use SkySafari as needed and know where the radiants are located for the meteor showers but these apps are still very useful when wanting to compose with foreground objects.

C Fisher's picture

I've been using planit for about a year now, I'll have to get pills and compare.

Aaron Priest's picture

I am friends with the developers of both apps and use them both frequently. While there is some overlap between them, there are many great features that are exclusive to each app and I'd recommend any outdoor / nature photographer to buy both apps. I won't go into an exhaustive list of differences, but I like the VR mode of PlanIt for offsite planning and the AR mode of PhotoPills for onsite planning. There are also unique tools that each has for both offline and online planning, so I bounce between them a bit for different needs. PhotoPills might be easier to use with the modular approach and excellent tutorials / videos, particularly for a beginner that has never used an ephemeris app before.