Geminid Meteor Shower from Bear Lake
Geminid Meteor Shower from Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Perseids and Geminids are always the year’s best meteor showers. In 2015 both coincided with new moon, so every fiery streak stood out boldly against the midnight blue sky. After shooting Perseid Meteor Shower over Snowmass Mountain in August, I was eager to shoot the Geminids on the night of December 13-14. I laid plans to drive seven hours from my home in Boulder to Arches National Park to shoot the Geminids over Delicate Arch, but as the time grew close, the weather forecast turned gloomy. I scoured the weather maps for any location within a day’s drive of Boulder that promised clear skies, but came up empty-handed. At last I resigned myself to missing this year’s shower and waiting two years until the Geminids would once again coincide with new moon. In midafternoon on December 13th, with the shower set to begin in a few short hours, I checked the National Weather Service point forecast for nearby Rocky Mountain National Park for the last time. Still cloudy. Then, on a whim, I checked the park service web cams. To my surprise, they showed much clearer skies than forecast. Next I checked the sky-conditions forecast on ClearDarkSky.com. It called for a bank of clouds to roll through in the early evening, with clear skies by 11 p.m. I made a last-minute decision to go for it, packed frantically, and headed up to Bear Lake, just a 90-minute drive away.
Once I arrived at the frozen lake, I set up my Canon 5D Mark III with a 16-35mm lens at 16mm, focused it at infinity, and began shooting back-to-back 30-second exposures at f/2.8, ISO 6400, triggering the camera with an intervalometer. An hour before midnight, the skies did indeed clear with the exception of a standing lenticular cloud over Longs Peak, lit from below by the glow of Denver some 50 miles away. With the images recording to a 64 GB card and the camera powered by a big, external battery pack, there was nothing for me to do but check the lens surface occasionally for condensation. I rolled out a foam pad, put on my gigantic down parka and bibs, lay down, and watched the meteors fly until dawn.
When I returned home, I located all the images that contained a bright meteor, then stacked all the meteor-containing images as layers in a single Photoshop file. I chose one image to provide the starry background, another to provide detail in the land, then masked out everything but the meteor streak from the remaining layers. In the final step, I rotated all the layers containing Geminid meteors (a few meteors were strays) so all the Geminid meteors appeared to emanate from the radiant, which lay in the constellation Gemini, near the star Castor. I certainly didn’t see all of the meteors in this image fall simultaneously, but I did watch them fall one-by-one as I lay under the moonless sky, awed by the celestial fireworks. Although some may feel that the techniques I used produced an image that is more of a photo-illustration than a straight photograph, they did allow me to create a single image that captures an entire night of wonder.