Ok, two things upfront:
- Can you photograph shooting stars in London even though the sky is polluted with lights and smog (and clouds for most of the year)? Yes!
- Will it be totally awesome and exciting? Most likely.
- Are the photos gonna make it in the next National Geographics? Well, unless you're best buddy with the chief editor probably not. But it'll still be fun.
Nothing beats a pitch black night in some remote mountain valley. Most definitely not London. You'll get a lot of light pollution and the photos won't be as good as somewhere in the countryside. But on the plus side you can grab a pint on your way back and be in your cosy bed in no time. So let's get started.
- Find a dark park or field where you get as little streetlight as possible. I went to Whitings Hill Open Space which has the benefit of having a small hill in the middle so you won't get any foliage in the way.
- Get a tripod and preferably a pretty wide angle lens or a fisheye. I shot on a 10mm (17mm on my Sony A6000), if your camera or lens has Image Stabilisation I'd recommend you turn it off as on a tripod it can introduce vibrations.
- Either use a remote trigger, or if you don't have one use the timer. This way you won't get any jiggle from you pushing the shutter button. Turn off the autofocus and set the focus to infinity.
- For as much detail as possible I'd shoot in raw.
- Open the aperture as wide as possible. Mine was f4, ISO 1600 and a shutter time of 25 seconds. These settings can vary with different cameras and lenses. Keep in mind that the earth is spinning so if you're exposing too long you will get trails.
- In order to actually catch a shooting star you'll need a lot of luck and even more patience. The way I did it, I checked online for the peak time of the meteor shower and where in the sky it was supposed to happen. In my case it was supposed to happen around the constellation of Cassiopeia, which is sort of a big "W" in the sky and quite easy to spot. Then I pointed my camera in that region of the sky and pretty much continuously triggered the shutter. This way I maximise my chances of getting one.
- Try and compose you image as far away from the horizont as possible since the light pollution is stronger closer to the ground.
- Once I managed to get the images I wanted I headed back home and brought the photos into Adobe Lightroom. I did quite a bit of editing, mostly contrast and clarity. Also in the latest version of Lightroom the new dehaze feature seems to be doing a pretty good job for stars and bring back features of the Milky Way. Use brushes to lighten up the areas you want to highlight. I also added quite a string denoise on colour as well as luminance. Play with the colour temperature to get a nice galaxy-like hue.
And that's all I did. Of course all the things will apply and work even better next time you're on a trip somewhere far away from any city and then the results will be breathtaking, promise. Also check out my other picture of the milky way.