Each year come August I start to look forward to the Perseid Meteor Shower. The Perseids are an annual event that comes each year as the Earth passes through the orbital path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The debris from the comet’s path causes little pieces of the comet to fall through the Earth’s atmosphere at over 100,000 miles per hour causing an amazing amount of falling stars, sometimes from 100-200 per hour. The Perseid Meteor Shower of 2018 was helped by its occurrence during the dark skies of a New Moon.
Another occasion that’s becoming an annual August event is my Dead Ox Ranch Photographer’s Campout. Last year we dedicated the event to capturing photos of the Solar Eclipse. This year we were there to capture photos of the Perseid Meteor Shower.
The Dead Ox Ranch isn’t as morbid of a place as it sounds. The name was given to the ranch by the chance occurrence of there being a dead cow on the property when it changed hands in a sale in its past. The ranch is over 100 years old and is located east of Baker City near Virtue Flats and ruts from the old Oregon Trail. It’s just an hour drive from Hell’s Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains. It’s also the location for some of the darkest skies in the state.
Disregarding all of the above, the ranch itself is like going back in time to an era of outdoor group socials, picnics and sitting around in the yard in the summertime heat visiting and talking to friends and family with an ice-cold beverage. Once everyone arrives and we are all set up in our camps we mix and mingle and discuss our common purpose for being there, photography.
The only chance that we take is being there in the Summer during the peak wildfire season, and this years has been a bad one. The state was covered with smoke from fires originating not only in Oregon but from fires in both California and British Columbia. It’s been terrible indeed, but we somehow lucked out with clear skies with only traces of smoke that came and went for the whole three-day event. If we would have had smoky skies we would have somehow made the best of it anyway but that wasn’t the case.
Our mission for the workshop was to create what is called a composite image. One that is made from several photos to create one single image. Our goal was to make an image that included a group of meteors gathered over a three hour period of time. To do that we wanted to create the photo using a base layer taken at twilight so we can have focus and definition and yet still have dim and cool light like night time. Then a photo of the sky later at night when the Milky Way was filling the sky. After that we set up our cameras to take 30 second exposures one after the other for three hours to gather photos of as many meteors as possible. Once we gathered all of these photos we then went into our digital darkroom to blend them all together.
To composite the photos we made our basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and then opened all of the files into Adobe Photoshop as layers. Once we had them in Photoshop it was a matter of creating masks and selecting a blend mode to allow each layer to show through in its place and order. After some final adjustments the whole stack of layers was merged together into a single image. Although this is a general description I felt compelled to explain the process to those who aren’t aware of how these images are made. In today’s world of digital photography certain lines can be blurred between art and photography.
The whole group of photographers had a great time. I’m convinced that when we were out playing at sunset and into the dark we reverted back to kids again. And when we gathered to process our photos, we were all amazed at the results. I included the image that I created as an example of the composite image that the class came to create for themselves.
Even if you don’t create a complex composite image in Photoshop, a beautiful single image of a meteor is reward enough for a night under the stars. Keep this in mind next August when the stars start falling during the Perseid Meteor Shower. Perhaps you can join us at the Dead Ox Ranch for a workshop.