Milky Way and meteor reflected in an alpine lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Milky Way and meteor reflected in an alpine lake, Yosemite NP, California. The meteor’s reflection is squiggly because the water was slightly rippled. I blended 20 exposures (each 16mm, 30 seconds at f/4, ISO 6400) with Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce noise. That kind of blending wipes out short-lived light sources, like car headlights or jet trails, which is usually a great thing. But in this case it also wiped out the meteor and its reflection, so I took that one meteor frame into Photoshop, and blended it with the TIFF output from Starry Landscape Stacker to create the final image.

On Thursday evening Claudia and I decided to head up to Yosemite to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Although you can see more Perseid meteors during the early-morning hours, we knew from previous experience that those early-morning meteors rain down from directly overhead, so although numerous, their paths are short. But during the evening you’re much more likely to see an “earth-grazer” – a meteor that glances across the atmosphere at an angle, making a long, bright streak through the sky. So although evening meteors are less abundant, the ones you do see are often more spectacular.

We made our way to a high-country lake. I set up my camera, then we laid out our stadium chairs to watch the show. Only it wasn’t much of a show at first. For a long time we saw no meteors whatsoever, earth-grazers or otherwise. Finally we saw some small ones. And then, eventually, I saw a big, bright, beautiful earth-grazer streak across half the sky. But Claudia missed it. Eventually we saw a few more earth-grazers, though none as bright as that first one.

Meanwhile, my camera was taking a continuous series of 30-second exposures. I was hoping to catch a meteor in one of them, but I had pointed the camera toward the horizon to include the Milky Way and its reflection, and the earth-grazers were directly overhead. Periodically I would stop my sequence of exposures to adjust my composition as the Milky Way moved, and check to see if I had caught a meteor in one of the frames. I could see the tail-end of a meteor at the top of one image, but that was it.

Eventually we decided to pack up and make the long, two-hour drive home. Only later, when looking through the images on a large screen, did I find that I had captured a big, bright meteor, and its reflection, in a perfect position just right of the Milky Way, in my second-to-last frame. Neither Claudia nor I had seen this meteor, probably because we had already started packing up and weren’t looking at the sky. Sometimes you need a little luck.

And although we didn’t see many meteors, we saw a few bright ones, and got to lay out along the shore of a mountain lake on a serenely-beautiful evening. Not a bad night’s work.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Moonlight, Stars, and Meteors; A Night in the Alabama Hills

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.