Perseid Meteor Shower — Joshua Tree National Park, California

If you don’t know what the Perseids are, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseids

On Sunday, August 11th, I drove from Huntington Beach to Joshua Tree National Park (about 130 miles). After hiking the Hidden Valley Trail — it’s not very well ‘hidden’ and they have signs :-), I rented a campsite at the Hidden Vally Campground — only $10 per night, but first-come-first-served (no reservations). I made some new friends, and sat and talked ’til about midnight. The northeastern sky was filling with stars and meteors were whizzing by, but the lights in the campground — cars, people with flashlights, etc., made it less than optimum for time lapse photography. I could grab a few stills, but take a photo, every 30 seconds for a couple of hours, and you are going to get lots of lights shining into your camera lens. I had scouted the area near the campground, before dark, and found a spot, about 50 yards from the campsite, but behind some rocks, which block most of the extraneous light. Not all light was blocked, as you will see in the following ‘movie’. The first few frames were captured from the campground, so you will see some headlights. You will see some lights, shining on the rocks, in the rest of the movie, as well.

These images, from the Hidden Valley Trail, were captured with an Olympus E-P1 and a Zuiko 17-42mm, f3.5 – 5.6 lens.

I was using a Nikon D700, on a tripod, with a 24mm/f2.8 lens. Initially, I took a few frames wide open, but settled on f8. Shutter speed was 25 seconds and IOS was 3200, at first, then 6400. I took 120 shots, spaced 5 seconds apart (25 sec. exposure and 5 second interval) which gave me a 5 second movie (24fps) for 50 minutes of shooting.

I shot jpeg, processed the images in LR4, and output via the Slideshow module, using a template for 24fps. I used templates from http://lrtimelapse.com/ Had I been shooting in daylight, I would have shot RAW, but 25 second exposures, in RAW, can fill up a card, quickly.

To add music, and make a title, and closing credits, I brought the LR slideshow into iMovie 11, added some music from Purple Planet. iMovie adjusted the frame rate from 24 to 30fps, resulting in 4 second movie. The title and credits extended this to 20 seconds.

So, you might be wondering why I only show for 50 minutes, if I knew the result would only be 4-5 seconds long. Short answer: Coyotes. I was in pitch dark, about 50 years from the campsite, when I heard the coyotes howl. If you’ve been around coyotes, at all, you soon realize that there yelp is designed to make it sound like there are more of them, than there really are. When we lived in San Juan Capistrano, right along San Juan Creek, we heard them every night, and saw them, frequently, especially near dusk.

OK, so here I am, in pitch dark, ‘surrounded’ by yelping, hungry, vicious predators. Sure, I had a $2,500 camera, on the top of a tripod, with which to defend myself. As they got closer, and louder, I remember what my scuba instructor told me, 40 years ago: If you see a shark, make a judicious retreat from that part of the ocean, but assume that, by the time you saw him, he had already decided that he didn’t want a bite of you, because he knew you were there, long before you knew he was there. I applied that logic to my coyote encounter, and retreated from that part of the desert. Hence, 50 minutes, rather than the planned three hours!

I got 120 shots, and the coyotes probably got the squirrel they were hunting.

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