Being notified by Sputnik for iOS that an Iridium Flare was approaching fast, I decided to grab my: Canon 7D MkII, nifty 50mm 1.8, and head outside. Little did I know I would be staying outside for some late-night constellation hunting as I saw a brief break in the clouds…

I headed outside at around 10:30 for the 10:35 Iridium flare, but have nothing to show for since clouds blocked my view right between Cygnus and Cepheus where the flare was occurring.

Image obtained from the heavens-above.com using the Iridium Flare tool.

Since I was outside and had nothing and seeing a break in the clouds, I decided to stay outside for awhile and do some constellation hunting with my 7D II and nifty 50.

I decided to start hunting in the NW sky due to the clouds approaching from that direction  and then swing around to the south and southwest after to improve my chances of clear shots. My first shot was taken as I looked towards Ursa Major a.k.a. the “Big Dipper”, one of the most easily recognizable constellations in the night sky; Framed it up and hurrying to snap it before some of the thicker clouds came in front of it:

Next, I looked towards just to its right/straight north, Ursa Minor or the “Little Dipper.” (where the clouds were already creeping in on, here is where I was glad I started in the NW)

I also spotted a plane flying just below of the North Star – “Polaris” labeled at the lower right. I queried Siri saying, “Hey Siri, ask Wolfram what planes are above me right now?”

To my north was American Airlines flight 3756, confirmed later using FlightRadar24.com.

Looking around, the clouds were already mostly overhead at this point, but there was a perfect gap where I could see Cassiopeia to the NNE: *click*.

Last, but certainly not least was Mars and Saturn in the southern sky, where another nice gap was currently not ideal, but going to open up shortly. I used this time to take a few test exposures and frame up the shot ideally.

I knew I wanted to try and frame up Saturn and Mars for sure, and fit as much of Scorpius and Libra in as I could. I waited for the gap to open enough where both planets were clear and ended up with the following (annotated) shot:

Extras that may be of interest:

The first three exposures in this post were taken with the following Camera/Setting combinations:

Canon EOS 7D Mk II

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

30 sec - f/2.2 - ISO 200 - WB 3400

Joby GorillaPod Focus + Ballhead X

with the fourth and final shot of Saturn and Mars being taken with the following adjusted settings for shorter trailing:

(tripled ISO for 1/3’d exposure time)

Canon EOS 7D Mk II

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

10 sec - f/2.2 - ISO 640 - WB 3400

Joby GorillaPod Focus + Ballhead X

After finishing this post, another Iridium satellite (Iridium 19) was about to flare within the hour, so I decided to stay up and redeem myself after losing the first one (my whole reason for going outside) behind a cloud.

I set up shop outside and checked heavens-above.com for where the flare would generally be occurring. Here is a brief overview on how I got it. I would like to write a full tutorial on how to capture iridium flares soon.

1: Planning

See where (generally, north/south/east/west) on Heavens-above the flare will be occurring.

Looking at the sky chart, we can see it will be in the NW, quite near the Big Dipper.

2: Test shots / setup

First test shot was aimed generally to the one side of the Ursa Major, the “Big Dipper”.

Focus: If you are using a lens with an aperture of 2.8 or lower, you can focus on stars directly using manual focus. If you are using a lens with an aperture of f/3.5 or f/4, you can use a light or lamp far away to focus on, and perfect it in Live-View if you have that functionality.

Settings:

For test shots, I usually use 8-10 second exposures, wide open (f/2, f/2.8, f/3.5: however low you can get it), and an ISO of around 800 or 1200.

For the actual shot, 30-45 seconds, wide open, at 100 or 200 ISO.

Can you spot the handle and left side of the Dipper?

Looking back at the chart, I needed to pan a bit left, since the flare will be occurring sort of in the middle of the Big Dipper and Bootes. Clouds too, shoot – not again.

3: Correction / Adjustments

Correction. (repeat if necessary)

Good clouds are clearing. Can you spot the two left-most stars in the handle of the big dipper after my pan left? There they are.

4: Mental Notes / Images

Now if you look again at the Heavens above chart, you can start to make mental images, or even draw them on a piece of paper if you need.

If you can picture it, I drew a mental triangle between:

  • the end of the handle of the Big Dipper
  • the closest star in Bootes
  • and Canes Venatici

Here’s that in photo form highlighted in red  (illuminati confirmed):

Back to our current image setup:

We want to center that red triangle.

Let’s center that red triangle:

Better. Now all that’s left to do is wait until 20-25 seconds before the flare to hit go.

While you wait, if you don’t have a watch I can recommend “Pilot Time” for iOS for precise time keeping. On heavens above, it will give you an exact time the flare will occur. You will want to start your 30 second exposure 15 seconds before that time to get equal flaring on either side. For a 45 second exposure, optimally 22.5 seconds before.

Hit it and look up 🙂

and that’s how you get an Iridium Flare! Very similar to an International Space Station pass.

Here’s another one just after this ^:

Sky chart:

Frame it:

Hit go on a 45 second exposure at 24.5 seconds (2 second delay for shake):

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed.

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