Saturday, March 15, 2008

Night rocket launch: still overexposed, but getting better


OK. I shot the Delta 2 rocket launch on the spur of the moment. I hadn't planned to do it, so I would say the result could have been worse.

I was editing stories at work early in the morning when I realized the launch was only five minutes away. I had lost track of the Windows clock in the corner of my computer screen.

I stopped agonizing over the commas in a story about a National Geographic photographer and ran out the door. And I mean, ran. My lone co-worker still there probably looked confused after such an abrupt departure.

I set up my camera near the FLORIDA TODAY sign that glowed in the dim moonlight. The launch was only seconds away, and I only had time for one test shot. I clicked it. The result looked a bit overexposed, so I took a few seconds off the shutter speed.

Then the sky lit up. And the rocket was about 45 degrees away from where I thought it would launch. Nowhere close to where my camera was pointed. Oops.

I readjusted the tripod. And the results are these two photos. The above one was the first, of course. Shuttle or rocket, they're both considerably brilliant at liftoff. I imagine people who live on the Space Coast are used to seeing their world suddenly light up in the dead of night.

My improvised "plan," which was drummed up as I ran toward my shooting location along U.S. Route 1, was to have the streaking headlights and taillights making up the bottom portion of the photo and the arching light trail of the rocket comprising the top majority.

I got a little bit of that effect in the photo below. I wish I had more road in the photo. In other photos, which didn't make the cut for The Offlede, I got too much road and not enough rocket. In this one, you can see the smoke behind the rocket, which successfully carried a Navstar Global Positioning System satellite into orbit. It was the 80th consecutive flawless launch of a Delta 2, the most reliable among all rocket types.

Read more here.


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