Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shuttle launch teaches lesson in time-exposure photography


I was the "late" person tonight at work, so I had to stay there until about 1:15 a.m. But I left a bit early and hightailed it up to Titusville's Space View Park to watch my first night launch (actually, at 2:28 a.m., it's an early morning launch) of a space shuttle. This one was Endeavour, STS-123.

And I couldn't believe the traffic, considering the hour. It was 100 times worse than my last launch, Atlantis, which was in the afternoon.

But it was magnificent.

Unfortunately, my photos don't show that. Take a look:

I thought I had the exposure right in the above photo. This was a test. You can see the strobes shining upward and the launch pad at their origin. I've taken great photos of lightning that lit the entire night sky as though it were daylight. And most of those photos were about a six-second exposure. The ones above and below are 10 seconds, but because I'm photographing something less brilliant than lightning, I thought the shuttle would be clearly visible. Instead, I got a whiteout, below. You never can estimate the brightness of such an event until you see it for yourself. Now, I know. I got another one that was better exposed, but I took it at a different lens power, and I forgot to focus it. Duh.


The cloud cover was very low, so my opportunity to get a clear shot of the shuttle was very narrow. And I wasted it all on that one whitewash of a photo. The one above doesn't really show much more than the low-level clouds and the plume Endeavour created.

This is the photo I mentioned earlier. It's about a six-second exposure on film. The lightning spread across the entire sky, lighting up the surroundings like sunlight - but for only a fraction of a second. That the shuttle's luminance was more sustained could be the reason for my photography flop.

It's a good thing Endeavour didn't blow up. If it had, I wouldn't have been able to handle the photo. Next time, I might look up the proper exposure on the Google, or maybe I'll ask a few professionals for some advice. Ah, the benefits of being the son of a professional photographer.


Anonymous said...

There's something really cool about the first and final photos. I don't know how to describe it, but I like them.


Andrew Knapp said...

Yeah, I liked the first, too. Everyone had left, all trying to beat the traffic, but I was still there shooting. The sky and light were such that it made for an interesting shot.