Monday, March 16, 2009

1 gorgeous launch, and 140 photos that didn't do it justice

Discovery lifts over the Atlantic, as seen from the shores of the Indian River in Palm Shores.

Shuttle Discovery 3
The shuttle, after it had reached sunlight.

Shuttle Discovery 7
Red-tinted contrails left behind.

Update: News 14, a 24-hour cable station in Raleigh, N.C., republished, with permission, The Offlede's photos of Discovery's launch on STS-119. Tony Antonelli, the shuttle's pilot, was raised in Fayetteville, N.C. The Web story is here.

Shuttle Discovery 2I called this one.

As I mentioned Wednesday, the post-sunset launch of shuttle Discovery would be a pretty one, yes, but a very difficult one to capture with a digital camera.

Come 7:43 p.m. Sunday, I was proved right.

I skipped out of work about 15 minutes before the launch, scurried down the highway to a local park beside the Indian River north of Melbourne, sat on the rocks and waited.

My location was about 30 miles south of Kennedy Space Center, so my expectations weren't high in the first place.

At ignition, Discovery's twin solid rocket boosters burned brightly, casting a reflection on the river. That's something you don't get during the day, of course.

Shuttle Discovery 4But the most beautiful part of the launch was when the shuttle flew into the light of the setting sun - literally up into the sunset - as it climbed toward space.

The contrails glowed with red, orange, blue and white. It was sort of a rainbow with colors stretching its width instead of its length.

But because the most beautiful part of the launch was when Discovery was bathed in sunlight, it was difficult to expose for rest of the frame, which was covered in twilight.

Film might allow for a higher contrast and a better product, but who shoots film these days?

Shuttle Discovery 5Other obstacles to good photos: a high ISO, which, though necessary to allow for proper lighting, makes the final product extremely grainy on lower-end digital SLRs such as mine; a slower shutter speed, again necessary for lighting purposes but tends to allow motion blur; and poor focusing, again a product of the light.

Nevertheless, I shot 140 photos in a period of a few minutes. But they would have been so much better if the launch was an hour later or an hour earlier. Darn NASA has to hit its target, though.

Back at work, we had a difficult time choosing a lede front-page photo from a staff shooter for most of the reasons I mentioned above.

There are only nine more shuttle launches left to get the perfect photo.

As for rockets, my next try will be Tuesday, when an Atlas V is set to blast off in a nighttime launch. There's always the issue of weather, though, and the forecast isn't looking great for that launch.

But even if it's scrubbed, it will be rescheduled, offering another chance at a another view and another photo. It's probably the only benefit to living on the Space Coast.

Vertical images: Top, people still watching Discovery after the solid rocket boosters separated; middle, a view of the shuttle at separation; bottom, just before separation (I know, I know, it's reverse chronological order, so sue me)

Shuttle Discovery 6
Zoomed in at 200mm, shortly after liftoff.

Shuttle Discovery 1
Discovery, as seen from Palm Shores, Fla., just south of the Pineda Causeway, which you can see in the photo.


Anonymous said...

I hate to be a stickler for details, but Palm Coast, FL is between St. Augustine and Daytona. You were in Palm Shores, FL. Damn FL...too many Palm cities.

Andrew Knapp said...

Crap. I knew that. I always screw it up when I write it.

Andrew Knapp said...

And that's not being a stickler, Mark. I'm sure the people in Palm Coast would be insulted.

Wordnerdy said...

Gorgeous photos, as always!

I hear you saw my roommate and passed along a hello. Hi! It's good to hear from you.

In about two months, I'll return to the piney flats of North Florida. Plan now to attend the good-bye party. No date yet.

Andrew Knapp said...

Give me fair warning, and I'll take the day off.