Monday, June 15, 2009

Experimenting | Bluish sky for pre-dawn shuttle launch creates a conundrum

I turned my camera settings way down for this test shot in preparation for shuttle Endeavour's launch Wednesday morning. The aperture was stopped down to f/22, and the ISO (the digital sensor's sensitivity to light) was set at 100. The length of the exposure was seven minutes and 26.9 seconds, which is probably longer than the shutter will need to be open (the launch is quick). This photo shows the camera's response to a prolonged exposure to artificial light from buildings, which I'm considering for my shot Wednesday. The moon is to the left, and Jupiter is up there somewhere in the center of the image. Of course, there's lots of crazy lens refraction with such a long exposure.

In a troublesome twist when it comes to photography, the launch of space shuttle Endeavour is now scheduled to be a pre-dawn night liftoff from Kennedy Space Center. It was set for early Saturday, less than an hour after sunrise, but a hydrogen leak caused NASA to postpone. I had planned to camp out all night for the 7:17 a.m. Saturday liftoff, and I plan to do the same for the new time of 5:40 a.m. Wednesday. When NASA first was considering this new launch time, I was excited: I haven't had a chance to photograph a night launch since I failed miserably at it a couple of Marches ago.

But this particular launch time should create a challenge. The ideal shot would be a lengthy exposure of the spaceship's main engine and solid rocket boosters as they arc eastward over the Atlantic Ocean. It would be a streak unlike any other I have had a chance to capture. At least, that would be the case if it were pitch black at the time of the launch.

Instead, we're approaching the summer solstice, which means the sun rises earliest at this time of the year. At 5:40 a.m., the sun will begin to grace the Space Coast with its light for an eventual rise at 6:25, an unwelcome condition for a streaky launch photograph.

That's why I'm using these few nights before the launch to test my camera's response to the lighting environment. Last night, just after 3 a.m., I took the above photo. At seven minutes and 26.9 seconds, it is a long exposure. The light behind the apartment buildings is emanating from the city of Melbourne. I won't have to contend with an artificial light source in Titusville, where I'll be waiting for the shuttle launch, but I am hoping that this glow on the horizon somewhat simulates a rising sun. Of course, nothing is like the real thing, so tonight, I will venture out at 5:40 a.m. to get a better survey of the natural lighting. Here's to a couple of long nights ahead - all in a quest for a stupid photo.

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