Author Topic: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance  (Read 10721 times)

Offline pumaknight

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STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« on: 04/21/2011 11:02 AM »
Hello all,

I was fortunate to watch STS-133 earlier this year...it was one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen. Thankfgully that day I was able to get some shots of the launch. I got some great advice on how to shoot the Shuttle from various websites, and thought I would return the favour by posting a quick advice and guidance on how I caught the Shuttel. To see the results of my efforts, go have a look at my blog: www.pumaknight.co.uk/blog

So onto the advice, hope it is welcomed and worthwhile.

Shooting the Shuttle was one of the hardest photo sessions I have ever done...simply because you only get one chance. In motorsport, the cars will come around again on the next lap; with landscapes, the mountains don't move; with the shuttle it goes like, well, like a rocket, giving you only 20 seconds to catch it. You cannot rewind, reset or re-expose....one chance, one shot, one launch.
So, to those who are lucky enough to go see the shuttle launch on the 29th April, I thought I would share some helpful photographic pointers, so you can focus on getting the shot and capturing the launch, rather than working out how to get your camera to work.

Lens Choice:
There is one major influencing factor on lens choice: distance. The nearest the public can get is 6.5 miles away (on the NASA Causeway). I shot with a 500mm lens from here and it was still too short for decent close-up shots without heavy cropping afterwards. But don't worry if you do not have a huge super telephoto lens, as the Floridian sun throws a bit of a curve ball into the mix - heat haze. At 6.5 miles, the atmospheric distortion between the lens and the subject matter can be huge. Even if you get a 1200mm lens, the shot will for all intents and purposes be out of focus.
 
It is for this reason that I recommend going for no longer than 500mm. This gives you the right balance between crop-able shots for close-ups and slightly wider shots showing the smoke stack and the shuttle departing in the first few seconds. This brings us onto the wider shots, once the Shuttle has left the pad and made hey into the sky...the wide shot. Go for a wider lens, something like a 70-200. Ideally this should be mounted on a separate body, to save the in-situ swap out. With the speed the Shuttle is moving , this 5 second lens swap will convert into about 30,000 ft distance. The wider lens will allow you to capture the drifting smoke stack with the Shuttle atop it - beautifully atmospheric.

Exposure
The brightness of the Shuttle's boosters will fool even the most advanced of camera's metering systems. For this reason, you will want to set the exposure up before the launch. To do this is relatively simple once you know how. Take a shot of the shuttle before the launch in AV mode. Make sure the shutter speed is up above 1/500th if the conditions allow (I would recommend as near to 1/1000th as you can get. Increase the ISO or set wider aperture to get a higher shutter speed - just make sure you don't go too high on the ISO as this will introduce a huge amount of noise to the image - aim for about a 800 maximum ISO on most modern cameras - 400 ISO is ideal with an aperture of f8).

Once you have you exposure set to give you a good shutter speed, take a shot and check what it looks like. If it is properly exposed, take a note of the ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings. This is important as the next step is to switch the camera into manual mode and manually dial in the ISO, aperture and shutter speed that you just took a note of. This way, the camera will give you a perfectly exposed shot no matter how bright the Shuttle's boosters are. Trust me, it really works.

Focusing
As with aperture, the Shuttle's boosters will play havoc with your auto focus. So it is best to switch the camera to manual focus. The Shuttle is so far away that setting the lens near infinity on its focus will ensure that the shots are sharp. I would recommend doing a few test shots to get used to focusing on manual. Once the focus is dialled in, you will not need to touch it throughout the whole visible part of the launch.

Tripod or not?
You could use a tripod if you want, but have a quick release plate. Once the shuttle gets off the pad, it really goes, and unless you are a pass master at tripod vertical panning, you will fail to track the Shuttle properly. NASA invest a tonne of money into auto tracking tripod mounts for this reason. So hand hold is the most effective way to track and grab the shots.

Memory and the Buffer
You will want to shoot many frames, but be wary of your camera's file buffer; this is the maximum amount of shots that you can take in quick succession before the camera has to pause to store them on your memory card. The last thing you want to do is fire off a huge burst as the Shuttle leaves the pad only to find you have to wait 5 seconds for the camera to clear out the buffer - in 5 seconds, you will miss the roll, the second phase and probably the best shot you could have as the Shuttle clears the low atmospheric conditions and gets into undisturbed air. I recommend taking shots in 3-5 frame bursts. 3 shots then let off the shutter, wait a second then fire again. That way you will get a good spread of shots across the whole launch and climb out.

And lastly
This is just a quick helpful guide that should get most people with an DSLR camera ready to shoot and capture those dream shots. Of course, don't just follow these instructions blindly, they are only guidance. ON the day, have a look at the conditions, and adjust accordingly. For example, if the shy is clear and the haze really bad, forget those close ups and go wide.
 
My final recommendation is to enjoy the launch. If you are not sure of the shot, or your camera, put it down and just watch. Those memories plus the NASA souvenir post cards will be more than enough to mark the day forever in your memory.

Enjoy and good shooting.

Michael H
www.pumaknight.co.uk
« Last Edit: 06/30/2011 03:52 PM by Chris Bergin »

Offline Furner

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #1 on: 04/21/2011 03:41 PM »
I can add this about tripods.  You need a BEEFY tripod to keep the image still.  At 400-500mm, people walking will throw your image all over the place.  Usually I think the manufacturers of lenses suggest turning image stabilization off when on a tripod, unless the lens features a tripod mode.
I used a Canon 100-400L IS lens.  It has no "tripod mode", but I did get a more stable image with the camera/lens on the tripod, and with IS turned on.  I suppose if you are using a very sturdy tripod, you might be ok, I was using a 4-section tripod to keep the folded length down for transport.  It was pretty wobbly.
If you are renting a large lens, 400 or 500mm or more, you might need to track down a larger tripod than you currently own, as that big lens will add a lot of weight to your setup.
Keeping your shutter speed around 1/1000 as mentioned above will help with tripod instability as well.

Online MarekCyzio

Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #2 on: 04/22/2011 02:48 PM »
It is for this reason that I recommend going for no longer than 500mm.

My little advice - it is cheaper and more effective to spend $500 on a NASA Causeway ticket that on 500 mm lens rental. No matter what kind of advanced optics you purchase or rent, you will still get better quality photos by simply being closer. Especially on a hot afternoon.

Offline cian

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #3 on: 04/24/2011 09:53 PM »
What is the closest point you can get the night before launch so I can try get a photo with the xenon lights?

Offline sts126

Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #4 on: 04/25/2011 06:46 AM »
What is the closest point you can get the night before launch so I can try get a photo with the xenon lights?
the 401 bend due south about 12miles at the port, or titusville about the same distance. Max Brewer Bridge might be a neat spot as the new bridge has some height to it.
Don't worry ... it IS Rocket Science. Dark matter somewhere in the house, just can't find it now.

Offline cian

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #5 on: 04/25/2011 03:58 PM »
Quote
the 401 bend due south about 12miles at the port, or titusville about the same distance. Max Brewer Bridge might be a neat spot as the new bridge has some height to it.

Cool thanks.  Are the lights just on the night before, or a few nights?  Got this shot last time, but was in a rush.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/complexvisuals/4604984409/in/set-72157623932154253

Online MarekCyzio

Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #6 on: 04/25/2011 06:11 PM »
Quote from: cian link=topic=24885.msg728918#msg728918
Cool thanks.  Are the lights just on the night before, or a few nights?

I believe the lights will be on on Thursday around 8 PM, I do not think they will be on on Wednesday.
« Last Edit: 04/25/2011 06:12 PM by MarekCyzio »

Offline spacedog71

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #7 on: 04/25/2011 07:55 PM »
Quote from: cian link=topic=24885.msg728918#msg728918
Cool thanks.  Are the lights just on the night before, or a few nights?

I believe the lights will be on on Thursday around 8 PM, I do not think they will be on on Wednesday.

correct. the rotating service structure rolls back from the orbiter about 18 hours before launch, so any time after 10 pm or so it should be visible for miles in any direction.

Offline cian

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #8 on: 05/03/2011 06:29 PM »
Quote from: cian link=topic=24885.msg728918#msg728918
Cool thanks.  Are the lights just on the night before, or a few nights?

I believe the lights will be on on Thursday around 8 PM, I do not think they will be on on Wednesday.

correct. the rotating service structure rolls back from the orbiter about 18 hours before launch, so any time after 10 pm or so it should be visible for miles in any direction.

Drove over to Titusville to get it, but the weather pushed the time to 12.30am.  Had to be up for 5.30am for launch so called it a night around 11.30.

Back home now in Ireland, never got to take the photo!

Offline Dr_Raven

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #9 on: 05/03/2011 08:03 PM »
Quote
the 401 bend due south about 12miles at the port, or titusville about the same distance. Max Brewer Bridge might be a neat spot as the new bridge has some height to it.

Cool thanks.  Are the lights just on the night before, or a few nights?  Got this shot last time, but was in a rush.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/complexvisuals/4604984409/in/set-72157623932154253

Cool pic Cian. How long did you leave the shutter open for that shot?

P.S. Are you going to try to get back for Atlantis in June?

Andy


Offline 20vturbo

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #11 on: 06/30/2011 09:24 PM »
ok I know this is for still mostly but I was curious if anyone has shot video with a DSLR. I have two 7d's that I would like to use (one stills, one video) but I am not sure exactly what vid settings would be best for the launch! should I go 1080 @ 30fps or 720 @ 60fps?

also on the off chance maybe someone is a sound guy too I also got a neat little Zoom H2 to record some audio but I am completely new to terms like gain, hertz, channels, and in general what settings to use on a shuttle launch!  Any help or suggestions would be awesome! off to google to see what it says! :D 

GOOOO STS-135!!!

Offline mixologist07

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #12 on: 07/05/2011 01:34 AM »
ok I know this is for still mostly but I was curious if anyone has shot video with a DSLR. I have two 7d's that I would like to use (one stills, one video) but I am not sure exactly what vid settings would be best for the launch! should I go 1080 @ 30fps or 720 @ 60fps?

also on the off chance maybe someone is a sound guy too I also got a neat little Zoom H2 to record some audio but I am completely new to terms like gain, hertz, channels, and in general what settings to use on a shuttle launch!  Any help or suggestions would be awesome! off to google to see what it says! :D 

GOOOO STS-135!!!

For the Zoom, do NOT use automatic gain control, first of all.  I would record 24-bit, 48kHz, and use the four-channel surround function of the H2 by pointing it vertically.   I would set your gain really low.  Remember, with audio, you cannot repair clipped bits.  You can always increase the gain of your recording in post production later;  in the pro audio world, we say, "you can't unbake a cake".  It's true of audio, too.


Offline Ronsmytheiii

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #13 on: 07/05/2011 03:35 AM »
Just wondering,  I have a 300 mm and will be out on the causeway, will my shots come-out alright?  It probably wont be the extreme upclose shot, however that is the best equipment I have....
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Offline lsullivan411

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #14 on: 07/05/2011 03:45 AM »
Just wondering,  I have a 300 mm and will be out on the causeway, will my shots come-out alright?  It probably wont be the extreme upclose shot, however that is the best equipment I have....

You'll do OK with a 300mm Ron -- that's what I used a few times from Titusville (12 miles away), and the shots came out pretty good -- if I could find my STS-125 shots I'd show you.  Not extreme closeup as you say, but you'll do just fine with it.

And here's that STS-125 shot -- you'll be twice as close, and this was a pretty hazy day, but will give you an idea of what you'll get.
« Last Edit: 07/05/2011 03:55 AM by lsullivan411 »
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Offline 20vturbo

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #15 on: 07/05/2011 04:00 AM »
ok I know this is for still mostly but I was curious if anyone has shot video with a DSLR. I have two 7d's that I would like to use (one stills, one video) but I am not sure exactly what vid settings would be best for the launch! should I go 1080 @ 30fps or 720 @ 60fps?

also on the off chance maybe someone is a sound guy too I also got a neat little Zoom H2 to record some audio but I am completely new to terms like gain, hertz, channels, and in general what settings to use on a shuttle launch!  Any help or suggestions would be awesome! off to google to see what it says! :D 

GOOOO STS-135!!!

For the Zoom, do NOT use automatic gain control, first of all.  I would record 24-bit, 48kHz, and use the four-channel surround function of the H2 by pointing it vertically.   I would set your gain really low.  Remember, with audio, you cannot repair clipped bits.  You can always increase the gain of your recording in post production later;  in the pro audio world, we say, "you can't unbake a cake".  It's true of audio, too.



thanks a ton!!! Will do!! :)

Offline mikebagwell

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #16 on: 07/06/2011 08:52 PM »
Just wondering,  I have a 300 mm and will be out on the causeway, will my shots come-out alright?  It probably wont be the extreme upclose shot, however that is the best equipment I have....

Hi

Using the excellent advice in this thread, I took the attached photo of the STS-134 launch from the causeway at 210mm. But I should point out that my camera has a 1.6x crop factor and I cropped the image as well. But still, it came out pretty well and prints ok at 12x8.

The rest of the photos I took that day can be viewed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebagwell/sets/72157626825335958/

Hope this helps give an idea of what you'll get from the causeway. I was pleasantly surprised...

Mike



« Last Edit: 07/06/2011 09:01 PM by mikebagwell »

Offline 20vturbo

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #17 on: 07/07/2011 10:58 AM »
Ok one more question about the zoom. It came with a foam mic cover.  I assume that I would use it...but that would be just a wild guess. Anyone know for sure? I know physics can be counterintuitive sometimes! :)

Offline STS-134

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Re: STS-134: Photographic guidance
« Reply #18 on: 07/07/2011 02:27 PM »
I can add this about tripods.  You need a BEEFY tripod to keep the image still.  At 400-500mm, people walking will throw your image all over the place.  Usually I think the manufacturers of lenses suggest turning image stabilization off when on a tripod, unless the lens features a tripod mode.
I used a Canon 100-400L IS lens.  It has no "tripod mode", but I did get a more stable image with the camera/lens on the tripod, and with IS turned on.  I suppose if you are using a very sturdy tripod, you might be ok, I was using a 4-section tripod to keep the folded length down for transport.  It was pretty wobbly.
If you are renting a large lens, 400 or 500mm or more, you might need to track down a larger tripod than you currently own, as that big lens will add a lot of weight to your setup.
Keeping your shutter speed around 1/1000 as mentioned above will help with tripod instability as well.

I didn't use a beefy tripod, and I also shot STS-134 with a Canon 100-400L IS lens + a 2x extender.  I first set the camera in Tv (shutter priority) mode, and set the shutter speed to 1/500, and let the camera set the aperture (BEFORE the launch began).  Then, I took that aperture value and put the camera in manual mode with said aperture value and a shutter speed of 1/500 (you don't want the camera to get "fooled" by the brightness of the SRB flame, so set your camera to manual mode before it launches).  I was happy with how my photos came out.

I would actually recommend using a tripod, especially if it's your first launch.  The reason is that you can put the camera on the tripod, and put it in continuous drive mode (take shots as fast as you can, as long as the shutter is held down) so that you can shoot the launch while watching it WITH YOUR OWN EYES.  Put the camera in live mode (view the image to be shot on the LCD on the back of the camera) just before auto sequence start (T-31 seconds).  Place the Shuttle near the bottom 1/4 of your shot.  Note how far up the photo goes into the sky; when the Shuttle gets near that spot, you'll have to move the camera.  Make the tripod settings tight enough that the camera won't move, but loose enough that you can EASILY adjust it once the Shuttle starts moving.  When you hear the words "firing chain is armed, sound suppression water system activated", get ready; main engine start is coming up in about 9 seconds.  As soon as you can see the sparks below the main engines, hold down the shutter and start shooting photos as fast as you can.  WATCH THE LAUNCH WITH YOUR OWN EYES until the Shuttle reaches that point near the top of your photo.  At that point, release the shutter and look at the LCD (remember, it should be in live view mode).  QUICKLY recenter it with the Shuttle near the bottom 1/3 and hold down the shutter again to take about 10-20 more shots, while watching the launch with your own eyes.  Repeat the process as the Shuttle climbs higher (unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to repeat this process more than twice, because Endeavour disappeared into the clouds).

Offline shuttlefanatic

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #19 on: 07/07/2011 05:21 PM »
Another detail: If you have a UV / Skylight / whatever filter on your lens, remove it for the launch as it will most likely cause flare and ghosting of the SRB flame.

Offline STS-134

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #20 on: 07/07/2011 05:41 PM »
Another detail: If you have a UV / Skylight / whatever filter on your lens, remove it for the launch as it will most likely cause flare and ghosting of the SRB flame.

Hmm, good advice.  I actually took my shots with a UV filter on (nobody told me to take off the filters) but I don't see any ghosting or flare.  I guess I just got lucky.

And I should re-emphasize, for those who have never seen a launch before: watch it with your own eyes.  The experience of seeing a launch in person is something that no camera can ever capture.  You don't want to "miss" the launch because you're watching it through a viewfinder!

The SRB flame is surprisingly bright, and there is no camera on the market with enough dynamic range to capture it, nor is there a display on the market with enough dynamic range to reproduce it.  Remember, just seeing this, and later hearing the roar of the rockets (that no subwoofer on the market can reproduce) is something that you can never go back to do.

When people ask me how bright the SRB flame is, I always tell them that it's similar to viewing the Sun in pictures vs. viewing the Sun in person.  The real thing is so bright that you can't look directly at it, but in photos you can stare at the spot of the Sun all day without damaging your eyes.  Of course, the reason nobody is surprised at seeing the Sun's brightness in person after viewing photos of it from a particular location is that everyone has seen the Sun; in contrast, very few people have had the opportunity to view a Shuttle launch.  But you can imagine that if you were born and lived in a cave all your life, and had only seen the Sun in pictures, you would be very surprised at its brightness when you first stepped out of that cave.  So those of you for whom this will be your first and last Shuttle launch, keep this in mind: you're like the person coming out of the cave and viewing the Sun for the first time.  The flame brightness from the SRBs WILL surprise you.  Take this opportunity to see it, because the photos you take will not capture it.  It's something you'll be able to take with you only in your memory.
« Last Edit: 07/07/2011 05:56 PM by STS-134 »

Offline Jez_H

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #21 on: 07/07/2011 08:30 PM »
I have to say I agree with most of the advice on here. Based on my experiences of watching STS-133 it's certainly worth watching the launch with your own eyes. However if you have the equipment and know how, it's also worth photographing it.

STS-133 was my one and only Shuttle launch, and I'm so glad that I made the effort to photograph it. Ok, from the Causeway you're never going to get pics as good as the official NASA photos, but you can still produce something that you can hang on your wall with pride.

The use of a Tripod and remote release worked really well for me. I watched the actual launch with my own eyes while the camera clicked away on continuous shoot until the Shuttle got to the top of the frame. I then removed the camera from the tripod using the quick release and tracked the shuttle through climb-out up to SRB separation. I was quite happy to view the SRB separation through a camera lens because I could see it better with the long zoom that with my naked eye.

I had few focussing issues due to using manual focus, but I still managed to get a couple of "money shots".

If you want to see my album, it can be found here: http://s1109.photobucket.com/albums/h423/Jez_H/STS-133%20Shuttle%20Launch/


Offline Jez_H

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #22 on: 07/07/2011 08:39 PM »
The SRB flame is surprisingly bright, and there is no camera on the market with enough dynamic range to capture it, nor is there a display on the market with enough dynamic range to reproduce it.

That's so true - I was amazed at how bright the flame was. However, if you "expose for the flame" (must shoot RAW) and then do a bit of photoshop work on the results you can come up with some interesting pics:

Offline STS-134

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Re: STS-134 (and STS-135): Photographic guidance
« Reply #23 on: 07/07/2011 09:05 PM »
The SRB flame is surprisingly bright, and there is no camera on the market with enough dynamic range to capture it, nor is there a display on the market with enough dynamic range to reproduce it.

That's so true - I was amazed at how bright the flame was. However, if you "expose for the flame" (must shoot RAW) and then do a bit of photoshop work on the results you can come up with some interesting pics:

Another piece of very good advice that I forgot to include: shoot in RAW mode.  It will allow you to correct for underexposure/overexposure after the fact to some extent, as well as to play around with the settings as you "develop" your picture to get different effects.  Remember, a RAW image is like a digital negative.  If you would want to keep the negatives for these photos, you want to create the RAWs.

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