First, the rocket launch was a total success. It was my image of the launch that was a failure. The other night Space X launched a Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the ISS. Night launches not only make great photographs, but they are really cool to watch. You can watch the glow of the rocket engine all of the way into space. Photographing a night launch is very tricky. You only get one shot, literally one image. So if everything doesn’t come together, the photo is a failure. Photographers always like to share our amazing images that were a success. I think it’s also important to talk about the failures.
When you photograph a rocket launch at night, the idea is to use a long exposure. As the rocket climbs into the sky during the exposure, it makes a light trail through the image. It makes a really nice image. Using the cameras bulb mode, when the rocket ignites (trust me, at night, there is no question that the rocket has ignited) you open the shutter. As the rocket rises into the sky, you keep the shutter open until it goes out of sight, approximately 3 minutes. When it works, it’s awesome, when it doesn’t it’s not. This time it didn’t work.
The other part of the image is location, location, location. The rocket launch is really pretty on its own. To make the image even more interesting, I like to add something else. This can be either a silhouette of something interesting or something interesting that is illuminated added into the frame. A reflection would be great as well. For this launch I chose the Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral, Florida. It is several miles south of the launch pad. The tower is a unique structure that was designed to look like a sail. At night the tower is illuminated and stands out really well in the night sky. The tower is also lined up with the launch pad. If you line everything up properly the rocket makes an arc over the top of the tower. I looked up some launch photos from this location, so I knew where the rocket would be in relationship to the building.
The next hurtle is getting the correct exposure. The shutter speed is fixed at the duration of the flight of the rocket, approximately 3 minutes. This makes the aperture very important. Rocket engines at night are very bright. If your aperture is open too far the rocket will overexpose. If your aperture is too small the rocket will be underexposed. Typically I end up at f18, this works most of the time, especially for the rocket with a silhouetted foreground. When you add an illuminated subject this makes things more difficult. A 3 minute exposure will severely overexpose an illuminated subject. To overcome this I used a neutral density filter. After testing different apertures with a 3 minute exposure, I found that f11 and a 4 stop ND filter at ISO 100 exposed the tower properly. The rocket exposure would fall where it may. The important thing was to expose the tower correctly.
So what went wrong? I don’t really know for sure. To get the 3 minute exposure I needed to use the bulb setting. I made many test images that all worked perfectly. I was there with a fellow photographer friend, Chris. We also wanted to photograph the tower before the launch, so we arrived pretty early so we had some time to do that. After my final test shot, I didn’t touch my camera until the launch. We finished up a little early, so quite a bit of time passed between my last test and the launch. We had been talking with another photographer from Orlando. I think maybe something timed out and I was no longer in bulb mode or my remote switch may have timed out, I don’t know. The viewfinder indicated that I was still in bulb mode, but the shutter would open and immediately close. It was very frustrating to say the least. Several colorful words were going through my head. By the time I corrected the situation the rocket was over half way through its flight. At about 8 minutes before the launch, a voice in my head was telling me to do another test photo, I didn’t. If I had, I would have encountered and corrected the problem during the test. I will be doing that in the future. Once I got the shutter to stay open, I left it open for approximately 3 minutes. The rocket was still going so even though I wasn’t going to get the whole light trail. I wanted to see how my image would have looked if everything had gone as planned. The rocket flew right where I wanted it to be and the tower was properly exposed. I will need to try this one again.
I also made a mistake when I was photographing the tower before the launch. It makes me crazy because I have made the same mistake several times in the past. I am not a very technically disciplined photographer. I tend to concentrate more on the subject and composition. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in that and I forget about the technical side of things. Apparently the last time I used my camera I was using ISO 800. I never checked the ISO, I wanted to be using ISO 100. Once again my little voice was asking me, “Roy, why are your shutter speeds so fast?” I should have been smoothing out the water more. I was almost done when I realized what I had done. ISO 800 probably helped the shadow areas. If I would have used ISO 100 I would have been able to control the highlights better and I would have smoothed out the water with a slower shutter speed. I always promise myself that I will remember to check the ISO, and/or remember to return it to ISO 100, but every once in a while I forget. These are some of the things that make photography a challenge.
Last night SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A normal Falcon 9 rocket has, 9 powerful Merlin rocket engines. A Falcon Heavy is three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together! SpaceX has been continually tweaking it’s Merlin engines. This Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket flying today. Boy was it powerful! This rocket was Space Shuttle loud. You could hear the rumble building as it got closer and closer. The sound started to reverberate off of the buildings, then the sound waves hit, you could hear and feel the rumble! It was awesome! The reason for all of that power, the Falcon Heavy was carrying 24 assorted satellites into space. Advances in technology have made it possible to build smaller satellites. This allows rockets to carry multiple satellites into space on the same rocket. Not only is this more profitable for companies like SpaceX. It should also be less expensive for satellite users. Night launches are always beautiful, and this one was no exception. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, this launch was at 2:30 AM! It was worth getting up early to see it though. A very strange phenomenon happened during the launch. Looking through the binoculars, as the two Falcon 9 boosters strapped to the side, separated, the glowing engines and vapor, created an image that looked very much like Voldemort’s dark mark in the sky!
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites. Although the satellites were small, it was the heaviest load a Falcon 9 has lifted into space. The satellites are the first of up to 12,000 satellites that will make up a blanket of satellites that will provide a space based internet connection. Technological advancement or space pollution? Astronomers are already complaining, satellites are impeding viewing of the stars. Only time will tell.
The launch took place at 10:30pm. Night launches are awesome to watch. They make a really cool photographic subject. But also watching a launch at night is really beautiful. The flames from the rocket engines make all sorts of interesting shapes and colors. On a clear night with a pair of binoculars, you can follow the rocket all the way into space.
It was that time of year again, the birds were flying south and so were the birders. That means it was time once again for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I had the opportunity again this year to offer my Nighttime Photography Workshop at the A Max Brewer Bridge. We had a great time photographing the bridge, watching birds and dolphins. I had lots of fun, I think my participants did as well. I’m sure they got some awesome photographs. I always spend a lot of time working with the people in my workshop, so I don’t take many photos during the workshop. A few days before the workshop I always get out to take a few test shots. So here are the test shots that I took just before the festival.
An excellent photo opportunity has presented it’s self. SpaceX has scheduled a resupply mission to the International Space Station, launching right at dawn. There was a really good chance 45 minuets before sunrise, there could be some really nice color in the sky. I could not pass this up, I had to give it a try.
I like to get out at night to do some photography when I can. On our trip to Toronto we had full days with lots of walking. So by the time the sun went down I was pretty beat. Luckily the Strathcona Hotel, where we were staying, was a half block away from a pretty decent view of the CN Tower. So one night I grabbed my gear and walked down to the corner to take some photos. A woman was walking by and stopped to ask what I was photographing. She followed my lens and answered her own question. When she realized that I was taking a photo of the CN Tower, she said that she hadn’t noticed you could see the tower from this corner. I had to admit to her that the first time I walked by, I missed it too. We had a nice conversation, she was from New Brunswick CA. We were also right next to the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, the building with the flags. The Royal York is where Queen Elizabeth II stays when she comes to Toronto. Pretty much the whole royal family has stayed there at one time or another. This was the weekend of the big royal wedding, so none of the royals were there. Fun fact: the Royal York has 350,000 honey bees. They have a garden on the roof to grow veggies for the restaurant. The bees pollinate the garden and provide honey.
There was a unique thing that happened in January of 2018. The moon presented us with a “quadfecta” of events. First, this moon cycle was a super moon. (The moon was at its closest point to the earth) Second, there was a lunar eclipse. Third, the eclipse caused a blood moon. (It looked red during the eclipse) And fourth, this was the second full moon in January, making it a blue moon. (Not really blue, just means it doesn’t happen very often) Thus giving us a super blood blue lunar eclipse moon, phew!
OK, so the super lunar eclipse blood moon was early in the morning just before sunrise. I took a peek outside to see if I could see the eclipse. Besides being early, it was really low in the sky. It was low enough to be behind the other houses in the neighborhood. So I didn’t see the super lunar eclipse blood moon part. I did, however, get to see the full blue moon part later that evening.
I started early to take in the sunset. I met up with Chris Wiley from the Titusville Pro-Am photographers group. Our goal was to get the full moon rising through the Max Brewer Bridge. Unfortunately, there was a thick cloud bank along the horizon, so we could not see the moon through the bridge, disappointing. The moon eventually did appear once it made its way above the bridge. The thing about photographing the moon is that it’s so bright. You don’t really think about the moon being bright because it comes out at night. The moon, with the exception of the sun, is the brightest thing there is. The higher in the sky it gets the brighter it gets; this makes it very difficult to photograph. That’s why we wanted to photograph it below the bridge when it wasn’t quite as bright. Plus it would look pretty awesome through the bridge. Anyway, that didn’t work out. I was not happy with any of the photographs of the bridge and the moon. I did manage to get a few other decent images before the moon rise. I was pretty happy later though when a stray cloud covered the moon above the bridge for a short time. Wait for something to happen and it probably will.
I was doing a little prep photography for my Take Your Camera Off of Auto class and my Nighttime photography class this week at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. Stop by the festival this week at EFSC in Titusville and learn about photography as well as birding and wildlife in the area.
It’s the beginning of October, time for the annual Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walk. Each year, photographers all over the world gather on the same day to explore, photograph, share photos with one another, make new friends, and be a part of a great cause.
I once again joined a walk in Historic Downtown Titusville FL. Chris Wiley a local fine art photographer was our walk leader. Our group of walkers came from allover Florida. We had a great time walking around Titusville looking for things to photograph.
We took a similar route as last year, so I was trying to find different things to photograph. I did photograph some of the same things, but I photographed them differently. I had lots of fun and I think I may have even gotten a good image!
I was looking at some examples of photographs that were taken at night, using the full moon as the light source. This looked like something that I needed to try. So after many moons of bad weather and bad timing, I finally got a chance to try this technique. You don’t need to have a totally full moon, it can be a few days before or after. You need to check a moon phase chart to see when moon rise will be. Hopefully it will be at a decent hour and not after midnight or later. This particular moon rise was at a good time, right about sunset. Using the moonlight is a lot like using the sunlight. If it is low in the sky, you will get some nice shadows. If it is high in the sky, you will get a more even light, but it’s not as harsh as photographing at noon.
Coincidentally, there was an 11pm rocket launch set for the March full moon. This is great! I can photograph the launch and also try out this moonlight photography thing.
The rocket launch was beautiful! Night launches always are beautiful. This was an Atlas V rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station. The full moon was a big help illuminating the foreground of this image. I like how you can see everyone on the dock with a lit up cellphone. You can see a few stars, but the light from the moon dims all but the brightest.
I had a bit of time to kill before the launch, so I took this photo of the bridge. After the launch, I crossed the bridge to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. This is where I took my midnight landscapes. By this time, the moon was getting pretty high in the sky. It was a very clear night just a few sparse clouds in the distant horizon. A few more clouds would make a very interesting sky, but you take what you get. After you find a nice place to photograph (you will need to scout the area ahead of time) take your time setting up. Your eyes need to adjust to the moonlight. Once they do, you will be amazed at how bright it really is. I was able to work with the camera and walk around without any additional light. Using a flashlight would ruin your night vision and actually make it harder to see. Just be careful that you don’t trip over any alligators.
I was experimenting quite a bit with ISO settings. I settled on ISO 1250 for these images. I will need to do a bit more experimenting to give a solid recommendation. I used f8 and a 6 second shutter speed. I was underexposing a bit. This being my first attempt I did not want to risk overexposing. I think I could have increased the exposure by one stop and still been OK. I had to work the shadows a bit in post. I was able to get more stars in the wider angle image. It looks more like a night photo, the tighter image looks more like it was taken at dusk. The glow on the horizon is not from sunset; it’s the glow of the Titusville city lights. Again the moonlight is overpowering a lot of the stars. If you want a lot of stars you need to photograph on the new moon. You will get the stars, but you will lose the color in the sky and detail in the foreground. You need to keep shutter speed under about 10 seconds to keep the stars from elongating. There is a huge chart to figure this out depending on camera and lens combo, look for the 500 rule.
These photos were taken at midnight, not midday. It’s amazing the colors you can see at night. It’s very eerie being in the marsh at night. The only sounds you hear are the sounds of nature. Wondering what that was that just made a splash in the water? This only adds to the experience.
I came upon this group of sleeping wood storks and spoonbills. I was very careful not to wake them. Every once in a while I could hear one of them ruffling its feathers, but they never moved.
Completing the loop through the salt marsh I couldn’t resist taking another photo of the bridge before heading home. I will need to try this technique a few more times and do some fine tuning. I had a great time photographing my midnight landscapes.
You have probably heard of the golden hour. It’s the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The light has a warm gold cast to it. It’s one of my favorite times of the day, and not just for photographing. I just really like that time of day. The time just before sunrise and just after sunset is known as the blue hour. The sky turns a beautiful blue color. A lot of photographers will pack up after the sunsets and disappears below the horizon. If you have a little patience and hang around for a while, your images will have an amazing blue sky. You need to plan ahead, find a good location and work fast. Speaking of time, you don’t have much. Despite the name, the effect will last as little as 10min. and as much as 40min. Even then, it’s still not time to pack up your gear. There are still some great images to capture. This is what we will be discussing at my night time photography workshop at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I hope to see you there!