Last Saturday night I drove back over to Cape Canaveral for yet another rocket launch. SpaceX was sending up the Telstar 18 Vantage communications satellite. It was supposed to be cloudy but clearing up around the 11:28 pm launch time. That didn’t exactly happen, but it all worked out in the end.
On the drive over, I hit a storm in Orlando that was hands-down, the worst rain I have ever driven in. Parts of the interstate were flooding as construction barricades were not letting the water drain. The lighting was going off and striking really close to the road. The blinding flash was accompanied simultaneously by a deafening clap of thunder. My wipers and a fresh coat of Rain-X did nothing helpful.
I would have gotten off the interstate to wait it out, but I could only see the tail lights of the car in front of me. I had no idea where the lanes were, where any other cars were, or where an exit might be. It was horrible. Had I not been in The Ranger, I don’t think I would have made it. The Ranger currently smells like swamp ass from the water that came in the bottom of the doors from the flooding.
Once I got over to Cape Canaveral, I met up with my photog buddy and his dad. We studied the weather radar and decided that going out to our swampy spot would be ok. The storm was heading our way but would pass to the south of us. That it did.
I set up to get some lightning shots before the launch. Most of the lightning was shrouded by the clouds, but some did cut through and did not disappoint. It was really intense sitting out there watching this roll through, hoping that it kept just enough to the south of us as we had nowhere to take cover.
Here are some of the lightning highlights.
There were some, like this one that were just blinding. This strike was at least 20 miles away. It looks like an atom bomb going off on the horizon. This strike, as far away as it was, lit up everything like the sun was out for a second.
I ended up taking 199 shots over two hours as the storm passed. I made a time lapse video using them all. I even wrote a little music for it, because why not.
A few seconds in, there was a huge bolt just out of frame on the right side. The launch pad lights were shut off right after that one. As the video goes on, you can see the light fading back up to full strength. You can also start to see some stars as the clouds start to clear.
Eventually, at 12:45 am, the rocket went up. It was fantastic. This is a 183-second exposure at f/10 and ISO 100.
I also brought along my old D3100 body and put the 1963 Nikkor 50mm on it just to see how well the lens works for this sort of thing. I knew I was too close to get nowhere close to the full launch trail, so I just did a 30-second exposure at f/5.6 and ISO 100. I probably should have gone with f/11, but live and learn.
The 50mm is so incredibly sharp, I figured it would make up for the lower sensor resolution on the D3100. It did. When you take a cropped section, look at all the detail you can see of the other launch pads. Those tall towers are at pad 39-B. Just to the right, there is a single, shorter tower with a little nub sticking out the side of it on the top. That is pad 39-A. The nub on the launch structure is the SpaceX Crew Access Arm that they just recently installed. These things are about 11 miles away from the camera. Crazy.
To wrap things up, we’ll go back to the lightning. I took all of the frames with visible bolts along with a few really dynamic ones where the clouds were illuminated with no bolts. I edited them in such a way so that when I stacked them I would get a really insane image. I’ve literally been working on this all week, picking the right shots to include, getting the edits right, going over everything with a fine tooth comb to get rid of hot pixels and other random crap.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Hope you enjoyed it.