Photography

Bringing kinja into focus, one frame at a time

Monday was the first rocket launch of 2020 and it was a beauty. SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit at 9:19 pm ET.

I took 17 consecutive 25-second exposures spanning seven minutes and stacked them all to get the final image. More on that in a second.

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If you look between the boat masts about 1/3 over from the left, you can see the reentry burn of the Falcon 9 first stage booster as it started its landing descent to the OCISLY drone ship.

I couldn’t get over across the state for the launch, so I shot it from downtown St. Petersburg, looking out across Tampa Bay. This spot is actually the inside of Turn 10 of the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street track.

Does your city have have permanent racing curbs on its streets? Mine does. We also have Dan Wheldon Way, which makes me a little misty-eyed. He was a nice fellow.

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So back to the rocket...

Had I gone over to shoot the launch, this would have been a single exposure (or maybe two) capturing the launch. But from so far away, that doesn’t work the same, so multiple frames are needed to avoid over or under exposing the scene. Up close, the rocket provides enough illumination to light everything in the shot. From St. Pete, it’s just a super bright thing moving through the sky.

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While I was bummed that I couldn’t get over to watch (and hear) the launch from as close as possible, I am beyond happy with this shot from so far away.

Setting up shots like this are tricky, but there is one invaluable tool I use to at least make sure I know what I’m going to get in frame. I use Flight Club to show the launch trajectory as viewed from where I want to shoot from; be it 15 miles away, or in this case, 136.8 miles away.

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This is what Flight Club told me I should see.

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And this is that, overlaid onto my photo.

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They don’t perfectly line up as I shot from a slightly different spot, height, and angle as I set up Flight Club to show. Pretty spot on. With the guesswork out of the equation as to where the rocket is going, the rest is up to me to find a good spot and take a good picture.

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