So I had been meticulously planning a shot for a few weeks now. The SpaceX CRS-15 mission was going to launch less than half an hour before sunrise. From the spot I planned to shoot it from, the rocket and sunrise would be happening at virtually the exact same spot on the horizon. On top of that, I was going to get an ISS fly-by in the same frame between launch and sunrise.
It was gonna be sweet. But the weather decided to ruin it. A few days ago, I realized it was going to be a cloudy and probably rainy morning in St. Petersburg.
So I did the next best thing. I drove over to Cape Canaveral for the launch. Oh wait, that’s the first best thing.
A few notes, the launched got moved up from 6:03 AM to 5:42 AM. With the sun still below the horizon, we were in for a treat. After the second stage engines fired up, the sun would be illuminating the expanding exhaust cloud, which is normally not visible. You may have seen this happen not too long ago with a dusk launch in California.
First, to shoot the launch this close, it needs to be done in one long exposure. Then, when the weird exhaust thing happens, you need to use completely different setting, of which I had no idea what that would be.
After my liftoff shot, I took the camera off my tripod to shoot the exhaust cloud. This did not go well. I had a dangling shutter release cable which I held in my mouth. My camera strap got tangled up on part of the tripod. I was trying to fix that while trying to adjust camera settings while some random dude was asking me where I was going to post my pictures.
I thought the resulting shots were going to be written off, but I was able to coax some goodness out of them.
Our header shot was a test for dialing in a single long exposure. It was taken at 4:27 AM with a full moon directly behind me, which help light things just enough. The shot is 18mm at f/6.3, ISO 100 and exposed for 151 seconds. The glowing white light near the left edge of the trees is the launch pad, which is 14 miles to the north.
I shot everything from the end of the Jetty Park Pier, which is just across the water from Cape Canaveral. A few minutes before the launch, a cruise ship came into Port Canaveral. It was pretty spectacular to have it pass right in from of me all lit up.
This is a 30-second exposure at ISO 400 of it sailing in.
BLAST OFF! 103 seconds at ISO 100. I really should have shot this from about three to five miles further down the beach to get the liftoff curve rather than the mostly straight up that I got here. Or I just need to buy an 11mm lens. No worries. I’m still really happy with this shot. A small boat was going by during liftoff which is where the light trails along the bottom came from.
And these are my exhaust trail shots. Two tight and one wide. Should I ever have the chance to shoot this again, I’ll be ready.
Being that I was at the beach, I figured I should at least take a sunrise picture.
I tried to get some sleep on Thursday before heading out, but it wasn’t much. I left for the launch at 12:30 AM and got home at 9:30 AM. I took a three-hour nap and then somehow made it through the day. Totally worth it.
Oh, one more from maybe two weeks ago. I went out to experiment with shooting night panoramas. Nothing of significance came of it, but I did take a selfie before going home.
UPDATE: I took some artistic liberties and tried something that came out really neat. Since the launch pic and the cruise ship were taken just minutes apart and were taken from the exact same spot/camera position, I felt like it was morally acceptable to do this.
Also, if it wasn’t so cloudy out, I would have been taking continuous exposures to make star trails for the background of the rocket launch. Had I been doing that, I would have gotten the cruise ship in that batch.
So rather than creating something completely implausible, this is just two moments that happened close enough together to justify doing a composite of the rocket launch and the cruise ship.
I’m really happy with how this came out and I’m confident that no one else took the right pictures to make this happen. I had the only camera positioned to do this.