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Old January 17th, 2009, 03:49 PM   #1
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Tips for shooting a Shuttle Launch?

I've never shot one and would like to give it a try in a couple weeks. It's a 7:30am launch. For those who've already shot it, can you advise on settings and techniques?

Am using an XH-A1.
I'd be inclined to shoot manual in 60i at 60 shutter speed. AGC ON. No polarizer. No ND.

1) What settings would you use?
2) Any tips for gauging exposure with zebras or whatever?
3) Would use a polarizer?
4) When would you arrive for rte 528 Causeway or Cape Canaveral public beach access?
5) Do they let you shoot from rte 520?
6) Any tips on technique?

TIA

Last edited by Les Wilson; January 17th, 2009 at 08:21 PM.
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Old January 19th, 2009, 04:16 PM   #2
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I've been shooting there since Apollo, although not lately and then I was a still photographer, but some of what I learned may help. I think AGC will kill you because the steam cloud at launch and the flame plume on climbout are so bright that they will make you underexpose the sky and Shuttle. I shot Ektachrome 1/2 stop underexposed to the normal indicated readings and it worked pretty well. I assume from your question you don't have access to the press site --- have to apply well in advance due to security these days --- so you will be a good distance away from the launch. I remember hearing that access to the Causeway was either restricted or prohibited, but check KSC's web site for info. You can shoot from the park on the beach in Titusville just north of the Holiday Inn if you have no other access but it's 11 miles away from the tower. Good view, just not a closeup. A polarizer is not necessary as the sky will be dark enough if you set your exposure manually as I did for chromes. Of course, the further away you are, the less the bright whites will affect your overall exposure, but that sucker is BRIGHT going up...best of luck, launches are magnificent to watch! //Battle Vaughan /miamiherald.com video team
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Old January 19th, 2009, 05:32 PM   #3
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PS the KSC info is here: NASA - View a Shuttle Launch

Apparently there are no vehicle passes available for KSC property. They have some new deal where you can get a transportation pass to be taken to the visitor information center on the site, however, might be worth looking into..../b vaughan
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Old January 19th, 2009, 06:10 PM   #4
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Thanks Battle...my research dept <grin> turned up this helpful site:
Launch Viewing: Where & How to Watch, View and See Space Shuttle Launches

Rte 520 and Port Canaveral are far away when there's better spots in Titusville. I am going to try for Titusville this launch and try to get tickets for KSC causeway for next time.

When I said AGC, I meant for audio. For video, I'm still wondering about shutter speed, polarizer or technique.
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Old January 20th, 2009, 04:36 PM   #5
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I don't think there's any real special technique required unless you want to set manual exposure for a little under ambient so as to hold detail in the sky and shuttle and pick up what you can of the flame/steam....as I said, the brightness of those things will fool your autoexpose into trying to hold detail there and darken the rest of your image substantially.

This is less of a problem at the distance you will be, as the shuttle itself will be a smaller part of the image...a regular 60i or whatever will record just fine, I think. BTW, the people in the big campers get to the park in Titusville and stake out their space early...the crowds are smaller now than they were early on, but it's tourist season and likely to be crowded, get there in plenty of time....also, I just thought this is an early morning shot, you may be shooting into the sun more or less from the Titusville spot. I have never shot from Cape Canaveral but you would be looking north there....I always wanted to go to New Smyrna and walk way south on the beach ---it's a nude beach there, thought the unclothed watchers might be a fun shot but my paper is pretty conservative and we never did it...hope you enjoy the launch! /Battle Vaughan / Miami Herald
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Old January 24th, 2009, 09:52 PM   #6
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Here's two of my vids:

YouTube - STS-124 Shuttle Launch
(Shot from the 2nd causeway south...about 4-5 miles from the pad.)

YouTube - STS-126 Endeavour Shuttle Night Launch
(Shot from my home 100miles south of the Cape... right out my front door)

Standard Canon GL-2 on automatic. Dont worry about exposure but use fixed focus set on infinity.

There are also some great little parks along the Intercoastal Waterway right across from the Vertical Assembly Building on A1A (and these would be better on the launches where they head north from the pad...) Get there early, they fill up fast and the businesses WILL have you towed if you park in their lots. Some of the hotels and restaurants are closed now tho and you should be able to use them if they are not chained off.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 05:10 PM   #7
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I went to Jetty Park to shoot the recent Delta 2 launch of the Kepler satellite. It was my first experience shooting one (I did see Apollo 17 back in High School). My advice based on my attempt is:

1) For Rocket launches where they let you get 2 miles away, be prepared to tilt straight up
2) For a night launch, the rocket's initial exhaust nicely lights up the pad and it's plumes of exhaust smoke. But once it is 500-800 feet high, the pad is not that interesting.
3) The rocket fire at 2 miles away is so bright that it overwhelms the shot. I cranked on the iris and accidently closed it which made for a really annoying blank spot in the recording
4) Next time I plan to shoot at -3db gain and add ND once the pretty pad is out of frame and then ride the iris. You won't see much of the rocket body (night time) but your rocket exhaust will have more definition than the average fellow with a handycam on automatic.
5) We arrived 2 hours beforehand and got good spot on the jetty section. The best spots on the water section are supposedly better and you would need to arrive earlier. Be prepared for annoying people horning in on your good spot regardless. People were 4-5 deep.
6) If you have decent equipment, be prepared for people pestering you with questions about how to shoot a picture with their camera that takes really good "pictures at home"

Lastly, join Twitter and subscribe to get text messages from SpaceFlightNow. We just drove up to see the Shuttle launch tonight and as we rolled into the hotel parking lot, got a text message it was scrubbed, u-turned and came home.

This is my badly shot Delta 2 launch:
YouTube - Delta 2 Rocket Night Launch with Kepler Payload - March 6 2009

My wife did better in the still photography department holding the shutter for a timed exposure on a tripod with the left hand and shooting handheld with her right:
Timed Exposure: Delta 2 Kepler Launch on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Handheld: Delta 2 Kepler Launch on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

YMMV
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Old March 16th, 2009, 11:33 AM   #8
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Just a followup that I made it to yesterday's Shuttle launch. I posted details in the Youtube description. It was a twilight launch. It's a challenge with the lighting and possible perspectives. In this case, the shuttle was like a huge tungsten light turning on which wreaked havoc with the AWB and exposure.

There are no test shots with these launches so practice does make perfect ... I found it takes quite a bit of adapting to what the lighting is GOING to be as the sun goes down/up and the Shuttle ignites ... I know my next one will be different and better. For a Sunday launch "in season" we got to Titusville 4 hours before launch and were lucky to get second row seats with clear shot. YMMV

I tried to give a perspective of the venue in the beginning of the clip.

STS-119 Shuttle Launch
YouTube - Space Shuttle Launch STS-119 March 15 2009
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Old March 16th, 2009, 11:43 AM   #9
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Well done, Les! I love the color change in the plume as it gets up above the sunset... how reddish-orange it is when it goes through the twilight height, and brilliant white at the broad daylight altitude. As a result, the SRB Sep was very well defined... a launch an hour later wouldn't have produced those results.

The only thing is, there's only nine more of these left on the schedule... I'm still hoping to make it to one of 'em. Anyway, I thought you did quite well for an unrehearsed shot.
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Old March 16th, 2009, 08:09 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Hurd View Post
I'm still hoping to make it to one of 'em. Anyway, I thought you did quite well for an unrehearsed shot.
Thanks. My head's been spinning all day after reading that. :-)

You probably have the connections and pull to get VIP tickets at the VAB.

I think, the "cheap seats" experience is ok, it's still just a bright dot leaving a plume. Lenses bring you closer but lose perspective. But if I got tickets to the VAB or Causeway, I would leave the gear at home and just experience it. I will always remember the rich blue sky and rainbow plume that my eyes saw.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 11:02 AM   #11
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Don't know about gaining VIP status, but there is this resident Rocket Scientist here at DV Info Net who might hook me up...

I feel pretty much the same way as you, though -- if I manage to make one of the remaining STS launches this year, I'll probably just put the camera down and *experience* it. Thanks again,
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Old March 17th, 2009, 01:15 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Hurd View Post
I feel pretty much the same way as you, though -- if I manage to make one of the remaining STS launches this year, I'll probably just put the camera down and *experience* it. Thanks again,
So true! When I get to see a Shuttle launch, it's because I'm working so can't drag the "big iron" cameras, tripod etc. around with me. The best I've been able to do is point a pocket camera toward the pad and even then it is tough to think about taking video rather than gawking, slack-jawed. Would love to plan, set up, and shoot with a pro camera one of these days though. Don't think I'll be able to make it to Hubble (currently scheduled for around May 12th) but perhaps STS-127 (NET June 13th) we could make a push for an official DVinfo shoot n greet?

Me a VIP? Ha, you must have mistaken me for someone else. I got no pull. When I'm working a Shuttle launch, I go where I'm supposed to be and if I'm not working the launch...I get no love! :-) I'll generally be in Houston.

However, I'm at KSC now for an Orion meeting and only have my Canon HF10 (and not so much as a monopod) with me, but gonna see if I can get one of my DoD friends to show me a good place to see the Atlas V that is supposed to launch tonight. The Shuttle is the only kind of launch I've ever seen.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 03:19 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Chris Hurd View Post
I'll probably just put the camera down and *experience* it.
This is something I'm learning to do. Numerous times I've been shooting something and come away with fairly meaningless pictures and was so concentrated on getting them, I really missed the event.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 07:13 PM   #14
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Dang it. Atlas launch scrubbed due to an oxidizer leak. Oh, well. Back downstairs to the hotel bar for a free green St. Patty's Day beer.
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Old June 11th, 2009, 03:10 PM   #15
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Anyone going to this weekend's launch? i am planning to shoot it from the beach in Boca.
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