How'd They Get That Shot? -- Rocket Photography

  • Dec 11, 2014 1:02pm GMT

NASA completed a major milestone with the successful launch of their Orion spacecraft. But the majority of the world would have no witness to their success if it wasn't for the few photographers who were on site to capture the historic event. But how does one capture images of such a unique vehicle?

Richard Weakley is a Florida-based photographer who specializes in spacecraft photography. His latest photos come from NASA's Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), the mission to test Orion, America’s next generation spacecraft.

Weakley's plan was to photograph the launch from various angles at the same time. To accomplish this he arrived at the launch site a day before its scheduled launch window to set up remote cameras. These cameras are set up on tripods and are enclosed in a hard cover to protect the camera from the elements and debris.

“When the launch window times are released I start to plan out my shots,” stated Weakley. “There’s no interaction with the camera just before the launch so every variable has to be anticipated. After the camera location is chosen I pick which camera body and lens to use. Focus and exposure is set manually since auto modes can be fooled by the extreme light from the rocket’s motor. Once it’s all set up the lens rings are taped down, covers are put on, and the tripod is staked to the ground so it won’t blow away.”

Space photographers are too far from their remote cameras for traditional radio triggers to work. Because of this, space photographers use something a bit different—and simpler.

“I built my own custom sound trigger,” said Weakley. “When the rocket launches the extreme sound sets off the trigger and the camera fires until the sound goes away.”

Weakley set up a total of four remote cameras around the launch pad. When Orion launched he was standing with other photographers near the astronaut beach house with his Canon 70D and 300mm lens and a 2x teleconverter. For wider shots he also had a second camera equipped with a 100-400mm lens.

Once the launch is finished the media escorts drive the photographers back to the pad to retrieve their remote cameras. “But it’s only done when the pad is deemed safe,” added Weakley. “We also have to wait for the spacecraft to reach a certain point in the flight just in case officials have to go back to the pad first for a safety investigation.”

Below are some of the photos Richard shot at the launch. The video is from Popular Mechanics YouTube channel, and is unique because you can see one of Richard’s remote cameras in the bottom right of the frame. If you look closely you can see the force of the launch knock the camera over—-but not before it captured some striking shots of the Delta IV rocket clearing the tower.

To see more of Richard Weakley’s photography visit his website or read The Avion.