How I Took The Image

STS-133: The Final Launch of Space Shuttle Discovery: Jim Froneberger

This was my first attempt at placing a remote camera near the Shuttle launch pad. About 32 hours prior to launch, NASA Public Affairs volunteers transported photographers to various locations around the launch pad to place cameras. Many veteran Shuttle shooters use sound or vibration triggers, but I opted to use a simple remote switch/timer (Canon TC-80N3).

I used a Canon 28-135 IS zoom on a Canon 40D, mounted on an old tripod. I wrapped the camera in two layers of plastic for protection, leaving only the front lens element exposed. The tripod was secured by rope and a bungee to three metal screw-in tie-out stakes purchased from a pet supply store. I placed the camera on a small mound a few hundred yards southeast of the pad.

I set the timer to wake the camera from sleep and begin shooting at 1fps about a minute or two before the scheduled launch so as not to cut it too close in case the timer or my clock was off. With an 8 GB CF card, I had plenty of space for enough RAW images to keep the camera shooting all the way through the seven or eight minute launch window. The camera kept shooting until the card filled a few minutes after launch.

I set the zoom fairly wide at 33mm to be sure I captured as many images as possible before Discovery left the field of view. The settings were manual focus, 1/1000, f7.1, ISO 100. That exposure wound up being ever-so-slightly slightly under exposed, so a bump of about ¼ stop plus a little “Fill Light” in RAW conversion in Lightroom brought out the details in the shadows a bit more. The shot with the Shuttle higher in the sky is the uncropped 33mm framing, while the other one is cropped.

Out of 770 shots the camera took in about 12 minutes of shooting, the launch itself takes up an eighteen-shot sequence from just before main engine ignition, through solid rocket booster ignition, until the Shuttle left the frame on its way to the International Space Station on its last-ever flight.




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