Norman Peay has always been fascinated by aviation. In this photo, he captured the launch of the Altas V rocket on February 10th, 2020. The launch was set to 11:30 PM from Kars Park, Merritt Island, Florida. Merritt Island offered a gorgeous, unobstructed south view of LaunchPad 41, approximately 10 miles in the distance. This launch should get the ESA’s Solar Orbiter (SolO) started, with an objective to perform close-up, high-resolution studies of the Sun and its inner heliosphere.
Norman gave us an insight into this shot and his passion for rocket photography.
Photographing a night launch can be quite challenging to get the correct exposure. Verifying the trajectory and burn time of the rocket gives you some critical information for setting the exposure time based on the lens you are using. Other factors come into play, such as artificial lighting from your location and other sources such as the moon. On this particular night, there was a full moon adding a very bright light source scene. Something else to remember when shooting a long exposure is it is always better to slightly underexpose your exposure than to overexpose. A photograph slightly underexposed can easily have the dark details corrected, but with an overexposed photograph, the detail is not there, so there is nothing to recover.
I took this photo using a tripod with a Nikon D810 full-frame camera set in manual mode. I used a Tamron 15-30mm lens set at 15mm to capture the wide-angle of the rocket trail. Knowing the rockets would burn for 180 seconds (three minutes), I set my camera ISO to 64 and chose an aperture of f/16. I used an app on my smartphone to trigger the shutter and to end the exposure at 170 seconds. I probably should mention that I shoot 99% of all my photography set to RAW format.
Like all photography, you need a primary subject. With landscape or somewhat static subjects, it helps to have a leading object (leading lines) to take your focus to the main subject. A picture of the moon without a supporting subject is just a ball. An image of the same moon shot through some trees or an arch of rocks reveals a source of depth and tells more of a story about the surroundings and the mood.
I composed the palm tree and people in the foreground. I added this detail to make the photo interesting and give the viewer some sense of where this photo was taken.
Norman witnessed the last space shuttle launch, Atlantis. He developed a passionate desire to try and photograph future launches since then. Norman has had the opportunity to witness and photograph several launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Norman has a website and Facebook Page where more of his work can be seen.