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Finally! A Rocket Launch

I've photographed rocket launches before but always from hundreds of miles away. Watching it drift across the sky from a distance is neat and I've captured some interesting images but there is something about being there. To see the launch light up the sky, the flames from the engines and that sound, the crackling roar that rolls in a few seconds after lift off.

I've tried for almost a year, I mean really, really tried. Planned, made reservations, packed the truck, heck I've even driven 8 hours from home only to find out the launch was scrubbed an hour before liftoff. It's been maddening. Finally, finally, finally! Everything fell into place and there we were standing on the shore of the Indian River listen to the countdown.


The most difficult part of prelaunch is understanding that there is a delay between the YouTube feed and the actual countdown. You can expect liftoff at any point after 30 seconds to go. I triggered my wide angle camera as the SpaceX Falcon 9 lit up the horizon beyond NASA Causeway bridge. Next I switched to my zoom camera and started capturing images of the fiery engine exhaust as it climbed through the clouds.


Lessons learned, cloudy launches are best shot wide with time-lapse and long exposure single shots. The image above was a 173 second capture that lasted from liftoff until just after MECO or main engine cutoff. The shots I got at 600mm weren't as good as I had hoped mostly because of the clouds. From now on unless it a clear night I'll keep the long lens in it bag and just shoot wide.

It really is a lot of planning and work for a surprisingly short event. 5 minutes after liftoff it's done. All that's left is to pack the gear up and head in to see if the cameras got anything good. In this case I'm pleased with my single shot. It's kind of a nerve-racking thing, setting up an image that you are basically just guessing on exposure and knowing that you only have one try. If you get it wrong, oh well, better luck next time.


We spent the rest of the weekend exploring Playalinda Beach, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and of course the Kennedy Space Center. I did find a little better spot not far from where I was this time to shoot the next one. I'll just have to make sure I have a spotter since it's close to the water and there are Beware of the Gators signs all around. I'm committed to getting the shots but not enough to fight a prehistoric danger lizard for it.


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