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Before I retired a while back I had conversations with some that had retired before me and without fail they indicated that they were so busy that they just didn’t have time to do the things they really want to do. I found that statement hard to believe.

Now that I have been retired for 7+ years – I really understand what they meant. I have not posted on this blog for so long – it’s embarrassing.  For those that had been faithfully following my blog – I sincerely apologize.

Please don’t think that I no longer shoot photos. In fact, I have done several workshops and a few personal sessions that I have managed to squeeze into my limited time.

I will start with this post on helping some new technical reps cover the Orion Launch. I’ll then try to catch up on some of the other things I have been doing. I also consulted with Sony on their efforts to get into the pro market for the past 5 years. That has been very exciting and I can now talk about it. Hopefully I can catch this up on a regular basis.

In keeping with my stated goal for this blog – I will try to make it educational as well as informative.

Orion Launch December 5, 2014

It’s always good to get a chance to pass on to new people what us old tech reps have learned over the years. That was the case with this first launch of the Orion spacecraft.  I covered the launch with Ron Taniwaki and a few new people that had never had the opportunity to wire remotes at a launch. Ron took over as launch boss after Mike Phillips and I moved on to other activities. There are very few people that knew more about launches than Ron at that time.  Brien Aho, would join Ron and I and a few others at the Kennedy Space Center.

After sitting with Brien, to get an idea of what he already knew, it was down to work. We were going to have to cover everything from making proper cords for the cameras to modifying enclosures to house some of the electronic systems necessary to remotely fire the cameras.


From reviewing images, the remote triggers worked as planned. The trigger on set up 1 fired right after the igniters fired. The remote trigger was set to its most sensitive setting (adjusted the pot to #1 from where it was set for the Shuttle). The rocket burned for 4 sec before it moved.

The trigger on setup 2 didn’t fire until after the main engines fired even though it was set to the same sensitivity.  This is most likely due to slight differences in the build of the triggers. The rocket was already 1/3rd of the way up the tower before the remote fired.

In looking at the images it would appear that it takes about 6 sec. for the Delta IV Heavy to clear the launch tower once it starts to move.


We used the formula of “Sunny 16” minus about 1-2/3rd  stops. This is the exposure that I have used in the past for shuttle launches to keep the flame from being overexposed.  This launch was scheduled for a few minutes after sunrise. Unfortunately the morning of the launch was overcast and cloudy resulting in gross underexposure. This, in turn, resulted in serious noise when the images were enhanced to usable levels. If the sun had been full our exposure would still have been a little under but within a range that would result in satisfactory images.

Base exposure to be set was 400 ISO 1/4000th@f/8

In looking at the metadata – Brien’s camera for the 85mm shot was set for 125 ISO instead of 400 ISO @f/8 but he also had set the shutter speed to 1/3200th instead of 1/4000th which offset a little of the underexposure. Additionally he had -1/3rd compensation set on that camera.

His wide angle was also set at 125 ISO with 1/4000@ f/8 but had -1/3rd compensation set on the camera. This resulted in his shots being even more underexposed that than the others.

For the future setups, I would recommend about 1 stop under “Sunny 16” instead of minus 1-2/3rd think this would give a workable image without the “noise” issue.

500 ISO     1/4000@ f/8 for a sunny daytime launch – this should maintain detail in the flame and give overall good exposure. If the launch is at sunrise or sunset

For a night launch – I would open up one more stop

500 ISO     1/2000@ f/8

Lens Selection:

We had remotes out using 24, 28, 50, & 85mm lenses. This was the first time shooting at Launch Pad 37A. The wider lenses gave a nice overall view with water in the foreground. The 50 & 85 resulting is tighter but still more than acceptable. The remote locations were to the left of closest remote locations. The closer locations did not have water but offered tighter framing and a clear view of the rocket as below.

Photo©2014-Ron Taniwaki
85mm remote ©2014-Brien Aho
85mm remote ©2014-Brien Aho
















50mm setup © 2014 (Photo by Bill Pekala)
50mm result © 2014 (Photo by Bill Pekala)















28mm setup © 2014 (Photo by Bill Pekala)
289mm result © 2014 (Photo by Bill Pekala)








50mm ©2014 Bill Pekala


Framing rate: After some testing it was decided that 3 FPS would be the best compromise between sequence images and buffer problems – especially shooting RAW images with the Nikon D810. We had a mix of cards of varying speeds. The XQD-S cards were more than up to the challenge and recorded long after the rocket had left the frame.

The cards used in the D810 were a variety of speeds and the resulting number of frames varied. I would suggest that for any future launch, the fastest available cards should be obtained and used.

Shooting the first of any launch brings new challenges; I hope this information will be of use to anyone that has an opportunity to shoot a launch. If you have the chance – don’t miss it.

It’s a lot easier today than in the early days at the Cape. See my 4 part series on covering launches over the years from Apollo through the Space Shuttle here on my blog.

Maybe we will run into each other at the Cape!


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