iss flyby

As a photographer, like anything, there is always a possibility that nature will not play ball. I think this rates highly as one of those.

The International Space Station actually passes quite frequently and visibly, but this was supposedly a good show, where it would be both bright and high over the horizon.

So I decided to shoot it.

I’ve graced this image with its own post to give an insight into the planning, preparation and work that can go into a shot, and sometimes still not get what you want from it!

The ISS is big. It is about a little over 70 by 100 meters, orbiting the earth around 15 times a day at 17,200 mph.  A good sighting (at perigee and fully lit by the sun) has an apparent magnitude of -5.9 – brighter than Venus. Easy right?

It is visible on a pass for up to about 5-6 minutes. Of course this might be in the open, with no clouds, not streetlights and a clear horizon.  I decided to maximise the chance of getting a shot, that I would shoot a number of exposures during the pass. I figured that the tiny lag while the camera reset the shutter would be insignificant, and prayed that my write buffer would cope.

I set the 60D on a tripod in the yard, with a 10mm lens set at f/16. This exposure was set for maximum dept of field. Rather conveniently this gave me an exposure of 30s – the maximum my camera will automatically provide without using bulb mode. I used a cable release, and set the camera to hi-speed continuous shooting, locking the shutter with the cable.

I actually took 8 exposures, and managed to get all of these correct, no knocking the tripod or any other errors. I blended these in layers in Photoshop elements, keeping the brightest area. To my Tripod’s credit these provided a sharp composite image. In the end, I only used two – the station was behind the clouds for the rest, so I thought I wouldn’t introduce anymore layers than needed.

So here’s the image.

Worth the effort? Well, it could have gone better, through nothing I can control. But for the experience and practice, it was well worth the shot.

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