Monday, September 28, 2009

Photographing the International Space Station

During the last full moon cycle I dragged a few friends to one of the lesser-known beaches in the Marin Headlands, called Kirby Cove. This black sand beach faces the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, and includes one of many Civil War-era cement bunkers that are found throughout the Headlands. Once it got dark we quickly realized that black sand may not be the most interesting subject for a night photograph. A few minutes later we had taken all of the postcard shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we were desperately waiting for the full moon to rise. With nothing else to shoot, I started to take a long exposure of star trails by shooting sequential thirty second exposures.

(ISS passing over the Golden Gate, Photo by Andy Frazer)

As soon as I opened the shutter a bright object appeared over the horizon. At first we thought it was yet another airplane approaching SFO or Oakland airports. But when we noticed it had none of the telltale signs of an aircraft (red and green wing lights, or any sort of flashing light), we realized it was a satellite. And it was bright; slightly brighter than Jupiter, which we could see to the southeast over San Francisco.

The only satellite that competes with Jupiter and Venus is the International Space Station. The next day I checked the satellite prediction/tracking website Heavens Above and confirmed that what we say was the ISS. If I had known it was going to be flying through the middle of my shot, I would have taken one long exposure, instead of a stack of shorter exposures (notice the breaks in the path of the satellite).

If you'd like to read about some of the best locations to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge, check out the Open Source Photo Guide for the GGB that I authored.


Blogger pilgrimchick said...

I really like this picture. It's incredibly thought-provoking.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

That's a VERY cool and beautiful photo, Andy!

9:34 PM  
Blogger Alistair Scott said...

Beautiful image! And what chance to catch the ISS as it passed over. Congratulations.

You could cheat and use Photoshop (or similar) to clone out the gaps in its path. Don't know whether you're into that.

9:59 AM  

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