Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch Shot with a 50mm Prime Lens

Who says you need a heavy and expensive lens to capture a beautiful shuttle launch photograph from far away? After the Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off yesterday on its final mission, one of the photographs that went viral was shot from an airplane using an iPhone. Another was this stunning photo made by Trey Ratcliff using a Nikon 50mm prime lens while thousands of photographers around him were holding massive lenses.

Even though I had my Nikon D3X set up on a tripod with my 28-300 lens, I actually shot this picture with my 50mm prime lens on my Nikon D3S! Everything did go according to plan, and I had run through the routine a few times before the launch. The plan was to fire away on my main body during the first 15 seconds or so. At that point, the D3X starts to have bufferring problems, so I switched to my Chewbacca-bandolier D3S. I pulled it up into a vertical orientation and rapid-fired just as the shuttle tore into the clouds. [#]

You can read more about the shot over on his website here.

Image credit: Photograph by Trey Ratcliff and used with permission

  • Joseph Holmes

     His EXIF data says 1/8000 sec at f/1.4…? How strange.

  • Trey Ratcliff

     Yes – that is right.  It was quite over-exposed but I pulled back the exposure easily in LR since it was a single RAW.   I actually feel quite embarrassed that it was over-exposed out of the camera… I should know better.   

    Before it went up, I ran through the routine 5 times… ripping through the D3X and timing how long until it buffered (about 15 secs), and then following the final bit with the D3S, like a sports photographer.   I didn’t know how long it would take to hit the low clouds, but I figured it would be more than 15 seconds.   Everyone in the press area thought I was crazy going through these mock launches.

  • Alessio Michelini

    50mm is always the best

  • Jostein Roalkvam

    What happened to the skies?

  • Jacob

     I usually love your work Trey, but don’t you think that the skies look just a little bit too funky in this one?

  • Pat O’Brien

    This is from the press area, where Trey was lucky enough to be able to capture it with a 50mm. Don’t get me wrong, I love this shot and am totally jealous of the closeness to the launch pad! I saw Atlantis launch from the NASA Causeway in 2009, and needed a much longer lens than 50mm to be able to get it to fit the frame (I had a 500mm with me). Here’s my shot