Photographing Earth From the ISS is Not as Easy As You Might Think

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet has shared numerous beautiful photos of Earth taken from the International Space Station, but contrary to popular belief, making these photos isn’t as simple as just hanging out in the space station’s cupola.

Pesquet shared the image above along with a few words (in both French and English) about what goes into making the images he shares on his Flickr and Twitter regularly.

“Good planning for a picture is half the job, and for us it starts with our navigation software,” Pesquet writes. “It allows us to catalogue our targets (although I prepared many in advance before I left Earth).”

Pesquet says that the software he and the other astronauts have access to shows them where it is day and night on Earth and also provides them with cloud cover predictions. But most importantly, he says, it shows future orbits. As useful as this is, it’s not enough information for Pesquet to assure quality images.

“Many people think that we can take a picture of a specific place on Earth on command, but it is much harder than that. First of all our orbits mean we only fly over specific areas periodically. Secondly even if we do fly over an area of interest it might be during night-time so there will be nothing to see unless it is a city with bright streetlights. The lighting in the morning or evening is generally not good enough either (this is why some of the pictures have more pastel colors). Then there are clouds that can get in the way,” he explains.

“Lastly, and not the least, often we pass over areas… when we are working. We cannot drop everything we are doing at 14:35 for example just because we really want to take a picture of a city or a mountain or other marvel of Earth.”

One last thiing worth noting is even if the astronauts are aware of where they are currently orbiting and what should be below them, they still have to spot it from 250 miles above.

“Even if the stars align and we have the time, the orbits and the weather is in our favor… we still need to spot the target from 400 km above and setup the camera settings correctly!” Pesquet says.

For those curious, Pesquet uses a Nikon D5 for his photography, as shown in the EXIF data of the photos shared on Flickr, and a 70-200mm lens. Make sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Flickr for more photos captured from the orbiting space station.

Image credits: Header photo ESA/NASA