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Night Shuttle

Florida-based photographer Jon. M. Fletcher took advantage of a recent shuttle launch to make a unique family portrait. Obviously, you only get one shot in a situation like this. But Jon had a few tricks up his sleeve to make his odds a little better.

Jon's walk-thru, inside.

Sez Jon:
It was really a spur of the moment shoot. 

My wife (at right in photo) was online and noticed the shuttle was launching in about an hour. I stepped outside to see how the weather looked and saw a wonderfully clear sky. My daughter and I started looking for places to shoot in my neighborhood and thought of the pond because of the wide expanse of water (no trees to block the view and the possibility of a reflection). 

After slogging through some mud in the dark to get to a concrete bank overlooking the pond, I set up my 5d Mark II on a tripod and put two SB-800s on PocketWizards on camera right and left. When we saw the glow of the shuttle below the tree line, I took three 30 second exposures at f/8, ISO 800 (without the strobes firing) in immediate succession as the flame trail rose above the horizon. Then I put the camera on timer, turned the Pocket Wizard transmitter on, and ran to be with my family to expose an image of us and watch the last little blip of the shuttle disappear behind a bank of pines to the northeast.

I processed all the files in Lightroom and plopped them on top of eachother using a screen blending mode in PhotoShop. That's the workaround I use to do multiple exposures since most DSLRs (including the 5D) won't do them in-camera.

Family portraits are always the hardest for me, so I was overjoyed to get both the shuttle and my 'ohana in the same frame. As far as the shuttle coming up in exactly the right place, that was a gift. I knew it would come up somewhere in that vicinity, but when I saw it lining up the way it did, I had to stop and give thanks.


Fletcher is a staff photographer for the Florida Times-Union. Like photographer Peter Yang, who cut his teeth shooting for the Austin American-Statesman, Fletcher is constantly working to expand the boundaries of newspaper photography.

Any staff PJ feeling constricted and beaten down by The Man need only look to Fletcher's portfolio for inspiration.


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