Shuttle Launch Photography

or, what camera settings should I use?

Copyright 1999-2006 Stan Jirman
Written 1999. Revised and updated 3/2006 for digital.

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STS-93 Shuttle Launch 1999
STS-99 Shuttle Launch 2000
STS-101 Shuttle Launch 2000

World Travelogues


Last modified: June 03, 2007

Taking pictures of a shuttle launch is no science, it's an art :-)  Problem is to get the exposure right. At all of my eight shuttle launches I had photo equipment with me - somewhere between one and five cameras. I have taken pictures from the shore, from the "normal" Causeway site, the VIP and the press site, both during the day and at night. By now I can give you almost guaranteed values for proper exposure, as well as some common "don'ts".

General advice:

There are generally two kinds of pictures you can take: during the day, you can shoot the shuttle lifting off the pad. At night, you can also shoot the shuttle light trail (time lapse image). The values mentioned below are good for any viewing site - if you want we can get into a discussion about the physics behind this.

All images shown without cropping, as they were recorded on 35mm film.

Traces.jpg (82635 bytes)

from shore
(Canon T90, Canon FD 20-35L, 
Kodak Royal Gold 400)

img0036.jpg (37498 bytes)

STS-93 from VIP site
600mm, 1/125s, f11
(Canon EOS-1N, Canon EF 300L-IS/4, EF2xTC, 
Agfa Optima 400)

Streak.jpg (195227 bytes)

20mm / 8.5 minutes
from VIP site
(Canon T90, Canon FD 20-35L
Agfa Ultra 50)

STS-65.jpg (31939 bytes)

from Causeway
(Canon T90, Sigma 600/8 mirror, 
Agfa Optima 400)


img0062.jpg (39718 bytes)

STS-99 from VIP site
800mm, 1/250s, f11
(Canon EOS-1N, Canon EF100-400L-IS/5.6, EF2xTC, 
Agfa Optima 100)

STS-88-Streak.jpg (36090 bytes)

About 6 minutes, 24mm from Causeway
(Canon Elan IIe, Canon EF24/1.4L, 
Agfa Ultra 50)
horribly over-exposed
very bad flatbed scan

img0010.jpg (52369 bytes)

STS-101 from Press site
Canon A1, Canon FD 28/2.8
Kodak Gold 100

General Rules

Shuttle Liftoff - day launch

Shuttle Liftoff - night launch

Shuttle Time Lapse - night launch

ISO 50 8 min / f32 / perfectly clear sky and no moon 8 min / f64 / overcast
ISO 50 5 min / f22 / perfectly clear sky and no moon 3 min / f22 / overcast

Good luck, and let me know how your pictures turn out or if you have any further questions!

STS-93 Launch Viewing

STS-99 Launch Viewing

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