Space Shuttle Enterprise fly-by post-mortem

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Many of you have asked for some behind the scenes insight into our coverage of the arrival of Space Shuttle Enterprise in New York City last week, so I thought I would repost a short article from my blog here. Despite the rapid nature of our work, pulling off an assignment like this takes forethought and teamwork.

Feel free to follow up with more questions in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer them.

On Friday, April 27, David Pierce and I photographed the Space Shuttle Enterprise for The Verge as it flew by New York City on the back of NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified 747 used to transport the Shuttles.

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David shot with a D4 on loan from Nikon, and I brought my Canon 5D Mark II. We rented a 400mm f/4 lens for the D4, and I covered the wider shots with my 70-200 f/4L.

David and I claimed our spot very early that morning. We positioned ourselves right on the river, downtown in Hudson River park, about even with Chambers Street. I chose our location because we didn't want to fight the crowds at the Intrepid Museum, and Battery Park to the south was almost surely going to be more crowded. This gave us a great view of the aircraft as it approached from the south. We were fortunate to see two good passes before the SCA headed across town to JFK airport. Also, shooting on the west side of the city meant that the sun would light the aircraft from behind us.

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It turns out we were right. Our spot wasn't crowded; a few photographers and regular nice folks turned out to wish the Shuttle well on its last journey. The nice thing about bringing an absolutely monstrous lens to an event like this is that people generally assume you're there to work (which of course we were) and they stay out of your way. That said, we had some great conversations with some really nice people. NASA always brings out the best in people.

Our strategy was simple: get there early (the shuttle was scheduled to fly by anytime between 9:30 and 11:30), watch the light, meter for the well-lit, puffy white clouds at f/8, and go. We kept our shutter speed at 1/1000 or faster to ensure sharp photos of the aircraft as we tracked it laterally. I think in the end we had less than 3 minutes with the shuttle in front of us to make pictures.

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And we made a lot of pictures. The Nikon D4 can shoot 11 frames per second, and the 5D2 can push out a respectable 3.9 (let's just call it 4, okay?).

We obviously couldn't publish all of our keepers on The Verge, so David uploaded a ton of photos to Google Plus. I wanted to pick out a few of my favorites from my CF card and publish them here. If I could do this again with a bit more lead time, the only thing I would change is our location. I would have loved to have gone to the Jersey side of the Hudson to photograph the shuttle with New York City in the background. That would have presented a new set of challenges with the sun, but I think it would've been worth the trouble.

That said, this was an amazing morning, and we hope you enjoy the pictures.

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