Space Shuttle Enterprise Part 1/2

Space Shuttle Enterprise Flies Over New York City

17mm, f/10, ISO 200, 1/1600s

In a last minute decision, I drove down to Weehawken, NJ Friday morning to shoot the Space Shuttle flyover. Ultimately, the Shuttle Entertprise will end up at the Intrepid, which is right across the Hudson River from where I stood. In June, it’ll travel via barge to its new home. That might be a good photo opp, too. In face, it’ll be easier to shoot a slow moving boat with the city in the background, but who wants easy? I want birds in flight!

We knew two things going in: The flyover would be at 1500 feet, and that it would pass by twice: Once going up, and then once 15-20 minutes later coming back down. (Then it would take a spin around Northern New Jersey and once over Long Island before landing at JFK Airport.)

But just how high is 1500 feet? Just how far out over the river would the plane be? How fast would it speed by? How many shots could I squeeze off before it’s too late?

120mm, f/320, ISO 4.5, 1/8000s - Lots of helicopters flew over the city, which is undergoing a bunch of construction...

I didn’t know, and I spent most of my 45 minute drive there pondering those questions. Was there a chance to get the city in the background of a picture? I pretty much ruled that out once I got there; it’s just too close, and the plane would be flying too high overhead.

So I focused on getting a shot of the plane with the Shuttle on its back. It was a nice morning, weather-wise. A little windy, about 55 degrees. But there was a problem: The puffy white clouds left the sun playing peek-a-boo with anxious photographers. The variance in exposures based on the sun being out or not were great. I was guessing it was up to a full two stops, if not more. I took lots of test shots to try to guess the right setting, and then I made a compromise:

I shot like it was an HDR shoot. I put the camera into Exposure Bracketing mode, with shots a full stop to either side of the setting I chose. I would take pics in bursts of three. I picked my exposure to be as far to the right on the histogram as I could get without blowing out the highlights on the One Stop Over shot, but it was still just a guess.

No, I didn’t have a tripod. I knew doing an actual HDR shot would be impossible with a moving target anyway. I just wanted to cover my bases. I brought my monopod with me, but that was back-up. Without knowing where the flyover would be, I didn’t want to lose shots because I couldn’t angle up high enough. Besides, it was bright enough that I could shoot at 1/4000th of a second. My 70-300mm lens has image stabilization. And I could lean on the railing, if I played my cards right. I wasn’t so worried about camera shake. I just played it cool and hoped for the best.

300mm, f/5.6, ISO 320, 1/4000s - Getting closer...

Just before the flyover, a gentlemen came and set up his tripod next to me. It was a tall, professional, and heavy Manfrotto set-up. He had the Gimble head with it, though, so he’d have no problem tracking the plane in flight. I have a simple (cheap) ballhead. I wasn’t going to get much use out of my tripod.

I got to the park about a half hour before the scheduled arrival time for the flyover. The park was busy, but not overly crowded. People perched on the rail away from the small trees that blocked the views of the city. Weehawken police had a couple of officers standing about, just to make sure the crowd didn’t get restless. It didn’t . And as a special bonus, they blocked traffic at the end of the flyover so all the cars could get out of the parking lot without sitting through a dozen lights. Thanks, WPD!

300mm, f/5.6, ISO 320, 1/4000s - Too fast a shutter speed leads to frozen motion of the NYPD helicopter rotor blades

Coming up next: Here comes the plane!

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