Photographing the ISS Over West Lafayette

Watching the ISS Pass Over My House

While at my daughter’s dance class Monday night I read a tweet that the International Space Station (ISS) would make a very visible pass directly overhead at a reasonable hour. I went out with my wife and step daughter to see the show. As I was getting ready to set up my camera we saw something looking like the space station go directly over our house. It did not come from the direction that I thought the ISS would, but had I missed it? Did it come early? I decided that it had to be something else so I set up my camera and waited for the space station to fly overhead. As it started to come I went back into the house to get the family to watch it with me. I got a late start on the pass here, but it was worth it to witness it with everyone.

Setting Up Your Camera For An ISS Pass

I really have only shot the space station a couple of times. I have seen it fly over many times, but not with anything set up to capture it. Last week at the Purdue soccer match it flew right over the field. Had we been thinking we could have made a cool exposure of it flying over the stadium. Here I only had a couple of minutes before it started to show so I had to set up the camera quickly. I was setting the camera up like I was going to make star trails. I set my ISO fairly high and shot my Canon 8-15mm lens wide open. I was using my Canon 5D Mark IV so I was not afraid to shoot at ISO 5000. What that gave me was a 2 1/2 second exposure to work with. As the ISS flew over I locked my remote shutter so it would just keep firing. I captured the space station, but with too many breaks in the line for my taste.

Putting Your Images Together

When I am making a start trail image I use StarStaX to stitch my images together. I used the same program here to take the 50+ photos of the pass, and stitch them together. The program takes a minute or two to complete the job, and then you are left with one image with all of the ISS trail in it. The program has a gap filling option, but it really did not work here. I had to open the file in Photoshop and manually fix the gaps. That worked well straight above, but not so well as the ISS quickly was leaving my frame. I think that a longer exposure would help me not have to fix 50+ gaps next time.

What Did I Learn From My Second Attempt?

As I have said a couple of times now I learned that I need to make a longer exposure to avoid having so many gaps in the image. Getting to the scene a little earlier would have helped here. Another thing that I learned here was that this was really fun. I will have to find a way to get out and make these a little more often. My friend Trevor Mahlmann does a great job of capturing the space station, and has even inspired many others (including me) to give it a try. I don’t know if I will ever top his capture while on a plane though.

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