Thursday, October 30, 2014

Watching a Launch from North Beach

I went down to North Beach two nights this week hoping to get a photo or two of the launch of a resupply rocket for the International Space Station from Wallops Island off the coast of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. For those who don't live in the area, North Beach is a small resort community on the Western edge of the Chesapeake Bay. While it is maybe fifty miles or more from Wallops Island (as the crow flies), it is well within the visibility range for seeing the rocket go up. There is a nice long boardwalk in North Beach, so it makes for a good spot to watch.

I was amazed how many people had come down to watch. I thought the crowd the first night was surprisingly large, but the second night the crowd was even larger. The launch was scrubbed the first evening due to a sailboat being within the area where the first stage rocket could potentially land after separation.

I got to the boardwalk early and set up at the end of one of the smaller public docks off the boardwalk so I had some time on my hands. The wind was blowing probably 25-30 mph the first night so there was a little bit of wave action around the breakwaters and I played around with motion blur. Since it was so near dark, no filters were needed in order to leave the shutter open longer. The shutter was open for one second on this image.

It was still windy the second night, but not quite as bad as the first night. I had arrived early again and shot some more motion blur photos. Waterfalls are a pretty common subject for motion blur. Most of the waterfall photos I see tend to be overdone. At least to my taste. The shutter is left open for so long the water often appears as a creamy, featureless stream. I was really pleased with this image because the water has a lot of interest. It implies motion, but at the same time you can see a lot of detail in the wavelets. Because it was earlier in the evening, there was more light available and the shutter speed on this photo was one-half second.

There are so many variables with motion blur and water that it usually takes a lot of experimentation to get a combination of shutter speed and wave action that looks good. Shutter speed, the amount of available light, aperture, and more are involved, so it can be difficult to predict the result until you have taken a few images.

I looked up at one point, and saw a bird flying in from out on the Bay. For an instant, I thought it was a Great Blue Heron because I could see a lot of body out behind the wings similar to the characteristic straight legs of a Great Blue Heron in flight. I quickly realized it was an Bald Eagle, though. The fish made it look longer in the back end. I'm not sure what kind of fish it caught, but I don't think it was one of the more common species caught in the Bay. The anal fin, which is visible, is the kind usually seen on fish species that can swim very fast. The eagle was returning just before nightfall along with several fishing boats that were coming back to port.

As you probably know, we never did see the launch because the rocket exploded a few seconds after take off. It wasn't visible or audible from North Beach. It will probably be quite a while before folks have the opportunity to see another rocket launch. While there are no photos of the rocket launch, these photos will be like diary entries reminding me of that evening and the excitement of the crowd that came to see it.

No comments:

Post a Comment