STILL CAMERA TIPS: Shooting a rocket launching...

Discussion in 'Photo/Video Tips' started by gdjsky01, May 29, 2012.

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  1. May 29, 2012 #1

    gdjsky01

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    Tips here in this thread...

    Things like
    • Take the picture portrait and place the rocket at the bottom of the frame... (BTW many camera can rotate the image in the camera... check out the "Playback Menu" section of the manual).
    • Use a viewfinder if possible
    • Make sure to pre-focus before the countdown starts. On many cameras this means holding the shutter button down halfway.
    • Make sure the camera is focusing on the rocket not the background or foreground.
    • The MANUAL is your friend. You'd be amazed at what your camera might be able to do if you read about it... boring I know... but look!

    More to come...
    Add away!
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  2. May 29, 2012 #2

    jadebox

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    More general tips and techniques:

    For most cameras, there is a noticeable lag between the time you fully press the shutter and the time the photo is taken. As the countdown nears zero, hold the shutter button half-way down to allow the camera to focus on the rocket then press it all the way at (or just before) zero. If your camera supports a "burst mode" or "continuous mode" enable it (it might be labelled "Sports Mode"). Then, press the shutter button all the way down just before the countdown reaches zero and hold it until the rocket is out of frame. If the camera takes enough "frames per second" you might catch a good photo of the lift-off.

    But ... the reality is that it's hard to get a good close-up lift-off shot with many cameras - especially small "point and shoot" cameras.

    If you aren't having much success taking close-up launch photos with your camera, try something different. Zoom out so that the photo covers a larger area. Then take the photo after the rocket launches - catching the rocket in flight. Putting some people in the photo may make it more interesting. For example:


    [​IMG]




    If the LCO/RSO allows it, take some photos from the far side of the launch pads so that people are in the background, like this:


    [​IMG]


    -- Roger
     
  3. May 29, 2012 #3

    gdjsky01

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    Look at other people's photos to get settings from the camera

    Go here

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffgortatowsky/6971411919/

    In the upper right hand corner it says

    This photo was taken on March 10, 2012 in San Bernardino County, California, US, using a Canon EOS 40D.


    Click on "Canon EOS 40D". You'll SEE the camera settings! This can help you try the same.

    So if you see a photo you think "Cool" on a photo sharing site, you can see the settings it was taken. All my photos on flikr should have them. I am not sure about rocketreviews.com


     
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  4. May 30, 2012 #4

    jadebox

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    (You said that so I'd have a chance to reply, right? Thanks! :))

    Photos in the RocketReviews.com Photo Albums do have the camera settings displayed below them if the image contains EXIF data.

    BTW ... I use a free program called Amok EXIF Sorter to automatically rename all the photos I've taken to names like "2012-02-04-13-16-17-0001.jpg" based on the time in the EXIF data. The filename is based on the year, month, day, hour, minute, and second of the time when the image was taken. I have AmoK add a sequence number at the end because some of my cameras can take more than one picture a second in "burst mode."

    When using AmoK, I load a directory of images. Then I sort the list in AmoK by the filename (this is important so that the sequence numbers end up in the right order). When renaming the files using AmoK, you can specify an offset for the times. This is handy for those times when your camera's time was set wrong. I use it often because I sometimes use multiple cameras and the times on my cameras aren't always in sync. Adding an offset to one cameras pictures gets them back in the right order with the other photos.

    -- Roger
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  5. May 30, 2012 #5

    Marc_G

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    Good stuff here. Subscribed. Thanks.
     
  6. May 30, 2012 #6

    WiK

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    This is definitely something worth experimenting with, if the layout of the launch site permits it. I think it generally works better with HPR rockets though, they're a bit bigger and so much easier to see when you're going for a wide-angle shot:

    [​IMG]


    More general stuff (which is aimed at dSLR users and probably fairly obvious...):

    Unless you're going for something artsy, you want the highest shutter speed you can get. I generally leave my camera in aperture priority mode - after shooting with a lens for a while you start to get a feel of where the aperture's "sweet spot" is in terms of letting in the maximum amount of light, while still giving you a wide enough depth of field and keeping the pictures sharp. So using aperture priority mode, I know I'm getting the best shutter speed I can. Then, as Jeff said in the other thread, I'll change the ISO to suit the amount light available on the day.

    Keep the autofocus in "one shot" mode. Just about any dSLR should have at least two AF modes, a "one shot" mode which focuses on the spot under your selected sensor when you half-press the shutter, and then locks at that focus distance for as long as you hold the shutter half- or fully-down. The other mode is a tracking mode, where as long as you hold the shutter half- or fully-down, it will constantly update the focus, so you can track moving objects and keep them in focus. That sounds ideal for rockets, but in my experience you have to keep the focus point dead on the rocket for the entire time you're taking photos. Which is difficult. The second the focus point slips off the rocket in flight, it sees nice clear blue sky (or cloud), and starts to "hunt" for a focus point. It's then even harder to find the rocket again and get back to taking photos...

    I'm sure there are more, but that's all I can think of for now...

    Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to share!

    Cheers,
    Phil
     
  7. May 30, 2012 #7

    JStitz

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    Jeff AMEN! to reading your manual. We are Rocket Scientists right? That makes us all instinctual photographers..:wink:
    I always thought I was using the macro setting right...Hmmm Turns out I also had a Super Macro setting that I never knew about!
    It only took a power outage to set me straight!
     
  8. May 30, 2012 #8

    jadebox

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    Phil ... that's a nice photograph! The odd angles formed by the landscape and the rocket add drama to the photo. Hills and mountains aren't something you'll see in my photos (except maybe Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, etc.).

    The main advantage to photographing low-power rockets is that you can get closer too them. That's good for close-ups of lift-offs and wide-angle shots with people in them. But, it makes it more difficult to track the rocket in flight. For photos of rockets in flight, I like to be a little farther away from the launch pad so that I don't have to move the camera as fast to follow the rocket.

    -- Roger
     
  9. May 30, 2012 #9

    WiK

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    Thanks! Having a scenic Scottish launch site by the sea helps a lot with that. :)
     
  10. Jun 5, 2012 #10

    Solomoriah

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    Not so hard with a DSLR. My wife routinely gets them with her Nikon D60. She shot this one with a tripod and remote release:
    [​IMG]
    It's easier with rockets that take off slowly.
     
  11. Jun 5, 2012 #11

    jadebox

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    Roger Smith TRF Sponsor

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    Nice shots!

    That was one of the tips I was planning to post - try using a tripod and remote shutter release. An advantage of doing that is that you can watch the launch directly, instead of squinting at it through a viewfinder. I often do that when my own rockets are being launched because I want to actually see the launch, not watch it through the camera.

    -- Roger
     
  12. Jun 17, 2012 #12

    gdjsky01

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    Normally I am under very bright conditions. A desert with Sun and light tan dirt/dust. First thing I do is switch to Tv mode. If you have a 'Mode Dial' you'll probably have a Shutter Priority mode. Or as Roger said, look for a Sports mode or something that says it tries to 'Stop Action' (check the manual :wink:). Next I put my camera into it's highest 'Drive Mode'. Mine does 6 frames per second. Thats really good. But casio has some that do 40 FPS. Thats even better! OTOH my Canon G11 does 1.2 a second. Still worth trying but I need to be better on the trigger and I have to move with the rocket or one frame the rocket will be there, the next its a smoke trail. :) BTW Drive goes back to the good ole days when film cameras had optional motorized drives for advancing the film. But the idea is the same, take pictures as long as I have the shutter pressed down.

    Now I check the ISO (again this could be a dial, a button, or a menu depending on your camera). In bright sunshine I want the best quality whilst still being able to set a really high shutter speed. Ideally I want my ISO low, my shutter high, and my f/ ratio high. But they all interact (again IF your camera is that adjustable - I can not tell you that - the manual can :rofl:). Also I know I am going to try and zoom in 'moderately' because I have to stand X feet away. That almost always means the lens is going to NOT be able to open as wide (there is a limit as you zoom - unless you have $$$$ glass). I also get as close as the safety rules and LCO/RSO will let me. But always within the rules. And I have already signed a liability waiver.

    So you'll see in my pictures, under sunny conditions, I am at 1/1200 or 1/1600, sometimes 1/2000th of a second shutter speed. And ISO 80 to 160. I let the f/ ratio float to whatever the camera wants. Normally that means the camera will try f/5.6 or f/7 in sunny conditions. That is going to blur the background and focus will be more critical. So often I manual focus to make sure the focus is on the rocket. The margin of error is smaller. Being able to manually focus is normal on a Digital SLR and many 'pro-sumer modes'. However on Pro-Sumer and compact point and shoot cameras that make MF possible it's sometimes through buttons and menus which can be awkward to time consuming. It may work, but get it done well before the countdown!! Check the manual. :lol::wink::rofl:

    Sometimes, if I don't want to futz with focus, I'll let "Otto" do the focusing. :wink: However then I'll turn up the ISO to 200 or even 400 (tho I don't recommend 400). Doing so amplifies the output of the sensors pixels. This allows the lens to close down to a smaller opening; something like f/8 or even f/11. That means my distance of focus (depth of field) is now not so critical. Even most point and shoots let you bump the ISO up. But remember, bumping it too far can lead to noisy grainy photos. The smaller your camera the more noisy it will be. I rarely keep it in auto ISO. Keep in mind, unless you have bought expensive glass, your sharpest pictures are probably when the f/ ratio is f/8 or higher (smaller opening).

    As you can see, taking photos is a whole nother cool aspect to the hobby. There are many variables. Best thing to do is go to a launch and practice on every rocket. Don't wait for yours to practice, then its too late!

    I am actually a rank amateur compared to people with 'good glass' and better technique. Good glass really struts its stuff in the crispness of the image. And they generally have excellent sharpness at all f/ ratios.

    BTW: "Pro-sumer" cameras like so-called "super-zooms" can do almost all of the above. I remember one of my super zooms had manual focus by twisting a ring on the lens which actually cause the focus motor to operate! :)

    One more thing... the manual is your friend...:lol::rofl::wink: most of them are online.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
  13. Jun 18, 2012 #13

    Patriot

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    These are all good tips but I find it much easier to take a video and then grab frame by frame with MS MovieMaker and save each as a jpeg file. I'll post pics of my next launch shortly. The only drawback is the quality of my camera, Nikon Coolpix 8 Meg, which only has a speed of about 1 frame every .06 seconds. Even though, I am able to get about 10 frames from the time I light up the bird until it exits the field of view, at about 30 feet away from the launch tower.
     
  14. Jun 18, 2012 #14

    jadebox

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    Oh ... I just recalled something I had meant to mention earlier.

    An advantage to a DSLR with a nice zoom lens is that you can both focus and change the zoom at the same time by turning the end of the lens to focus and changing it's length to zoom in or out. You can quickly zoom in to manually get the focus just right then zoom out to frame the photo as you want to capture it. With a little practise you can do it really quickly and smoothly almost without realizing that you're doing it. Better lenses keep the same focus as you zoom in and out. The zoom lens I have suffers from a little "focus shift," but I've gotten to where I automatically compensate for it as I manually zoom in and out.

    -- Roger
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
  15. Jun 18, 2012 #15

    gdjsky01

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    While I must admit I have little experience, what video captures I have seen are highly compressed. But now with the advent of HD video, maybe things are better. Also the lenses of video camera's tend to have many more abberations, especially chromatic.And they tend to be jittery... Again, I have very limited experience with video. So take my opinion for what its worth.

    One thing I will say about video. (Pls understand this is MY opinion.) About 98% of it is totally boring. Too far away, too jerky, too little detail, too out of focus (and often the rocket is out of frame).

    But that has little to do with taking video SPECIFICALLY for extracting frames. That sounds more plausible. :)
     
  16. Jun 18, 2012 #16

    gdjsky01

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    To be clear, please do post your results!
    - Jeff
     
  17. Jun 24, 2012 #17

    gdjsky01

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    So lets look at this photo to see some things we have talked about

    The photo is cropped and straightened. The original had a smaller rocket and the dam was tilted. The camera was in Shutter Priority mode (Canon marks this Tv). Speed is 1/1600 of second, ISO 160 for less noise, high speed drive mode (6 per second) and a camera chosen F/5.4 aperture. My combination of fast shutter speed, being zoomed in 2x, and low sensor sensitivity (ISO) meant the lens needed to be wide open or nearly so to get enough light. As I have written, the lower the f ratio (aperture opening) the smaller the distance that is in focus. The smaller the 'depth of field' is. This image clearly shows everything other than the rocket, is out of focus. I was manually focusing all day. This image could have been a little sharper. That could be a result of me following the rocket (hence moving the camera), or little teeny bit out of focus, or the cheap Sigma lens not being that sharp. But all in all a decent photo most would be happy with. BTW: I probably would play with lightly sharpening this in Photoshop or Lightroom if I wanted to.

    Edit: And it has been scaled down by flickr
    Edit: Also as I have said, most 'affordable' lenses are sharper when NOT wide open (high f ratios like f/8 or f/11 and up)

    [​IMG]
    2012-06-23-SCRA-0017-2.jpg by InDanaPt, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2012
  18. Jun 24, 2012 #18

    cwbullet

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    Correct me if I am wrong - a very low F stop can take action shots better. A friend told me to buy a lens with an F2.8 or so.
     
  19. Jun 24, 2012 #19

    gdjsky01

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    Short answer, Yes.

    Quite so. If I had a nice Canon "L" lens with a continuous zoom from near to far and stayed at F/2.8 (like so), then I could use even faster shutter speeds. But those cost $$$$. My cheap lens, the moment you move off of 28mm focal length, it stops down to f/4. And when you zoom even further, it stops down to f/5.4. Its a limitation of my lens (and budget:lol:).

    However getting an f/2.8 lens won't change the depth of field being very shallow (the 'in-focus' distance). And unless you are spending $$$ f/2.8 will show still 'aberrations' that you might not see at f/8 or f/11. Especially around the edges. It's harder to make light bend sharply and all come to a focus together. Sharp bends are what happens as you 'open up' the lens. It requires much more care in manufacturing and often involves much more expensive glass. It's why APO (apochromatic - color free) lenses cost more.

    Its all a matter of quality / money (and physics)

    Those big lenses you see the pros using at sporting events are not cheap. But then its their business.

    Hope that makes sense.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2012
  20. Jun 24, 2012 #20

    cwbullet

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    I hear you. Man that lens is expensive.
     
  21. Jun 25, 2012 #21

    gdjsky01

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    PS: Is any of this helpful?
    Some feedback is appreciated... not for accolades but is it worth continuing? :confused:
     
  22. Jun 25, 2012 #22

    cwbullet

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    Continue on. This is very helpful.
     
  23. Jun 25, 2012 #23

    Marc_G

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    Please continue. This is gold.
     
  24. Jun 26, 2012 #24

    bradycros

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    Good stuff! Keep it coming!
     
  25. Jun 26, 2012 #25

    RGInCanada

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    I've been reasonably pleased with the HD video from my Canon T3i. I generally tripod mount it to remove the jitter. Stills from it, especially if the light is good are passable. You don't get the same "stopped" motion of a fast shutter speed, but you can capture 60 fps of 1080p video. Using the DSLR also gets you passable glass.

    Oww!! When shooting video (any video), I think it helps to use several cameras, and splice several scenes of 4-5 seconds each together, mixing closeups, panoramics, tracking shots and onboard video (if you have it). Sound editing helps too. I never get tired of watching closeup slo-mo's of ignition either :)
    I do agree that a single good still is way better than 4 minutes of single viewpoint, unedited handheld video culminating in a nausea-inducing attempt to track the rocket while standing next to the launch pad...

    BTW, the information is very useful. Thank you!
     
  26. Jun 28, 2012 #26

    BABAR

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    yes, good stuff. Thanx!
     
  27. Mar 27, 2013 #27

    JeromeK99

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    I would call myself an amateur photographer. I've been behind a digital SLR for about ten years now. I've had many friends over the years that are photographers, even some that been professional photographers (meaning they did it for a living).

    There are things most photographers will share.. and some they won't easily give up. One of the biggest secrets an action photog won't tell you is that they take an incredible amount of photos to get that "one shot" that has the perfect exposure to get the desired effect and that is in focus with a good composition. So when I'm shooting a sporting event or action like rockets launching, I might take a dozen or so and only really like 1 or two shots. Also most photographer don't share every photo they take. Drives me nuts when I am on Flickr or the like and someone shares 2 dozen photos of something moving... pick one that has good composition, focus and captures either a frozen moment or blurred motion of the subjects movement. Your camera isn't a machine gun! If you want to show every moment of a rocket's flight, I'd suggest taking a motion video. The artistic part that separates someone that takes pictures with a camera and a photographer is the ability to express a story in one still shot. When you see a shot from the picture taker, you think.. "Oh.. that's a rocket".. The photographers shot makes you think, "Wow, that rocket is blasting off the launch pad with smoke and fire" and you can almost hear and smell it!

    Action shots and sports are difficult to say the least. You must be familiar with what is going on and anticipate what is going to happen. Take lots of shots! Digital makes the shots free! Not like the old days with film and developing. There is an element of luck involved to get that perfect shot. The more practice you have with your camera the better the odds will be.

    A lot of folks say you have to have fast and expensive glass or equipment to get good shots. Well.. it helps, but only if you know what you are doing. Most newer point and shoot digital cameras in the $200-$300 range have enough features to get the good shots.

    I love being able to do two of my favorite hobbies at once! It is hard at times.. I have gone to many launches to just take photos! :)


    Jerome
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2013
  28. Mar 27, 2013 #28

    jadebox

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    Good points Jerome. I'll often take more than 1000 photos during a singe-day rocket launch, but I share only about 50 or 60 of them. I'll often spend more than an hour just selecting the ones to share.

    -- Roger
     
  29. Mar 27, 2013 #29

    Marc_G

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    Something I struggle with is: I take a few hundred shots in the launch day. Say 500 for example. 200 of them are useless with nothing in frame or whatever so I delete them no worries.

    But of the remaining 300, of which maybe 30 are true glory shots, there are still ~270 that are "OK, but not great.". I can't seem to summon the will to delete those 270. How do you guys approach curating for space conservation? I'm a data hoarder, plain and simple. How to get past it?
     
  30. Mar 27, 2013 #30

    JeromeK99

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    Data storage is cheap these days... I save everything. When I download my camera to my computer, I save it by date in a new folder. Then any photos I find worthy of sharing I will edit and/or save to a "workspace" sub-folder. This way I can easily find those i want to share or print. I also backup everything to data dvds. I got lazy years ago and lost 8 months of photos when my hard drive crashed. Hard lesson learned!

    Jerome
     

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