STILL CAMERA TIPS: Shooting a rocket launching...

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Roger Smith
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Jan 18, 2009
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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.
That's similar to what I do. And, I often use Adobe's Lightroom to quickly import, review, and touch-up a large collection of photographs. It's a great time saver.

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!
I store my photos and other important stuff using a Synology NAS. It has four drives in RAID configuration so that if a drive fails, I can replace it without losing any data. It's a very well-designed product - easy to set up and use. Periodically, I also copy really important things, like photos, to an external USB drive which I store "off-site" (outside our house) as an extra backup.

-- Roger


Whoosh, pop: life is good
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Jan 20, 2011
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I never push the launch button. Always the shutter button. I always whittle it down to about 30 to 40 shots of the 300 - 350 I take. You accumulate a lot of images at 9 fps. I work in Lightroom. I do not save my mistakes. There is nothing I will do with them and I generally always know what I did wrong.

90% of all post processing is done in lightroom with maybe 10% in photoshop. Maybe. Almost all my images are post processed to varying degrees. Crop and straightening the horizon being the most common.


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Jun 18, 2010
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I never push the launch button. Always the shutter button.
I avoid this by removing the person from the equation. Besides I like to watch the rocket launch and not from behind a camera. I automate the shooting process by triggering the camera upon rocket motion. Set up the camera in advance, use a remote as discussed in previous suggestion but instead of a person pushing the button, use a timer that is triggered from liftoff. The cover shot from this months Sport Rocketry magazine was shot this way.



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Jul 19, 2021
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Oak Ridge TN
I've been using $20 1080p cameras from Amazon; they will take 60 frames/sec for a while with a 32GB microsd card. Batteries become the tradeoff in rocket use as an onboard camera, but you get to decide how long you want to film, lol.
I couldn't find a pressure sensor cheap enough for me, so I film a pressure gauge during testing, among other measurements. :)


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Jan 27, 2010
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Lots of good points. A couple not mentioned:

- Get further away and use a long telephoto. The angular rate of change will be lower, and it is easier to track the rocket. That said, those types of telephotos are very expensive.

- Use a foot switch as a camera remote. This frees up hands. Better yet, as Doug mentioned, use lift-off detection to trigger the camera.

- I've taken lots of rocket pix with DSLR, but some of my best photos of late are actually taken with a gopro near the rocket base. The wide angle and upward view make for impressive shots. Unlike Grog6, I have not had good luck with cheap gopro knock offs.

Also, consider used gear. There are lots of great cameras and lenses on the used market right now.


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Jun 26, 2015
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A couple things I haven't seen in the posts above yet (or that I missed)...

Know where the sun is. You can't save a nice rocket picture that is essentially a silhouette, I don't care how much dynamic range your camera has.

Turn image stabilization off if you're on a tripod, or select the proper IS mode for tripods, depending on the lens.

Select the smaller focal distance setting if your lens has one, instead of the full range.

Take several shots before the launch to verify settings. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to take a picture only to realize the 2 second delay timer is still on from taking astrophotography shots the night before. Or so I've heard.

Have a spare battery and memory card in your pocket, not in the car, and not in the camera bag you left on the other side of the flight line before you walked to where the sun was at a good angle.

Never close the door on an empty hole, be it a memory card slot, or a battery compartment. NEVER. If that means letting the camera sit on your desk overnight with the door open, do it. You won't forget to take the battery off the charger in the morning, or the memory card out of the computer.

Don't get so focused on the rocket that you forget to consider the background. If you move 10 feet to the left, can you have a nice green background of distant trees that will make a nice bokeh instead of a car, port-o-jon, or pop-up tent at a much closer distance that will just appear as a blurry, out-of-focus distraction?

Once you have your shooting spot, turn the launch pad if able to get the rocket's pretty side, decal, name, etc., instead of just the dirty 1010 rail that your camera insists on focusing on instead of the rocket behind it that the rail is basically cutting in two.

Arrive early to give your lens and camera time to equalize to the temperature. Especially in the winter, but also in the summer. If you keep the AC in your house cold, the inside of the camera bag will be at that temp. Take the camera/lens out of the bag and set it on the seat while you're driving, and don't blast the AC directly on it. In winter, keep a couple zip-lock bags in your camera bag. When coming in from the cold outside, put the camera/lens in the ziplock while you're still outside, and seal with as little air inside as possible, then put in the camera bag. That will slow the temp stabilization from zero degrees up to 68 or whatever your house/car is at. It will also keep your camera/lens in the drier air as it warms, instead of the moister air in most warm locations. Most camera gear now has decent weather sealing but it's not a bad idea, especially if you're one of the guys who launches on a frozen lake in Alaska type of winter. North Carolina in November doesn't count. :) Add a desiccant pouch if you have one.

When you're launching with your kids, know when to leave the camera at home, and just be with the kids. Snap a few iPhone pictures and be happy.


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Jan 19, 2009
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Use a long lens and a modest f-stop -- want infinity within hyperfocal distance if possible.
Get shutter speed up over 1/1000 sec.
Turn OFF VR.
Stay OFF tripods and monopods -- impossible to track with them.

Take a shot while on the pad to set focus and exposure.
PRESS AND HOLD AE/AF LOCK for all shots during boost - pad focus and exposure should be correct.

note -- holding exposure only works for daylight flights .... but you knew that ;-)

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