We have liftoff!
After scrubbing the launch the previous night due to weather, everything was looking good in the lead up to the scheduled launch of Space X CRS-4 at 1:52 am Eastern time. Compared to last night when it had been raining as we stepped out onto the roof of the VAB now it was clear and cool...we could even see some stars! At over 500 ft tall the VAB offered an amazing view and I hope I can return during the day at some point.
With only 15 minutes until launch all of us photographers set up quickly, with all the lenses pointing toward the lit up launch pad 5.2 miles away. The last 10 seconds of the count down flew by and as soon as I heard ignition I started taking images. I watched the Falcon 9 clear the tower through the camera lens...it offered a great view and the flickering flames of the exhaust were mesmerizing. Several seconds after launch the sound hit, so loud the roof of the VAB shook and I could feel it in my soul. The crackling and power was just awesome, so at this point I put the camera away and just enjoyed the rest of the experience.
Typically I use a lot of wide angle images for my nature photography, but I knew I wanted a really long lens for this launch... I wanted the Falcon 9 to be so close it felt like you could reach out and touch it. So I returned once again to Lens Rentals to find the gear to get the job done. After browsing through all of the possibilities I ended up settling on the 500 f/4 and a 1.4x teleconverter. I chose the 500 f/4 because it was long enough to get a good start (while also not overloading my tripod) before adding any augmentation and fast enough that even when the teleconverter increased the minimum aperture one stop. It would still be able to shoot with a high shutter speed and wider aperture for a night launch. Major thanks go out to Lens Rentals for this one, after I placed my order they called me up and helped me ship it directly to Florida instead of LA. This saved me over $100 in rental costs and a ton of space in my camera bag - especially useful since there is no way in heck I would check a lens like this when flying.
Now that I had the equipment - I needed to get the shot. Being the first rocket launch I photographed I ended up asking a bunch of people for input, big thanks to all the photographers at Spaceflight Insider as well as Craig Bailey for steering me in the right direction. It was much brighter than I anticipated so would have over exposed. Once the launch started I clicked away until the buffer was full. I was also grateful for the fast shutter speed because the light breeze on the roof was causing lots of movement in the lens, see the video below for an example. Not what you want if your looking for sharp images!
The settings: f/5.6 1/640 second ISO 640 at 700 mm with Nikon D800 and a cable release.