Photographing the International Space Station from Your Own Backyard
Photographing the International Space Station
seems like something that could be done only from space, but taking a picture from your own backyard actually is easier than you might think.
If you have the right equipment, capturing your own photo of the space station from your hometown can be almost as easy as tracking it, and definitely more satisfying. NASA photographer Lauren Harnett, who took these photos, explained her technique for photographing the station with the moon as the background. But you can choose just about any landmark that is special to you to put in the foreground, as long as you’re careful to ensure the lighting conditions are right.
NASA invites you to share your photos of the space station and tell us the story about how and when you took them. On Facebook, tag the International Space Station page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/ISS
in your photo. On Twitter, include #ISS with your photo. We may even choose a few to post on the NASA website or repost on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Camera Equipment Needed
(This list represents what was used to take these photos; you can substitute your favorite gear):
Steps for Photographing the Space Station with the Moon:
- Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera
- 600 mm lens (or the largest you have)
- 2X telephoto lens converter (amplifies lens)
- Trigger cable (minimizes camera shake)
- Tripod (heavy duty works best)
- Sandbag (keeps tripod stable)
First, determine when the space station is flying over your area and decide where to set up your equipment to take the photos. It is helpful to know from which direction the station is coming. Sightings information and exact dates and times are available on NASA’s SkyWatch
Allow plenty of time for set up at your chosen location, as it may take some time to get the tripod perfectly adjusted.
Make sure you check where the moon is and that it is in the phase (full, crescent, etc.) you want. Set up the tripod and camera pointing toward the moon. Adjusting the tripod may be tricky as tripod heads are not designed to tilt back to extreme angles for overhead shots. You may need to extend the two back legs of the tripod while keeping the front leg shorter to achieve the desired angle. Use the sandbag on the front leg to help balance the tripod.
Find the moon in the camera viewfinder, adjusting the tripod as needed. Harnett said, “Clouds can make it tricky. It can be a cat and mouse game finding the moon.”
Harnett set her camera’s shutter speed to 1/1600 of a second, aperture at f/8 and ISO to 2500. You may need to adjust your settings to let in more or less light depending on the size and brightness of the moon or your foreground object, but this is a good starting-point.
Use the High Continuous Burst setting to capture the most images per second. Setting the camera to save the photos in raw image format is best. Be sure to use the manual focus.
It is a good idea to take a few test shots to ensure everything is set as you want. A few minutes before the station is expected to fly over, check the viewfinder again to ensure the moon is still in the shot, as it also is moving across the sky.
The station will be easy to identify when it comes into view as it is extremely bright and moves rather quickly. You can see it with the naked eye.
Once the space station is in the field of view (or close to it), press and hold down the cabled trigger release until the station leaves your field of view. Then check the photos on your camera to see if they turned out the way you wanted.
You are now ready to experiment with taking your own photos of the space station. If they don’t turn out the way you want the first time, you can always try again. Then again, your photos may turn out so great you’ll want to take them every chance you get!
NASA’s Johnson Space Center