Yesterday, NASA’s Discovery Space Shuttle made its last flight, piggy-backing upon a 747 from Florida to our nation’s capital. Before touching down at Dulles International Airport, it took some low and slow final victory laps around the Washington, D.C. area. Shortly thereafter, Facebook and the rest of the internet was saturated with onlookers’ snapshots. I had a feeling this would happen, so I took some steps to try to ensure that I would create some unique aerial images. All future photographs would have to be taken in the Udvar-Hazy Center to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
There were many great locations to shoot this event. However, I decided not to go into DC. If Discovery was going to fly over the National Mall as planned, I would be shooting up at the belly of the 747. Besides, my contact at the Smithsonian could not get me on a rooftop, citing security concerns. Blech.
Instead, I thought shooting from across the Potomac River on a high vantage point in Arlington would provide better opportunities to capture the shuttle’s profile. Gravelly Point, a park along the Potomac and near the Washington-Reagan National Airport, was too low. The Iwo Jima Memorial and the Netherlands Carillon Tower provided some height and very iconic views of the National Mall, which would have included the Lincoln and Washington Monuments and the Capitol. However, it was a mob scene. Parking would have been a bitch. Plus, only media had access to the tower’s height.
Ultimately, I decided to go to Long Bridge Park, a new park in Arlington that provided a heightened platform with 360 degree views of the airport, Pentagon, Potomac, and the Washington Monument. Since not many people were aware of this new park, I correctly assumed that it would be relatively empty. About 50 people were there. Only half of them had cameras. Some shot video with their smartphones. While there was some vegetation blocking some of the lower views, I tried to use it to my advantage, working them into the frame to create some unique compositions.
I did not bring much gear. In my bag I had my Canon 5D Mark II with 3 lenses. I ended up only using my 70-300mm. To ensure sharp shots, I also brought a tripod, which I quickly set aside, realizing that it would only slow me down.
Instead, I just shot between 1/6400 and 1/8000 of a second, using shutter-priority. To keep my aperture wide open, I pumped up my ISO between 800 and 1600. I didn’t want to get much higher than that to avoid any grain. Since the light conditions varied when shooting towards the east, north, and west, and level and up into the sky, so did my aperture values. While most of my shots were between f/5.6 and f/8, some went as high as f/14. Since I was focusing on the shuttle, and perhaps some of the iconic landmarks that would have been about the same distance from me, I wasn’t so concerned with depth of field.
After 30-40 minutes of watching Discovery make a few loops around the DC area, I had taken close to 300 images. I immediately went home, found my best nine, touched them up, and uploaded them to Facebook and to my website. I can’t believe the immediate response that I received! I hope you enjoy them too.