To us here on earth we are so caught up with the magnificent photos that are being retrieved from outer space that we don’t give much thought as to who took them and how. There are some astronauts who now introduce themselves as being a photographer as well as an astronaut. A good example of this is NASA’s astronaut Don Pettit. According to Don taking these type of pictures means learning not only how to take the photos but when.
Space photography is not new and dates back to the 1960s. What really caught the attention of the space inspired public was the first view of earth taken from space and was dubbed the “Blue Marble” back in 1972.
These astronauts have a whole gambit of responsibilities that involves extensive training both physically and mentally, and added to this hectic roster is now perfecting their photography skills.
The photography teaching process all began way back in 1984. The astronauts gained their photography education from a 36 page Hasselblad manual. It taught the basics but was comprised as a detailed guidebook for astronaut photography assistance. It’s purpose was to teach photography basics and to perform simple but important duties, like how to stop the camera from shaking which no doubt was one of the most important pieces of information to be relied on, and battery changes. This camera manufacturer’s guidebook was to describe the use of the Hasselblad 500 EL/M cameras which were used on the U. S. Space Shuttle.
Just as space technology has come a long way since the 1980s so has photography.
The current outer space photography consists of the ISS and spacecraft being equipped with only the very best of equipment. It is no problem for the astronauts to livestream and produce high definition videos. It also means that this new breed of photography astronauts need to learn to speak the photography language. This means learning terminology like “shutter speed” and “atmospheric air glow images”, just as an example. This is on top of the requirement for there already having to be able to speak Russian which is mandatory for the astronauts.
Tips on how to be a NASA photographer
These are just a few highlight of space photography…
- Flash modification is required for the space vacuum setting
- Steadying of the camera for motion blur prevention
- Managing the astronaut attire while taking the images
- Setting the camera rate to be compatible with the orbital motion
Some astronauts are more enthusiastic than others with their photo taking. Jeff Williams compiled about 100,000 images during a six month stint in the orbiting lab in 2006. For Twitter users no doubt they have enjoyed the earth photography provided by Scott Kelly (retired NASA astronaut).
While space photography is beautiful to look at it also provides feedback that helps to enhance astronaut safety.