The space station photos we featured yesterday inspired me today to write a little guide on how just about anyone can take a picture of the orbiting ship.
With a little luck in the weather department and a bit of advance planning, you might surprise yourself at how easy it can be. The station is bright and will show up even during relatively short exposures.
Here’s what you’ll need to photograph it:
- A camera that you can set to manual mode to do a time exposure. Many point-and-shoot digital cameras allow time exposures up to 15 seconds.
- A tripod to mount the camera on so it’s rock-steady when you take the photo.
First, make sure your camera is in the default wide-angle view setting, so you can capture as much of the station’s path across the sky as possible. No zooming is needed. Most cameras automatically go to wide view as soon as they’re turned on. Then, with the camera in manual mode, set the shutter speed time to 15 seconds or higher.
Next, set your lens to “wide open” to allow the maximum amount of light through. Depending on your camera, that setting might be f/2.8, f/3.5 or f/4. The lower the number, the faster your sensor records light. Almost all modern digital cameras allow you to manually set the lens opening and shutter speed.
Finally, change your ISO, a number describing the sensitivity of your image sensor, to 400 or 800. If you go higher, the image will look grainy; lower and you might not record your target.
For information on how to change these settings, consult your camera manual. You still have that, right?
This week the ISS will be crossing the northern sky moving from west to east. Go out about 10 minutes before the pass begins and compose your photo with some trees, your home – anything interesting in the foreground that also includes a swath of the north-northwestern sky.
When you see the station coming into view in your camera frame, carefully press down the shutter button to take the picture. Since a pass typically lasts several minutes, you might find you have time to make several exposures.
If the sky is dark at the time, you should easily capture a section of the space station’s path. It will appear as a short streak of light during a 15 or 30-second exposure. Higher-end cameras have what’s called a “bulb” setting, where you can leave the shutter open as long as you like and record a pass from one end of the camera view to the other.
Things get trickier in bright twilight. That’s when you have to be careful not to overexpose and wash out your image. Trial and error will tell, but dialing your ISO down to 200, setting your f-number to 4 or 4.5 and shortening your exposures will still give you a usable picture.
The space station will appear in the northwestern sky over the Duluth region tonight starting at 7:35 p.m. Why not bring your camera along for the ride?