Sky & Space - James Vernacotola Photography
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02/08/2010 at 4:14 am - "Waterway to Orbit" - Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-130 launches into orbit toward the east, as the stars and waning crescent moon trail toward the west, leaving a beautiful reflection on the Intracoastal Waterway in Ponte Vedra, Florida. This 132-second time exposure of the final night launch of a Space Shuttle, from launch through SRB separation, was taken 115 miles north of Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

The response to this photo has been absolutely amazing, so I've given it it's own gallery. The photo has generally become known as "Waterway to Orbit", thanks to Jerry Bonnell of the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.

I wanted to use this space to answer a few questions that have been emailed to me and that I have seen on the web. (I admit it, I googled myself :D ). If you have further questions or comments, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list, please feel free to email me or leave a comment on this page.

What type of camera did you use and what were your settings for this picture?
I used a Canon EOS Rebel T1i , with a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens attached; no filters. I was pretty sure I had it set to 17mm but exif shows 18mm. Maybe it creeped a bit while I was rushing to decide the exposure and composition. Exposure was ISO 100, f/4, and 132 seconds.

Please let me know when I can purchase a copy. Hope it is soon.
The photo is finally available for purchase! Click the "Buy" button at the top of this page to purchase a copy. I priced them reasonably so as not to exclude anyone who is interested in purchasing. Thanks so much for all of your interest and patience. I am truly humbled.

Are you interested in licensing it for commercial projects?
Absolutely. Please contact me if you are interested.

Have you altered the photo in any way? Also how much post-production editing did you do to adjust the colors, etc.
I did not alter the content of the image at all. Really the only thing I did was some slight adjustments to white balance, exposure, clarity, vibrance and contrast in Adobe Lightroom.

Incredible shot. How much of that was pure luck or great planning?
I have always heard that in photography, the more planning you do, the more you get lucky. I had photographed 2 shuttle launches and 2 rocket launches from the Jacksonville/Ponte Vedra area before shooting this one, and one from the same bridge, so there were a few things I knew to expect. I also had a general idea of where to stand on the bridge to see the shuttle rise from the vanishing point of the Intracoastal Waterway. The luck came into play with the fact that is was such a clear night and because I overslept and only had 7 minutes to prepare when I got there. :)

I noticed a strange pinkish smudge on the APOD image that seems to have about the same smear direction as the stars, but not as long. Can you say what that thing is below the two fainter stars in this clip from your photo? I suppose it might be Mars? But then why the difference in length?
After looking closely at the pinkish smudge, I've determined that it is some light flare, reflecting from the moon. Check out the photo below for a higher-res photo of the moon (darkened for clarity) and the flare, side by side. You can see they have the exact shape. I considered removing it from the photo but ultimately decided to leave it since I had done nothing else to alter the photo.

Interesting that the stars "moved" a little due to the open shutter/time lapse method, but why would the MOON not do the same thing??? Why is the rocket's actual path heading NE....100's of miles NE toward Spain which was the actual path for emergency ditching/landing...and the reflection kept going straight north up the ICW.....toward the Palm Valley Bridge it appears..???? The reflection should be UNDER the path of the rocket eventually, and therefore, would it not be out over the ocean?? Beautiful anyway, but I am less convinced that it is real.....???
As far as the question about the reflection is concerned, my original answer was "I don't know", however Michael Scott (of Johnson Space Center, not Dunder Mifflin :) ) has emailed me with the best answer I've heard so far. Here it is:
"I think it’s due primarily to two things – that the Shuttle is climbing to extremely high altitude and that you are so far from it. If this were an airliner flying the same direction as the Shuttle (43 degree constant azimuth), at the same distance from you, it would be very low on the horizon, mostly not visible in the waterway, and its flight would appear linear and not an arc like the Shuttle. People often compare how the Shuttle flies to more familiar vehicles like airplanes, but they are very different in many ways."

I've been receiving many questions similar to the one about the moon, either asking why the moon did not move in the same way the stars did, or why the photo shows a full moon when the last full moon was January 30. Check out the photo above to see the moon at full res, exactly as it is in the photo, and then darkened for clarity right next to it. As you can see, the moon was actually in the waning crescent moon phase and it "moved" as much as the stars did. It's just a coincidence that it looks full in the lower res version of this photo at the top of this page.

I'll find the picture again with Google, somehow track down the guy who took the photo, and let him know his camera sucks.
I just had to post this one because it entertained me. :) I'm pretty sure it had to do with the 1000x761 resolution available. I used a Canon EOS Rebel T1i to shoot the photo. It's far from a pro level camera but plenty capable of producing great images.

Is it ok if I post the photo on my blog or in a user forum?
You can post on your blog or a forum as long as you don't profit from my photo. You can click here for the highest resolution photo available, which is on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the day. I only ask that you credit me for the photo and link back to this website. Thanks.

Congratulations on a beautifully composed shot. Technically excellent. Only question in my mind is "elevation", this does not appear to have ben taken off the bridge at road height. I'm intrigued.
The Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Ponte Vedra is higher than you might imagine for being in a predominantly residential area. You can see a photo of it here.

I'm interested in a wallpaper version of your nighttime exposure of the Endeavor launch. I could use the one on your site, but I'd like to know if I could get a higher resolution copy of it, so it'll look great blown up. Let me know if that's possible.
At this point, the largest resolution available is at the Astronomy Picture of the Day website. If that changes I'll be sure to update you here. If you would like to be added to my mailing list, click here to email me.

Loved your photos of star trails. Can you tell me how that is done?
Since there has been some interest in some of my astronomy photos, I plan to create a "how to" for my star trails photos. It might be a week or so before I can get to that. Please check back for updates.
EDIT (05/21/2010): It took a lot longer than I thought it would to put this together, but I've finally finished How to Photograph Star Trails! Please give it a read (and then give it a try :) ) and let me know what you think.

Do you post your pics on Flikr or someplace else?
Currently, this site is the only place I post my photos.
EDIT (04/02/2010): I've recently started a Flickr photostream. Check it out here.

Are you available for hire?
If you are in the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area and are interested, please contact me.

Thanks again for all of your nice comments. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.


EndeavorEndeavor launchFloridaJames VernacotolaPonte VedraSpace ShuttleSpace Shuttle Launchintercoastal waterwayintracoastal waterwaylaunchVernacotolaSSEndeavorSTS130WTOnightendeavourendeavour launch

From Waterway to Orbit - 02/08/2010 - STS-130