The Beautiful Space Shuttle Blooms Inside a Cloud

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Daily Photo: The Beautiful Space Shuttle Blooms Inside a Cloud

This is a 600mm lens, the typical large type of lens that many photographers use when taking space shuttle photos. Note that I can only hold a lens like this for five seconds before I scream in agony and curl into a fetal ball of pain.

(Edit: Welcome NPR, Today Show, Gizmodo, MSNBC and others for enjoying the shuttle photos and visiting – enjoy your stay!)

Staying awake for two days before getting this shot made my nerves a little frayed. As the countdown got inside the final two hours, I could feel myself in a strange mix of extreme fatigue and excitement. It’s a very strange feeling! And since this is the first launch I had ever seen, all my spidey-senses were tingling. This was also the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, so there was an extra layer of meaning on top of everything else.

I arrived right at 3 AM to set up my tripod (which, surprisingly, I did not use for this shot, but I’ll get to that in a minute). I then went into the press room to get everything organized for the upcoming event. I was also still spending time editing together the video for the webinar, since I know a lot of people miss the live version and like to download it after the event. So by the time the actual event rolled around, I was really starting to feel tired.


And here is the 50mm lens I actually used to get the shot. /me lurves it. This photo is from maestropastelero (click photo for link), creative commons, on Flickr

Even though I had my Nikon D3X set up on a tripod with my 28-300 lens, I actually shot this picture with my 50mm prime lens on my Nikon D3S! Everything did go according to plan, and I had run through the routine a few times before the launch. The plan was to fire away on my main body during the first 15 seconds or so. At that point, the D3X starts to have bufferring problems, so I switched to my Chewbacca-bandolier D3S. I pulled it up into a vertical orientation and rapid-fired just as the shuttle tore into the clouds.

As soon as the Endeavour worm-holed into the cloud layer, the strange staccato-bass of torn air came skipping across the water into the press area. The sound was not at all what I expected, but it was awesome dot com.

Space Shuttle


    I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

    Wow. Amazing. I have never even seen a shot of a launch that looks like this.

    No room for wise cracks bro. You just nailed the shot in spectacular fashion.


  • Randy Dietmeyer

    See! If a 50mm prime can be used for a hike into the Grand Canyon, it can be used to take a picture of a shuttle launch! πŸ™‚

  • I said it yesterday on Twitter and FB, and I’ll say it again now: this photo has got to be the bsst shot of a launch I’ve seen, so far, even without the shuttle itself in the frame. The mystery of what is going on behind the cloud is so compelling. Congrats!

  • Hi Trey … Great shot! Unusual …
    Did you happen to bump into UPI/Joe Marino-Bill CantrellNASA’s (Joe Marino) who has been involved with so many missions. We show many of their photos on ImageAMMO Wrappers.

    Exciting to see …


  • SoCal Mike

    Very original shot!

  • Rob S.

    Wow. Thelonious said it all.

  • Sorry for posting twice – but I gotta say – this shot is a difference maker. I know you are already some-what famous and you pretty much get to do what you want for the most part. But this is going to take you to the next level. Many more people will see this shot and it’s going to blow your world up. Who is going to take all the phone calls? Who will arrange for all the press passes to elite level events? Who will be constantly converting your dollars to rubles? Your rubles to Deutschmarks? Your Deutschmarks to pounds? And then back to dollars when the Lear touches down in the States again? Face it Trey, you’re going to have to start hiring soon. I just called my boss and woke him up. I wanted to quit my day job as soon as possible so I could be ready. My resume is on the way. I don’t want you to be dismayed at how empty it looks. There may be some rather alarming holes. I like to think of it as not wasting energy on lesser tasks. But I’m here for you Buddy. I’m here for you.

  • I said it on twitter and I’ll say it here… that made me gasp. The most amazing shot of a launch that I’ve ever seen… incredible. F’ing amazing. Totally unique and totally beautiful. Love your eye, Trey… you got a wonderful shot there.

  • LOL @ Thelonious…. although that job description sounds pretty damn fun, I admit.

  • PeterG

    Very unexpected shot that triggers the imagination.
    I know it’s the shuttle but my mind starts to analyze the image to find an explanation of what I see.

  • .com, .net, .org, .tv…you name it. That is awesome!!!!

  • wow , cool shot ….so , how many shots you manage to take during shuttle take of ?
    like total number of shots on both cameras πŸ™‚

  • Hi Trey,

    Whilst your shot is cool, I think all the kudos needs to go to this person in the aeroplane:

  • Independence Day & Judgement Day rolled into one image. YIKES… I surrender.

  • Must admit we sure have a lively person in our midst, Gozo, there has to be a special prize for him don’t you think Trey. Great shot you can see there is movement in the fire ball but that what makes it. Like a tail of a dragon spitting fire. Slowly getting my down loads have seen 2&3learning much, been shooting after work on the way home and trying photomatic out.

  • Trey had to say this its not the 600 that is to heavy you just had no time to eat your wheaties hehe

  • Peter S

    Wow Trey, that really is a fantastic image – always thought you would do something a bit different, but a shuttle launch without the vehicle in the shot is a pretty bold move and all the better for it (or is this all just an excuse and the truth is that you fell asleep and missed the actual launch? – only joking!!). Would still love to see some of the previous shots (before it hit the cloud base)

  • I watched the launch live online until about 2am last night my time, awesome! Not sure where you were situated Trey, but I saw many people on the live feed that could have been you πŸ˜‰
    Fantastic photo, I agree it does have a different look and feel to the many others out there… Glad you had a great time!

  • Patrick Ahles

    WHAT THE FRACK? This is is absolutely stunning. This is not what I expected, but then again, what was I expecting?

  • A truly amazing shot, Trey!
    As a former Facilities Manager on the Hubble Space Telescope project at ST ScI, I’ve seen hundreds of shuttle images, but none with this level of creativity.

    Great job, man. πŸ™‚

  • Simon Morris

    I said it on FB earlier, and I’ll say it again here… incredible, amazing – stunning! HUGE congratulations Trey, well done! As Eden says, it has a different look and feel to the many others out there… but that’s what I like about your style of photography Trey – different, not wishing to follow the crowd so to speak! 50mm prime, 1/8000 @ f/1.4… slam, dunk, get in there! πŸ˜‰

  • Dan

    That is actually really cool!

    I think it’s a very ‘daring’ shot though, What made you decide to choose the photo after it went through the clouds? To add mystery? And Matt… That plane shot looks great too! haha.

    I’d love to see a launch, hearing that sound you describe would be awesome.

    Well done Trey!

    Will you be showing us some other photo’s of it too?

    Thanks Dan

  • Truly inspirational. WOW what an amazing shot, I would just like to say thanks for sharing this, To get into the press stand and take this shot is a dream (sadly due the shuttle’s flight being cancelled within the next couple of years ) one that wont be fulfilled. Once again a superb shot.

  • I expected something great but this exceeds those expectations! Truly awesome!!

  • Jeanine

    This is going to be an amazing series, I can’t wait to see it! Trey – I expected nothing less from you. The planning, expertise, and professionalism at the highest level. That aside, there’s nothing like the rush that comes from all the preparation to get the shot. Adrenaline, caffeine, and more adrenaline. Sleep well, Trey!

  • This truly is unique and cool. As stated I didn’t really know what to expect either and I’m sure you have more to share. Love the insight on the approaches and techniques applied.

  • Excellent photo, Trey. If we didn’t already know that this was the shuttle launch, then one would have to truly wonder what this is. Your timing makes this an extremely interesting shot. A very remarkable image, sir!

  • Dad’s Dad

    Should make the cover of Time. I have never seen anything like it.

  • Harbles

    I was worried when I saw the low ceiling, thinking of all the hassle you went through to get there for the launch and you’d only get to see it for a few seconds. But when given lemons you made tasty lemonade. Amazing.
    All your KSC shots seem to tell an emotional story of a highly technical subject. The Storm approaching the VAB shot a metaphor for the dark forces in Washington threatening the NASA budget and micromanaging HLV development. The B&W shots of Endeavour on the pad after RSS retract remind me of shots from the early days of Space exploration, of grainy shots of Mercury and Gemini and scenes from ‘The Right Stuff’. The Shuttle as the most advanced spacecraft ever made but soon to become nothing more than a memory. The VAB interior shot looks like a great temple of worship of human technical accomplishment.
    Thanks for taking the turn down this avenue of subject matter, making NASA look so good and sharing it with us.

  • Gail in Montana

    Wowee, Trey, I agree with the comments above!! πŸ™‚ Your photo should make the cover of a lot of magazines, including Nationa Geographic!!! Great job, worth all those hours you were awake!!! Thanks for sharing your excitement!!!! Have a rest now!! πŸ˜‰

  • Richard (oldhickory)

    Agree with all the above. I can’t wait to see more of these! Very interesting… there appears to be quite a bit of fire still happening on the pad. I guess any of us who haven’t seen this live only have one more shot. Great work, Trey!

  • WOW! I need to see more! I hope you don’t let us wait for a long time…Now go get some sleep, you deserve it!

  • Trey, wonderful shot my friend! Hope it takes you great places :-). Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity to write an ebok for you. Hope your readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

  • superb, perfect, amazing. your pictures are simply incredible.

  • anonymous

    Wow. That is one cool f&*%ing picture!

  • Dale in Texas

    That is so cool! Will you be showing this in the webinar?

  • That is just such a freaking awesome shot!! I retweeted the twitpic several times and to many people. Love the other photos you took before it launched too. Thanks for braving sleep deprivation to get this photo! YOU ROCK!!!!

  • You’re right about the sound. When the very first space shuttle launched, I was camping nearby at Patrick Air Force Base with my Boy Scout troop. The Air Force guys were very kind, loaded us all on a bus and took us to watch the launch. It was cool, but I couldn’t help but notice how slow it was. Remember, I grew up watching Apollo launches. The shuttle is more like a space truck compared to the hot-rod speed of a Saturn V. That sound always went right through me. I still remember trying to capture the Apollo launches on my tape recorder so I could have something for show & tell the next day. Makes me wish I’d kept those tapes. At my house about 35 miles away, I could still hear the faint vibes from the shuttle launch on Monday. The crackling sounds don’t carry this far, but it’s still unlike anything else.

  • aman

    maybe i need to get my eyes checked, but the image is out of focus ??

  • Get some sleep Trey – you’ve earned it! Stunning shot.

  • Thank you everyone! Yes, I’ve since been in lost in a series of Extreme Naps.

  • casusan

    One word – ‘awesome’Trey!! What a great shot – congrats- you deserve it!

  • What an awesome opportunity. Great shot Trey!

  • Nothing i can really add to the above praise. So its just all the above from me!

  • Andrea Boyle

    WOW!! That’s a stunner! Amazing what lack of sleep can do for you. Sometimes “altered” states are intresting and productive! I would never have considered a 50mm lens…

    Thelonius, I am still laughing. Good luck with your resume!! Hope you get the job πŸ™‚

  • “Rest now, my friend, rest now forever
    Sleep now the untroubled sleep of the angels!”
    –says Sweeney Todd

    Excellent photo. How cool.

  • Juergen

    High Trey,
    really looking forward to this picture after first announcement!
    In the future I we will enjoy your posted photos and skip to read the comments until Godfather Thelonious Gonzo will receive the deeper insight to be the hack and let it drop….

  • Tim Benedict

    In my opinion it looks CG. Growing up in Florida watching most launches in person this picture albeit original doesn’t do the shuttle justice-especially since without actually seeing the “beautiful shuttle” it almost looks similar to something disastrous.

  • Johnny Woodpecker

    So you shot this with a 100 dollar lens? and you charge hundrest of dollars for your webinar? well… things go!?

  • Hehe… Someone grabbed a video of the event too… See that at

  • Great shot, Trey. Loved the narrative too – and the caption under the photo of you with the 600mm monster lens. Hand holding that would not be an option for me.

  • Nailed it with a 50mm, now that’s art!

  • I have to ask, whatβ€˜s really important, tack sharp or a really great image full of mood and atmosphere?

    Don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong per se, with sharpness in a particular image, but to my mind more emphasis is put on sharpness today, than on creating really meaningful images.

    Some of the very best, most moving images are far from β€œtack sharp.”

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  • Expat

    Terrific shot. Do you mind if I embed it in my blog?

  • Thx all… Expat – no prob – all my work is creative commons non-commercial, so you are free to use on blogs and the like πŸ™‚

  • Simon Morris

    Trey – thanks for the link to the video clip… the sound of ‘Endeavour’ taking off is incredible, a case of having to be there to truly appreciate it! I’ve watched the clip a number of times, pausing it at the point of when you took the photo… or at least trying to pause it – my right index finger doesn’t work as quick as your D3S! The video clip makes your image look all the more amazing! Take good care of those RAW files, yeah πŸ˜‰

  • Expat

    Thanks. Looks lovely. I’ve attributed, of course.

  • Awesome shot, how fun to have been there!!!

  • Baconroll


  • Julie

    This looks like something from Star Trek. It’s so cool I shared it with my Twitter & Facebook friends. I’ve never found a photo so special, I’ve shared it with both. It’s magazine & Pulitzer worthy.

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  • Tim

    This is one incredible photo. Did you capture it in one image handheld? Or are there multiple frames that have been processed into a single image?

  • stunning shot …

  • Thanks again!

    Tim – yes – this is from one handheld RAW photo

  • Pingback: Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch Shot with a 50mm Prime Lens | Michaels Blog()

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  • Stun-ning
    That is just awesome.

  • WOW!!! Trey great shot! the shot of the year i would think, well done!

  • Just goes to show the 50mm is THE go to lens.


  • Bruce

    Your Blooming in a Cloud shot is really cool. I just saw one taken from the other side however, that is even cooler but would b e a real bitch to shoot from the ground.

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