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Photographing the International Space Station from Your Own Backyard
by Lori Keith for NASA's Johnson Space Center
Houston TX (SPX) Jan 10, 2012

The International Space Station can be seen as a small object in upper left of this image of the moon in the early evening Jan. 4 in the skies over the Houston area flying at an altitude of 390.8 kilometers (242.8 miles). The space station can be seen in the night sky with the naked eye and a pair of field binoculars may reveal some detail of the structural shape of the spacecraft. Station sightings in the area will be possible again (weather permitting) Friday, Jan. 6, beginning at 6:11 p.m. CST. Viewing should be possible for approximately six minutes as the station moves from 10 degrees above west-northwest to 10 degrees above south-southeast. The maximum elevation will be 44 degrees. To find sighting details by city, visit: http://go.usa.gov/81R. Equipment used by the NASA photographer operating from NASA's Johnson Space Center, was as follows: Nikon D3S, 600mm lens and 2x converter, Heavy Duty Bogen Tripod with sandbag and a trigger cable to minimize camera shake. The camera settings were as follows: 1/1600 @ f/8, ISO 2500 on High Continuous Burst. Photo credit: NASA. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Photographing the International Space Station seems like something that could be done only from space, but taking a picture from your own backyard actually is easier than you might think.

If you have the right equipment, capturing your own photo of the space station from your hometown can be almost as easy as tracking it, and definitely more satisfying. NASA photographer Lauren Harnett, who took these photos, explained her technique for photographing the station with the moon as the background. But you can choose just about any landmark that is special to you to put in the foreground, as long as you're careful to ensure the lighting conditions are right.

NASA invites you to share your photos of the space station and tell us the story about how and when you took them. On Facebook, tag the International Space Station page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/ISS in your photo. On Twitter, include #ISS with your photo. We may even choose a few to post on the NASA website or repost on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

+ Camera Equipment Needed (This list represents what was used to take these photos; you can substitute your favorite gear):

+ Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera

+ 600 mm lens (or the largest you have)

+ 2X telephoto lens converter (amplifies lens)

+ Trigger cable (minimizes camera shake)

+ Tripod (heavy duty works best)

+ Sandbag (keeps tripod stable)

Steps for Photographing the Space Station with the Moon:

First, determine when the space station is flying over your area and decide where to set up your equipment to take the photos. It is helpful to know from which direction the station is coming. Sightings information and exact dates and times are available on NASA's SkyWatch website.

Allow plenty of time for set up at your chosen location, as it may take some time to get the tripod perfectly adjusted.

Make sure you check where the moon is and that it is in the phase (full, crescent, etc.) you want. Set up the tripod and camera pointing toward the moon. Adjusting the tripod may be tricky as tripod heads are not designed to tilt back to extreme angles for overhead shots. You may need to extend the two back legs of the tripod while keeping the front leg shorter to achieve the desired angle. Use the sandbag on the front leg to help balance the tripod.

Find the moon in the camera viewfinder, adjusting the tripod as needed. Harnett said, "Clouds can make it tricky. It can be a cat and mouse game finding the moon."

Harnett set her camera's shutter speed to 1/1600 of a second, aperture at f/8 and ISO to 2500. You may need to adjust your settings to let in more or less light depending on the size and brightness of the moon or your foreground object, but this is a good starting-point.

Use the High Continuous Burst setting to capture the most images per second. Setting the camera to save the photos in raw image format is best. Be sure to use the manual focus.

It is a good idea to take a few test shots to ensure everything is set as you want. A few minutes before the station is expected to fly over, check the viewfinder again to ensure the moon is still in the shot, as it also is moving across the sky.

The station will be easy to identify when it comes into view as it is extremely bright and moves rather quickly. You can see it with the naked eye.

Once the space station is in the field of view (or close to it), press and hold down the cabled trigger release until the station leaves your field of view. Then check the photos on your camera to see if they turned out the way you wanted.

You are now ready to experiment with taking your own photos of the space station. If they don't turn out the way you want the first time, you can always try again. Then again, your photos may turn out so great you'll want to take them every chance you get!

Related Links
Station at NASA
Station at NASA
Station and More at Roscosmos
S.P. Korolev RSC Energia
Watch NASA TV via Space.TV
Space Station News at Space-Travel.Com

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