It’s more than just a bright light

The International Space Station – August 2, 2019. Photo by James Guilford.

It is possible to get images of the International Space Station (ISS) that show more than a beautiful, bright streak across the night sky. Outside of the spit-second timing of shooting the ISS’s silhouette against the Sun or Moon, one rarely sees images of the station as it moves across the starry night sky. “I thought I’d take advantage of Friday night’s (August 2, 2019) brilliant pass and try a still photo of the station,” wrote photographer and CAA member James Guilford. “I’d actually been wanting to try this for some time. Getting focus right turned out not to be as difficult as getting the exposure right and the darned thing was just brilliant — I overexposed by possibly two stops. While I lost out on station details but for some solar panels, I did pick up some background stars! This was my second try at a still image. Third time’s the charm?”

Here’s the equipment list and exposure info:

  • Canon EOS 7D Mark 2
  • Canon EF400 FL Telephoto Lens (The camera’s cropped sensor makes the 400mm the close equivalent to a 600mm lens.)
  • Shutter: 1/1,600 sec.
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • ISO: 4,000
  • Finally: Heavily cropped, exposure adjusted in Photoshop

How was the camera guided? “The camera and lens were handheld and hand-tracked” he explained. “My experience with photographing birds and dragonflies in flight helped!”

The target is very small and moves quickly across the sky. Guilford wrote, “Much is made of the fact the ISS spans a space about the size of a football field but you’re trying to photograph that football field from more than 250 miles away! It. Is. Small.”

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Right through the dipper!

Photo: Arc of the International Space Station passing through the Big Dipper. Credit: Chris Christie.
The ISS passed through the “Big Dipper” August 23, 2012. Photo by Chris Christie.

There was a bright, beautiful pass by the International Space Station the night of August 23, 2012. Alerted by CAA member Jay Reynolds, fellow member Chris Christie set up his camera and got an excellent shot of the station’s arc. That night’s pass was of the “fading” type; the space station rises above the horizon reflecting sunlight and, due to the Sun’s angle and the projection of Earth’s shadow into space, crosses into that shadow while still very high in the sky. The path of the ISS, as viewed from Northeastern Ohio, took it right through the Big Dipper asterism. Light pollution provides color above the horizon. Christie’s photo data: Canon EOS Rebel T3: ISO 800, f/3.5, 18mm, 55-second exposure started at 9:39 PM.

Splendid photo of the space station

Photo: Starry background with streaking space station trail 8-6-2012. Credit: Dave Nuti.
The ISS crosses the sky in brilliant fashion in this image by Dave Nuti.

CAA member Dave Nuti was all set to photograph a brilliant pass of the International Space Station visible from Northeastern Ohio the night of August 6, 2012. The pass was to take the ISS across an area near the heart of the Milky Way as seen from here. Nuti’s result was a splendid view of the night sky, galactic star clouds floating, dotted by suns closer in. The image even captured bright patches — star clusters in our galaxy — on that clear night. Constellation fans will notice the “teapot” of Sagittarius just to the left of center, and the stars of Scorpius spanning the left side of Nuti’s picture.

Technical Info — Nikon D70: ISO 1600, f/4.5, ~45 seconds, 20mm, August 6, 2012, from Letha House Park, near Spencer, Ohio. Photo by Dave Nuti.

Twilight scene: Orion, Venus, and the ISS

Photo: Long trail of the International Space Station in the evening sky. By Bruce Lane.
Trail of the International Space Station in the evening sky. Photo by Bruce Lane.

CAA member Bruce Lane photographed a portion of the International Space Station’s (ISS’s) trail as is passed through twilight skies over Northeastern Ohio. The April 12, 2012 pass put the ISS between the constellation Orion (left) and brilliant planet Venus (right). Wispy clouds decorated the darkening sky. Here’s what Bruce said of his photograph: “I took the … photo of last night’s ISS pass at 9:04:27. It was a nice pass that faded into the clouds as the ISS headed into … the east.” {This image shows the western sky with the ISS moving up, towards the upper-right of the frame.} Technical stuff: Tripod-mounted Canon Digital Rebel XT, ISO 200, 18 mm., 20 sec., f/3.5.