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The Luminous Landscape sheds some light on Photography in Space

By dpreview staff on May 1, 2012 at 22:43 GMT

Luninous Landscape has published an interesting article by former NASA captain Alan Poindexter about photography in space. Poindexter commanded the penultimate mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 2010, and had been lead photo/TV crewmember on previous missions. In the article he provides a unique perspective on the challenges of taking photographs in space.


Total comments: 33
By Rubenski (May 4, 2012)

Just another day at the office...boring stuff.

(just kidding)

By Anastigmat (May 3, 2012)

The take home lesson from this article is that clean high ISO images made many of these photos possible. That is why the D4, with fewer pixels, cost more than the D800.

By djross720 (May 2, 2012)

Great article! Along these lines the book EARTHRISE by Robert Poole is very good on the early history of photography from space, particularly when it comes to imaging the Earth from orbit and ultimately from the moon. I don't have it handy and can't remember the fellow's name, but there's a great section covering the photographer who sort of fell into the role of helping prepare the astronauts for taking pictures from space - from John Glenn's use of a drug store camera to the Apollo moon walkers... Great stuff!

By kenneth_manila (May 2, 2012)


Thanks to Captain Alan Poindexter, Andy Biggs, NASA, and Luminous Landscape.

If Nikon is good enough for NASA, then it's going to be my next DSLR...when I finally decide to get another one.

By Antoeknee (May 2, 2012)

Some really nice images the one of 'Rick working in the paylaod bay' is stunning.

Mr Fartleberry
By Mr Fartleberry (May 2, 2012)

Does he happen to mention when Hasselblad bugged out of the space program?

Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (May 3, 2012)

No, but presumably since there is no more need for film cameras (and thus no more camera casings to preserve cabin pressure). What was also not mentioned were subtle but unavoidable changes to the cameras: there must not be any internally sealed gas pockets, because the whole equipment has to "breathe" in the presssure-equalizing chamber. When you use camera casings, you do not have to alter the camera - any type will work well.
I presume the camera and lenses have filtered openings or vents to keep out the cabin dust and moisture present in any breathable gas mixture. Also, there must not be any lubricant anywhere in the camera, as it presents fire hazard in oxygen-rich breathing mixtures. The batteries must be presumed somewhat different from standard ones, too: totally free of gas pockets and even less sensitive to extremely low temperature. So those cameras seem to be a lot less common as described...
Good ad for Nikon, anyway. :)

Comment edited 10 minutes after posting
By JWest (May 2, 2012)

These pictures really are amazing. But is it just me, or are there a lot of "jaggies" in some of them? It's especially noticeable on the hard lines of the shuttle - almost like the pictures have been aggressively compressed.

1 upvote
By morganb (May 2, 2012)

they have been compressed. they are jpegs on a website.

By hc44 (May 2, 2012)

It looks like the resize used a non-interpolating algorithm. I expect better from a NASA astronaut!

By FunkyELF (May 2, 2012)

morganb, this has nothing to do with compression, or the fact that they are jpegs, or the fact that they're hosted on a website.

Like hc44 said, this is because of the algorithm used to resize. Doesn't even look linear, looks to be point filtering.

By MarkByland (May 2, 2012)

@ JWest - do you even 'see' pictures any more or just technical prowess?

By JWest (May 4, 2012)

Thanks guys, I'm glad it's not just me - I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, when no-one else had commented on this.

By JWest (May 4, 2012)

@ MarkByland - this is hardly "technical prowess". You'd have to pick some very odd settings in any image editor to produce these kind of visual artifacts. Even MSPaint doesn't do this bad a job any more!

I'm certainly no pixel-peeper, and I've already commented on how great the pictures themselves are, but it should be pretty obvious to anyone how badly these images have been screwed up somewhere along the line.

By ozcreations (Jun 5, 2012)

It all comes down the browser you are using, some browsers will do bi-linear rescaling, while others will only do N-neighbour down sizing etc. It's not a fault of the camera :)

Neloy Sinha
By Neloy Sinha (May 2, 2012)

Oh God! After a long time I read a really good and unique article in this blog. The quality of pictures are simply mind blowing.It is a different perspective.These luminous landscapes will be in my memory for a long time.Thank you NASA captain Alan Poindexter for your consideration to distribute these photos among lay persons. May peace be with you.

By santamonica812 (May 2, 2012)

The second to last shot (of the spacecraft "kissing" the atmosphere of the earth) is one of the most jaw-dropping shots I've ever seen, and my first reaction to seeing it was, "Wow, that gonna win one of the next Pulitzer Prizes." To say I am jealous of his experience is an understatement . . . what an amazing opportunity he had!

Comment edited 12 seconds after posting
By Yiotis (May 2, 2012)

The 5th photo from the end, the one that shows the STS-131/Exp 23 crew, says Nikon D3s, ISO 200, 1/60, f2.8 – (4) SB-800 strobes

does he mean that he used 4 SB-800? If that's the case, he could have used only 1 flash to achieve flash shadow below the ears.

By MartinaB (May 2, 2012)

Lucky guy to have such privileges, which I am sure he worked very hard for. Great pictures and wonderful insight of life in space.

1 upvote
By Peiasdf (May 2, 2012)

D800 is lighter than D3S so that will save NASA thousands in fuel. Too bad NASA cannot even pay for the shuttle itself.

beto fotos
By beto fotos (May 2, 2012)

so you can bring a d3s to vacuum at -200ºC and take pics? wow i will never again worry about my nikon in cold weather.

1 upvote
By Silvarum (May 2, 2012)

Vacuum at -200ºC makes no sense. Temperature is a physical property of surrounding environment (or material object), and since there is no surrounding environment in vacuum, there is no point in talking about temperature there (unless about temperature of particular objects).
Your D3 most probably will break if you bring it on -200ºC air and try to use it.
I wonder if radiation and high energy particles have any effect on shots?

1 upvote
By bulutcambazi (May 2, 2012)

Remember, heat can be transferred by different means, and convection, which requires air, is just one of them. Materials in space *radiate* heat when in shadow and they can get cold.

1 upvote
By 69chevy (May 2, 2012)

The vacuum has no ill effect on any mechanical device which is not pressure tight.

Temperature in space does not exist. There are no adjacent molecules for the camera to dissipate its heat. It stays the temperature that it was when inside the shuttle unless heat radiates into it. This is why they covered it with a thermal wrap.

By Cytokine (May 2, 2012)

1) Liquids boil and evaporate into space including any liquid lubricants. Any air, liquid, trapped in batteries, other component etc., could burst their casings. Some materials like plastic continue to out-gas. all the dust in the lens will float about.

Heat dissipates by:
a) Conduction: to and from the gloves holding the Camera.
b) Convection (No Air)
c) Radiation (how it got to Earth in the first place) Infra-red photography anybody!!

Great photos in a difficult environment.


By MisterNo (May 2, 2012)

Temperature in vacuum is an equilibrium between heat radiation and heat absorption again by radiative processes. In deep space this equilibrium is reached at 2.7K.
Since camera in Earth orbit wasn't in a deep space final equilibrium temperature depends on many factors. If camera is in a direct sunlight, final equilibrium temperature will go up since heating by radiation is dominant and it will be around +250F or +125C. If camera is not in the path of a direct sunlight, cooling down by radiation is dominant and final equilibrium temperature will be -150C or -250F.

Comment edited 4 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
By J R R S (May 2, 2012)

Vaccumes do not dictate temprature...

How the hell do you think the Suns warmth warms the Earth if vaccume dictates temp???

No its radiation that is the process to transfure heat - in the Sun light that equipment will be getting very hot - like hotter than an equtorial desart hot (no atmouspher to sheild). In the night the equipment will be emmiting thermal radiation too (cooling) - just in a wavelength you canot see - i.e. thats how infrared/thermal cameras see stuff... because hot (warmer than 0K) things emmit photons from a part of the EM spectrum lower than we can see.

So in space the temps and change in temps will be wild!

Paul Farace
By Paul Farace (May 2, 2012)

As stunning as these images are I am frustrated and angered that they only show up in these highly specialized media outlets. The public only wants to see who won on Dancing with the Stars, not who is living among the stars! We are a very narrow minded and primitive people on the whole who can't appreciate what those among us with vision have achieved. And NASA can't sell itself (as a former NASA PAO, I have real experience in how bad it can be!).

Still, stunning images.

By lost_in_utah (May 2, 2012)

Please don't say we. I refuse to be considered as part "them", whose values are clearly misplaced.

By Tee1up (May 2, 2012)

That is so true. We hear more about drivel like the Hunger Games than what the ISS is up to or accomplishing. We are wasting our opposing thumbs.

By jadawgis732 (May 2, 2012)

Totally agree. I cannot stand how much money is being poured into the F35 project while NASA's budget is being killed. It makes me sick, although I have no interest in Dancing with the Stars, and I suspect the only intelligent people who do are just guys who are trying not to tick off their wives.

Tom Arto
By Tom Arto (May 2, 2012)

One has only to look at the 'front page' of AOL to see where the interests of the sheeple lie!

Ashley Pomeroy
By Ashley Pomeroy (May 1, 2012)

"It's very cold, so wear gloves. Also, no-one can hear you."

1 upvote
Total comments: 33