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Dan Winters Shares the Incredible Story of Capturing the Last Space Shuttle Launch

Capturing the launch of a space shuttle is undoubtedly a tremendous task to take on. Add to that the pressure of capturing the last space shuttle launch and you may have one of the most immense photographic endeavours of your career. In a very passionate and insightful video talk, Dan Winters takes us through the process of accomplishing said task. From his emotional relationship with capturing launches, to diagrams of his camera setups, Winters not only shows us how he captured his incredible photos, but conveys what doing so meant to him as a photographer as well as a human being.

Dan Winters has unquestionably had a monumental career. The extremely versatile photographer is widely known for his celebrity portraiture, but is also internationally renowned and awarded in a number of different genres such as photojournalism, illustration, and filmmaking. He credits the 1969 Apollo 11 space launch for initially sparking his passion for photography. In the video, Winters recalls his father, a welder by trade, dusting off his camera and photographing the TV broadcast of the launch. The photo didn’t turn out, the image on the television was washed out by the camera’s flash. However, the excitement of the process left a lasting impression on Winters. Decades later and a career worth of experience under his belt, Dan is called upon to photograph NASA’s last space shuttle launch.

Leading up to the final launches, Winters was given unprecedented access to the launch facilities. He photographed the interior and exterior of the final three shuttles, as well as the facilities and objects tied to them. In order to properly photograph the launch, he had to set up numerous remote cameras and figure out how to trigger them from three miles away. To do this, Winters hired an engineer to develop a trigger that would begin firing the cameras after being triggered by the vibrations of the shuttle's engines.

Since Winters had no control over the cameras once the launch began, he took a number of steps to make sure he was able to fully document the launch. He drew diagrams, similar to film storyboards, for each camera. Along with a rough drawing of what each camera was to capture, the diagrams included camera location and focal length. Winters says that the shots of the shuttle in flight were the toughest, considering there was no way for him to accurately predict the exact path of the shuttle. All that he could really do was frame the launch pad and then pan upwards.

Dan says that the images are truly something special. His cameras captured the launch from vantage points that humans were simply unable to, giving a unique perspective of the event that was only possible through his lens.

You see the cameras that are in this place of glory. I was a little be envious to be honest with you. They get to witness this thing that a human couldn’t even survive.

For more on Winters' incredible endeavour and his relationship to the launches, you can read the whole article over at Wired. You may also wish to purchase his book "Last Launch".

[via Wired]

Sam Merkel's picture

Sam Merkel is a 19 year old photographer and student living in Madison, WI. He spends his winters traveling the midwest photographing various crews of snowboarders and his summers enjoying having feeling in his extremities.

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Oh man, if i was there i would not even touch my camera, i would save the moment just to myself because i would not be able to take my eyes from the show...
The pictures are awesome, saw them today in another website, just awesome. The smoke and the Shuttle, amazing.

I am insanely jealous of the access he had. I was at the NASA Causeway (6 miles from the launch pad) for the final Space Shuttle launch. I fired a few frames, but I also stepped back away from the camera to enjoy the launch. I was also at the Shuttle Landing Facility when Atlantis landed for the final time. The twin sonic booms are crisper, sharper, in person; it sounds like a gun shot.
Atlantis was the second final launch that I watched. I saw the US half of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project launch.

I am massively fascinated with space and the technological advances that have got us there. so for me being a photographer, this article was an amazing read and watch. those photos are pure class.