When a glowing contrail appeared in the sky on the evening of Friday, December 22, people took to the streets, and to Twitter, to figure out what was going on. Was it a nuclear bomb? Aliens? Some secret government project? The spectacular sight was actually the SpaceX rocket launch, and Photographer Jesse Watson was prepared for the event with his cameras rolling.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Vandenberg Airforce Base on the California coast with a payload of communications satellites. While average citizens were awed, surprised, dismayed, or downright scared at the sight, Watson was set up on a hill above Yuma, Arizona to capture a time-lapse of the launch.
Having followed the SpaceX launches online, Watson was dissatisfied with the quality of the footage available, which was mostly newsreels or cell phone video. When he learned the next launch date and found out that the time of the launch would provide the opportunity for a dramatic sunset spectacle, he decided to do something about it.
Watson scouted locations from which to shoot the time-lapse, wanting to include a foreground that would honor his hometown, and finally settled on a small hill overlooking Yuma's historic downtown. Using The Photographer's Ephermeris and Google Maps helped get him lined up for the location in which the rocket would appear on the horizon.
Watson wanted to be prepared to capture comprehensive footage of the spectacle, so he set up four total cameras: three rolling time-lapse and one for telephoto video. He set up two hours before the launch to ensure that all his gear was prepped, and started filming 45 minutes beforehand to get plenty of lead footage.
Once the Falcon 9 rocket appeared on the horizon, Watson realized his framing was slightly off. But because he was shooting with the Nikon D810 and a wide-angle lens, he was able to salvage the framing by cropping into the 6K time-lapse sequence. The resulting time-lapse is a gorgeous tribute to both his hometown and the combined efforts of man and nature.
The initial shoot comprised of 2,452 images which were then culled to 1,315 images for the final project and edited in Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro. The video has already received 5,400 shares and 195,000 views on his Facebook page.
Images and video used with permission of Jesse Watson.