Perfect ISS Pass With Four Minutes Warning

Pretty much what it says – I was home, getting on the computer, starting to run routine maintenance stuff (Windows update, backups, etc) when I saw a Tweet to folks in the Bay Area that there was a really good ISS pass coming up in about two minutes.

The Bay Area and Los Angeles are roughly 400 miles apart, so depending on the ISS ground path, that could mean that we would see nothing. But I checked my Flyby app and saw that it was a super bright pass, almost straight overhead, and starting in just a bit over four minutes.

For about two seconds I thought of simply going out and watching. Then my idiot brains stepped up and said, “After all, there’s no way you could get the camera set up from scratch and ready to go in just four minutes. No! Way!”

Stupid brain. (You see this coming, don’t you?)

The tripod’s in the car, the camera’s in it’s usual “ready to grab” spot, the remote shutter trigger is in its normal spot with the telescope accessories. Who says I can’t get that all together and working in four minutes flat?

Grab the camera. Grab the remote trigger. Put the battery into the remote trigger, mount it on the camera, plug it in. Grab car keys. Head out the door. Open the car & grab the tripod. Get it out of it’s bag, extend the legs. Pull the shoe off, get the shoe mounted on the camera. Mount the camera on the tripod. Close the car. Grab the phone to double check to see what direction ISS is coming from (four seconds to spare) and head toward a spot where that part of the sky looks clear. Make sure the camera is set correctly to “bulb.” Wait, that’s wrong, I’ve got that stacking software, that worked better. Set the camera to one-second exposures. Make sure the lens is set to manual focus and quickly look at the full moon to get the focus set, pray it’s correct. Look for ISS, spot it just coming up over the trees. Try to start shooting, but the remote trigger isn’t on. Fumble with the power switch, get it turned on, start shooting photos. As the ISS goes straight overhead, move the camera every twenty to thirty seconds as the ISS moves out of what I’m guessing is the field of view. Have some problems with the data on the camera not being recorded fast enough, so I can’t keep shooting every second, bang-bang-bang-bang, it ends up more like bang-bang-b-a-n-g-bang-ba-ng-bang-bang.

Fortunately I’m having a good time watching the pass as well. As advertised, extremely bright, right through the zenith, rising in the NNW and heading to the SSE. ‘Twas a thing o’ beauty.

Now check out the pictures, which were shot frantically, blind, hoping for the best. What went wrong that I overlooked?

Well, the 18-55 mm zoom lens was set much closer to 55 mm than 18 mm. While I thought I was looking at a huge, wide swath of sky and shooting thirty-five to forty pictures as the ISS moved across the field of view before moving the camera and repeating, I was zoomed in on a very small field of view, with about a third of the pictures in each set being out of sight off the bottom, a third crossing the field of view, and a third out of sight off the top. Meh.

On the other hand, the focus wasn’t too far off, so instead of getting this ultra-thin thread of light crossing the sky, when I did catch the ISS I got a honkin’ huge streak, along with a number of background stars.

Download the pictures, load up that stacking software I found that worked so well last time, and see what it does:


North at the bottom, the zenith overhead at the top. You can see a few of the brighter stars, from the Big & Little Dippers on the left, Cassiopeia on the right. The “stuttering” in my rhythm of shooting is obvious in two spots, but each segment is a one-second exposure. I need to look into getting a remote trigger that can be set to shoot on its own given some timing parameters. They’re not that expensive.

Not bad for four minutes of prep! (Stupid brain.)


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

3 responses to “Perfect ISS Pass With Four Minutes Warning

  1. Jemima Pett

    Brilliant! I hope you remembered to say ‘Hi, Tim!’
    Happy Christmas, Paul. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course I said hello to your Tim, our Tim, Scott, Mikhail, Sergey, & Yuri! It’s not like the neighbors don’t already think I’m a bit of an odd duck, so standing out in the yard in the dark with a camera and waving at the sky is considered almost normal!

      Liked by 1 person

    • And Happy Christmas to you & yours! You get Santa about eight hours before us – please remind him how good I’ve been! (It’s only a little fib, and you will already have your presents from him, he won’t have time to come back for them… I’ve got this all figured out!)

      Liked by 1 person

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