Podcast: How Do You Take Great Photos From Space?

by Ryan Schleeter

June 28, 2016

Check out episode 21 of Completely Optional Knowledge, the podcast that answers questions you never knew you had. Some things in life are #CompletelyOptional — satisfying your curiosity doesn’t have to be one of them.

Star Trail From the International Space Station

Time lapse photo of star trails from the International Space Station. Courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center. More at https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/.

© NASA

Jonathan Mehring is the photographer behind the National Geographic book “Skate the World,” which took him around the globe to photograph skateboarders and skating culture in dozens of countries. But even after all these travels there’s still one place he hasn’t been to: outer space.

As a space enthusiast and professional photographer, he wants to know how astronauts navigate zero gravity and the Earth’s orbit to take amazing photos like this one.

Photo From the International Space Station

Photo of Earth taken from a window in the International Space Station. Courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center. More at https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/.

So we talked to someone who knows a whole lot about space photography: astronaut Don Pettit. Across his various missions, Don’s spent more than a year in space — mostly on the International Space Station — and taken thousands of photographs.

In fact, on his last mission, he the other five members of the crew took half a million photos, more than astronauts had captured in the previous 12 years.

As Don explains, even the simplest photography tasks become a lot more complicated in space — from the narrow design of the International Space Station, to facial recognition technology in zero gravity, to adjusting light exposure when trying to photograph Earth against the dark backdrop of space.

Space Suit in Air Lock on the International Space Station

One of Dons favorite photographs from his most recent mission on the International Space Station, a space suit floating in the air lock chamber. Courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center. More at https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/.

So how did Don get around these hurdles to take stunning photos like the ones above? Listen in for his pro-tips (many of which are probably good advice for Earth-bound photographers, too) here:

And check out more of Don’s photos at http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov or on Twitter @astro_pettit (and follow Jonathan @mehringphoto while you’re at it).

Subscribe to Completely Optional Knowledge — it’s not rocket science. Just head to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or Soundcloud to hear more from the podcast that answers questions you didn’t even know you had.

Want more Completely Optional Knowledge? Have a question you’d like to hear answered on the show? Visit us at completelyoptionalknowledge.org! Don’t forget to tune into the conversation on social media using #CompletelyOptional.

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a senior communications specialist with Greenpeace USA covering climate and energy. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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