Photographing a Rocket Launch…Remotely?

Published January 25, 2024

Photographing a rocket launch with remote cameras offers a unique perspective beyond what the public typically witnesses. While televised or streamed broadcasts often showcase the grandeur of a rocket ascending into the heavens, remote cameras can provide an intimate and intricate view of the launch as it happens from a more unique perspective – positioned strategically around the launch pad at locations accessible only to credentialed media, these cameras capture moments that may otherwise escape the casual viewer. Our setups may involve a mix of traditional and unorthodox camera gear including a variety of cameras, telephoto or wide-angle lenses, and sophisticated triggering systems designed to freeze-frame critical stages of the launch’s first seconds. As the countdown commences, these cameras stand ready at a moment’s notice to capture moments in time, offering viewers a closer look at the marvels of spaceflight and modern aerospace engineering.

Shot using Canon 80D w/ Sigma 60-600mm at 150mm. 1/500, f/8, ISO 160

Mission Overview

In this article, we will be focusing on a variety of setup strategies near historic Launch Complex-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Axiom’s Ax-3 mission. The Ax-3 mission is a significant milestone in the commercial spaceflight sector – launching aboard SpaceX’s proven workhorse, the Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule, it served to be SpaceX’s twelfth human-spaceflight mission and Axiom’s third flight of private astronauts to the International Space Station. Documenting missions such as this requires careful planning and execution – remote cameras play a crucial role in capturing unique angles and perspectives that are not otherwise achievable with traditional on-site photography/videography. The overall goal is to provide viewers with as many additional and more intimate angles of liftoff as possible.

Shot using Canon 5D Mark IV w/ Canon EF 800mm. 1/1600, f/8, ISO 400

Gear for the Task

The camera gear selected for this purpose must meet specific criteria to capture high-quality images in the ever-changing conditions of a rocket launch. Given the powerful forces and vibrations associated with a launch, robust and durable equipment is essential. Some key components of the necessary gear include the following:


To be perfectly frank, almost any camera will do but in this case, we will mostly limit this topic to DSLRs and mirrorless bodies. Anything from a basic Canon Rebel T7i to a Canon R5 will have similar workflows in terms of setup. Where the higher quality bodies will come into their own light (pun not intended) is in frame rate and dynamic range. Where launch photography is unique compared to other photography fields, there is only one chance to get the images you need – no do-overs, retries, or separate opportunities. Once the rocket leaves the pad, that’s all she wrote, so having a higher frame rate of seven images per second (shooting in high-speed continuous) and above will be hugely beneficial in terms of how many frames you will have to work with when it comes to image sorting and on to post-processing. Additionally, having a camera that has a very wide dynamic range will also drastically improve your image capability, particularly in low light scenarios, as Ax-3 turned out to be – the Falcon 9’s exhaust emits a brightness comparable to the sun due the fuel it runs on so exposing correctly without the exhaust being blown out into a big ball of light without recoverable data is crucial. For example: the settings for both of my Canon 80D’s were baselined around 1/800 at f/8, iso 100. You can either approach exposure full-on in manual mode (my preference) or you could take an approach along the road of aperture priority and automatic iso to let the camera do most of the thinking – this is a common approach for those who are just starting out in the field with remotes. Metering can be challenging but ideally in these conditions, and with how capable post-processing software is now, it may be best to underexpose your imagery and recover the data rather than falling on the other side of the meter.

Shot using Canon 5D Mark IV w/ Canon EF 800mm. 1/1000, f/8, ISO 400

It is also worth noting here the importance of power and batteries. It is common practice to equip cameras with a battery grip capable of holding two batteries, thus extending the life of your camera in the event of any mission delays. A full charge on a pair of LP-E6 Canon batteries on all of my bodies is anywhere from 5-6 days.


Focusing on our locations around LC-39A, the distance to the pad is roughly half a mile from each spot. Taking that into account, the most useful focal lengths vary between 35mm and 100mm depending on the compositions being set – some photographers opt to punch in as tight as 300mm and beyond in some locations depending on what their goals are, but shooting that tight has very limited use. When setting your gear in the field, it’s important to set your focus where you need it to be and then make sure the lens is set to its manual focus mode to ensure it doesn’t go hunting at liftoff – it’s set in place. It is also useful to tape your focus ring in place to protect against any accidental bumps or mishaps that could knock it out of focus. One of the worst feelings being out there is coming back to your rig and seeing your images exposed perfectly, the camera firing as it should and the image is out of focus… other than that, lenses are pretty straightforward.

Shot using Canon 5D Mark III w/ Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L. 1/800, f/8, ISO 100

Remote Triggers

Now for the fun part. How do these cameras start firing on their own when the time comes and the rocket is leaving the pad? The most common method/device photographers use in the field use is a Miops Smart+, a device designed and programmed with multiple internal methods used to trigger cameras via a direct cable connection. One of the programmed modes in the Miops’ code is sound – that’s right, sound! Something rockets are excellent at producing. With varying sensitivity levels, it can be fine-tuned to activate at certain acoustic levels so that something as simple as wind or a vehicle passing by won’t set it off continuously, thus draining your batteries and filling your memory card. The Miops is a very capable little device, much more so than we can dive into here – but for $230 it better be. Other photographers opt to build their own triggers that also activate with sound or through a time-based system. Either way, the cable needed is whatever cable fits into your camera’s remote trigger socket.

Weather Sealing and Support Equipment

First and foremost, a solid tripod to secure your camera setup is a must – firm and expandable legs are a plus. Spread them wide to keep the rig balanced and to also prevent it from tipping over. If you’d like to be as safe as possible you could also secure the entire rig to the ground with stakes and/or bungee cords. The final items on your checklist should be some sort of protection against the elements and some method of keeping your lens above the dew point, super important in Florida summers. Most commonly used are plastic bags which can be placed/stretched/secured to the cameras, covering the rig to protect it against rain, dirt or sand, and occasionally bird scat (happened to me more than once) paired with 18-hour hand warmers secured to the lens via tape or rubber bands – water intrusion is a launch photographer’s worst nightmare as that has killed more cameras than the rockets themselves so any method to prevent dew/rain/moisture from entering critical components is just as important as your gear, too.

Putting it All Together

Once the cameras are in place and the settings are configured, we conduct thorough tests to ensure that each unit operates seamlessly. This involves verifying connections and focus, finalizing compositions, and simulating sound via clapping or tapping the Miops to confirm that the link between the cameras and triggers is solid. Once everything is verified, you are hands-off until camera pickup, which could be as little as 12 hours or as much as 3-4 days depending on when you set up and if the mission departs Earth on time as intended.


Shot using Canon 5D Mark II w/ Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L. 1/800, f/8, ISO 100

As challenging as it can be at times, it is difficult to think of a more rewarding field in photography when everything goes according to plan, or better. As our cameras clicked and chattered away while Falcon 9 thundered off of the pad following T-0, they captured some of the most creative and captivating angles of the Ax-3 mission’s starting point. As we celebrate this achievement, the role that these plucky little devices have played has undeniably enriched the story and appreciation of Ax-3, among many other missions, leaving an indelible mark on the visual narrative of the ever-evolving landscape of spaceflight.

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Author: Max Evans

When I first picked up a camera 7 years ago, photography itself morphed into a ticket for exploring my various passions in life. Additionally, and more importantly, it serves as an avenue for sharing them with the hope of capturing the imaginations and curiosity of the world. My journey with this art has been quite the adventure thus far. From cutting my teeth in the automotive sector with some insane four-wheeled machinery, the speed and power of aviation, the tranquility of a dark night sky, and eventually making the space coast of Florida home in pursuit of capturing the intensity, passion, and engineering marvel that is spaceflight. With that, I believe that one day my photography will serve as my ticket to fly in space. An ordinary life will only leave you with ordinary stories.
Posted in Equipment
  • Jalan

    I like to say that every day is like Christmas. Wow, thanks for the amazing “present” of your story Max! So cool – using the sound to trigger is something I didn’t expect. Thanks!

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