Interesting Photo of the Day: Infrared Rocket Launch

Three, Two, One, Liftoff! This image was captured at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia as the rocket took off to deliver 1,300 pounds of supplies to the Expedition 37 crew. The reason for the deep blues in the sky and water is not from post-production editing, but from the effects of capturing infrared light. Photographer Bill Ingalls used a modified DSLR camera to capture this false color infrared image:

liftoff blastoff rocket space infrared photography

Infrared photography often creates darker blue skies (Via Imgur, Click to View Full Size)

Perhaps more questionable than the colors, however, is the extremely noticeable lens flare. At first you may think it was created in post, however, an observant commenter on social media made some interesting points to the contrary.

“The image has an odd aspect ratio (more square than 5:4) and was almost certainly 3:2 originally, so there is a good chance that the sun was just cropped off the top of the frame. Also, the direction of the flares matches the lighting on the clouds.”

Real or fake, this image is certainly unique and an eye-catcher.

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2 responses to “Interesting Photo of the Day: Infrared Rocket Launch”

  1. Bill Ingalls says:

    Thank you for sharing my photo.

    A few facts about this image: The sun is indeed just out of frame in the upper left. This is a crop from a larger image. The crop was made to remove unwanted flare and artifacts and to help focus on the launch event.

    Lens flare is not so unusual, however, what makes this flare stronger than normal is that this was shot in the near-infrared wavelength. My understanding is that lens coatings are made to stop light, in the visible wavelengths, from bouncing around in the lens, however these coatings do not stop Infrared light from doing so.

    You’ll also notice a slightly larger, rounder, hot spot in the middle of the image. This may appear to be part of the flare, but in fact it is infrared light bouncing off of the sensor and the back of the lens and would be there even without the sun flare. The Sun flare helps makes this less noticeable on it’s own as it becomes part of the overall flare.

    The colors of the image are false. That is to say, the camera can not white balance. I first do that in post which gives me a color infrared. Then the blue and red channels are swapped to give a blue sky infrared image or “False-Color” infrared.

    Hope this answers some of your viewers questions. This is a new area of photography for me and I’m still learning as well!

  2. spencer says:

    Thanks for sharing those details! It’s always interesting to hear for the photographer. And kudos on capturing such a unique image.

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