Long exposures from space; travel photography of the future?

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19th Aug 2013
Written by: Cormac Scanlan

Travel Photography of the Future?

Star Trail Photography from the International Space Station is Like Art from the World of Tomorrow

Space travel is coming. It may not be for a while, but one day adventurous travellers will leave the confines of our planet's atmosphere to take a 'round the world trip' of a wholly different nature.

For over half a century space travel has sat squarely in the domain of the scientist and the military pilot, but many — the graphic novelist Alan Moore and the ever-epic Brian Blessed among them — have speculated about the inspirational works artists, poets and musicians may create when civilian space travel becomes affordable.

Earlier this year Commander Chris Hadfield returned to Earth after 2 months on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Expedition 35. Highly active on social media throughout, on his last day Hadfield posted a YouTube video cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity which stoked the fires of the public's imagination and went instantly viral.

As Hadfield did throughout his trip, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit has also been taking photos aboard the International Space Station, but Petitt's are of a very different nature. By stacking composite images taken in orbit he has created some truly artistic imagery.

My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then "stack" them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure. Don Pettit

Long exposures can be used on the ground to create dreamy images of serene seascapes or to capture lightning on camera, but Don Pettit's use of it in orbit is truly unique.

Looking at his stunning photos, it's hard not to feel like you're getting a privileged look at the artistic photography of the future.

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