Watson recorded the event from his home city of Yuma, Arizona, some 350 miles south-east of the SpaceX launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“I’ve been following the SpaceX launches online for some time now and have been in awe of the footage I’ve seen,” Watson said on the video’s Vimeo page. “I wanted to capture this amazing spectacle in a fashion that I haven’t seen previously, as most of what I have seen is cell phone video or newsreels.”
As this was Watson’s first try at capturing a rocket launch, he needed to prepare carefully. He searched for the best locations “that had foregrounds to add depth to the imagery,” and also made use of Google Maps and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, an app that shows you how natural light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location you care to choose.
Watson used four cameras and five lenses to get the best possible coverage. The shooters included two Nikon D810 DSLRs, a Sony a7S II, and a Sony a6500, while the lenses were mostly Nikons, namely a 14-24mm f/2.8, a 24-70mm f/2.8, an 85mm f/1.8, and a 25mm f/2.2. A Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens was also part of the setup.
The photographer said he arrived at his location two hours before the scheduled launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, which was carrying 10 telecom satellites into orbit for Iridium Communications.
At 5.27 p.m. last Saturday, December 23, the rocket left the launchpad and lit up the night sky, with Watson’s camera’s recording every moment of the Falcon 9’s dramatic climb.
Reviewing the captured imagery, he admitted to being “a little off target” on his initial shot, but because of the high resolution of the footage shot by the Nikon using a wide angle lens, he was able to crop the video and comfortably salvage the sequence.
Watson said he powered down his kit a few minutes after the glowing contrail faded, leaving him with 2,452 images, culled to 1,315 for the final project, which he edited using Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro.