Social media lit up with conspiracy theories after SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, California on December 22. The streaking trail it left in the sky had people thinking they’d spotted a UFO, but photographer and filmmaker Jesse Watson knew better.
Setting up in Yuma, Arizona, Watson shot an incredible time-lapse of the rocket launch, capturing the wisps of smoke that traced their way across the city skyline. After learning of the launch a few days in advance, Watson set about finding the perfect location to capture the event in an entirely new way. “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,” he writes on Vimeo. Though the launch was about 400 miles away, Watson knew from prior experience watching such events that he’d have a clear view.
Using Google Maps and The Photographer’s Ephemeris to find the perfect location and line up the shot, Watson was ready for his first rocket launch time-lapse. Arriving two hours prior to launch time, Watson shot for 45 minutes prior to the 6:27 pm event in order to have enough footage to lead into the video. And then, it was time for the show. “[Launch time] came by and I didn’t see anything, I was a little disheartened at first thinking maybe it wouldn’t show up or that something happened and they did not launch, but continued to roll the time-lapses,” Waston shares. “Then after what seemed like ages, but in reality, probably only a minute or two the Falcon 9 rocket blasted into the horizon and my cameras’ field of view.”
By using four cameras to capture different angles of the time-lapse, as well as one for telephoto stills, Watson had all vantage points of the last SpaceX launch of 2017. Culling 1,315 images from the 2,452 shot, Watson was able to produce an artistic 6K time-lapse of the rocket launch, documenting an event that is not only newsworthy but also captures the imagination of space lovers around the country.