On Friday, someone in my Twitter feed alerted me to imminent return of SpaceX to it’s launch schedule from Vandenberg Air Force Base. I had nothing planned for my Saturday morning and Lompoc, California is just a 2.5 hour drive form my home in Santa Clarita. I had never witnessed a live rocket launch, and, planned properly, a drive up the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway might yield more than just a view of a blast off.

I decided to invite my neighbor, Mike Whitman, to join me. He was quick to respond with a yes, despite the fact that I wanted him to get up at 4:15 am so we could try to catch a sunrise in addition to the rocket launch. We are kindred spirits in this regard. The journey is the goal. We set no plan for where to catch the sunrise, but wound up choosing El Capitan State Beach, just North and West of Santa Barbara. We arrived to the scene below. More from this sunrise to come.

Apparently a rocket launch draws a crowd. Who knew?

We had intended to try to get to Surf Beach, which has an unobstructed view of the launch platform, but W Ocean Avenue was blocked to traffic at 13th street and we had to turn around. We ended up parking in a spot near where the panorama above was taken, and we decided the guy with 100-400m lens perched on top of his pickup truck looked like he knew what he as doing, so we approached him to allow us to set up beside him.

The gentleman in the white pickup turned out to be another amateur photographer named, Jac Keo. I invite you to look at his photography here. I can’t wait to see the video he shot with his setup. I decided to shoot photos with my Sony a6000 and my 18-200mm lens, and shoot 4K video with my Sony a7r II and the 28mm Prime, zooming in digitally in post production. My video can be seen here.

It’s hard to describe the excitement you experience as countdown nears launch or the joy you feel when finally seeing the rocket crest the hill. My head can’t wrap itself around the math involved in success like this, the teamwork, the commitment. Everyone at SpaceX should be very proud.

And, as a special bonus, it was Mike’s birthday and I didn’t learn this fact until we were on our way back home. If I had planned it, I’m not sure I could have thought of a better gift for him. Sometimes life delivers gifts right on time.


If there are multiple photos in this post, EXIF data is for the featured photo only:

  • Aperture: ƒ/22
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 14 January, 2017
  • Exposure bias: -1EV
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 28mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Shutter speed: 1/80s

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