Photographer explains how he captured rare space station moon photo

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Last week, you probably heard a lot about the full 'snow moon,' the lunar eclipse, and even the faint green comet passing close to Earth.  But the most stunning photo of the week involved none of those things.

Florida photographer James Boone captured a series of photos Thursday night showing the International Space Station passing in front of the bright nearly-full moon, which is known as a lunar transit.  It's an incredibly difficult feat to achieve -- many photographers plan and practice for years to be ready for such an occasion.

That was indeed the case for James, who's a regular contributor of stunning weather photos to FOX 13 (see his other photos above or click over to his website).  We asked him to elaborate a little on how he managed to get the shot, and if he had any advice for other astrophotographers out there.

Here are his answers:

When and where did you shoot this photo?

I shot this from near the Orlando Airport [Thursday night] around 10pm. Exact time was 10:05:38...the ISS takes less than a second to transit the Moon.

How long have you been trying to get a shot like this?

I've wanted this shot as soon as I saw similar photos online of ISS transits. I've probably planned this photo around a dozen times over the past four years...mostly missed my chances due to the weather not cooperating or because I wasn't able to drive to the location the day of the transit.

What inspired you to try for this shot?

There are a few photographers / amateur astronomers who do some incredible work and post their techniques online. Thierry Legault, a French astronomer, is probably the most inspiring. He has captured lunar and solar transits with the ISS and even the space shuttle.

Let's talk about the technical details: What kind of camera, how many exposures?  How did you determine what settings to use?

For last night's transit, I had two camera setups -- one with a traditional DSLR lens and the other hooked up with a telescope. The traditional setup was a Nikon D500, Nikkor 300mm f/4 lens and a Nikkor TC-20e Teleconverter (which gives the lens two times the reach). This setup is equivalent to a 900mm lens on a 35mm camera. I also used a polar aligned tracking mount - SkyWatcher Star Adventurer on a tripod. This moves the camera at the same speed as the Earth's rotation so that the Moon stayed center of the frame during the time I was shooting.

My telescope setup was a Nikon D750 and Orion 10" Dobsonian DSE telescope with an adapter to hook the camera up to the eyepiece. The telescope setup was the most difficult one to get as you're only working with a section of the moon so you have to hope that the ISS will cross where you have the telescoped pointed. Also the D750's memory buffer fills up at around 5 seconds so I can't start shooting until the last moment.

I fired off around 20 seconds worth of exposures with my D500, so that ended up being around 200 exposures total...only six of those frames ended up showing the transit. The telescope setup I probably shot 30 exposures and it only showed up in one (and it was the first shot I I was cutting it close).

And the logistics: How did you know where and when to shoot from in order to get the station lined up with the moon?

I use two sites in order to prepare for shots like this. Calsky is the standard as it's been around for years but it's also somewhat tricky to use. Thankfully they've made it a little easier to find these transits within the last couple of years. Also, is a relatively new site but uses the same basic data as Calsky but is more focused and way more user-friendly to use. I'll probably use that one from now on. Also there are a few apps out there, like ISS Finder and SkyView, that I use for tracking the ISS that are handy when I'm shooting. I've attached one of the screenshots from the SkyView app I use.

A little about you: How long have you been shooting?  Do you have a 'day job'?

I've been taking photos since I was a kid but didn't pick up a DSLR until 2008. Outside of shooting astronomical objects, I'm a motorsports shooter for races like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and St. Pete Grand Prix. I also take photos of lightning during our storm season. And yes, I have a day job. I'm not good enough to earn a living as a full-time photographer.

What are some of your other favorite shots through the years?

Probably my most popular photos are some of my moonrise photos, storm shots and some motorsports stuff. Not everyone is into racecars, which I understand, but it is some of the toughest, most demanding photography out there. Plus I love how technically difficult it is when shooting fast cars at slow shutter speeds. Also shooting some astrophotography objects can be really rewarding once you get the image fully processed, which is a lot of work. See attached.

Any advice for aspiring photographers on getting this photo or any other tough shot?

Planning is key. For most of these transit shots, you can't actually see the ISS moving across the sky as it's either too late in the evening for the lunar transits or during the day for the solar transits. You really have to trust the data from the websites. Having a long lens or telescope is definitely a plus but this shot can be done relatively inexpensively. Also, don't give up if you don't get it the first trying to get a difficult shot. I miss plenty of shots but I also love the challenge of a truly difficult photo.