Incredible Rocket Photos, Huh? Yeah, a 16-Year-Old Took Them
Most teenagers hate to see the summer end, but John Kraus has a particularly good reason to be unhappy about it: Going back to school means less time to shoot space launches. “It’s hard to miss school for that,” he says.
Kraus is 16 and among the youngest spaceflight photojournalists in the United States. He lives in Satellite Beach, Florida, just 30 minutes from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, and grew up attending NASA space camps and watching launches from home. “The sheer power that a rocket gives off when it launches is breathtaking,” he says. “It’s something everyone should witness in their lifetime.”
Photographer John Kraus
He bought his first DSLR in January, and captured a Falcon 9 rocket launch a one month later. He’s photographed more than 20 launches in all, and is a credentialed shooter for AmericaSpace.com. The gig introduces him to more seasoned photographers, who freely offer guidance. “I’m a regular now, so I know everybody and they’re able to help me and give me tips,” he says.
The credential allows him to get much closer than you ever would. For daytime close-ups, Kraus arrives at the launch site at least 10 hours early. He sets his D3300 camera—protected by a plastic grocery sack—on a tripod, it’s legs zip-tied to tent stakes driven into the ground. A Vela Pop sound trigger trips the shutter as the rocket takes off.
Kraus has made some incredible photos. To snap his remarkable shot of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launch in June, Kraus placed his camera just 400 feet from the launchpad. The image captures the rocket just as it leaves the pad, a hellacious wall of flame filling the frame. “My camera was still upright and the bag wasn’t melted around it, so I was pretty happy with that,” he says.
He shoots nighttime launches from a few miles away, catching the glow of a launch against a dark sky—a trick he executed beautifully with the launch of a Falcon 9 in July. He used Google Earth and Maps to scout the best location and ensure the rocket is centered in the frame. He snapped a long exposure of each launch stage, then combined them in Photoshop to reveal each beautiful arc of light.
Kraus dedicates so much time to photography that he finds it hard to do much else, though he does love watching pro basketball and remains bummed that Breaking Bad ended. As he prepares to start his junior year of high school, Kraus remains unsure of the career he’ll pursue. In the meantime, you can be sure he’ll continue shooting rocket launches, school or no school.
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