Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Contact Sheet: How I got the shoot

Contact sheet: How I got the shot of Endeavour at the Hollywood sign

By Gary Friedman

This past Friday I was assigned to photograph the space shuttle Endeavour’s historic return to Los Angeles. As part of a team of more than 20 Times photographers, my position was on the helipad of downtown’s 73-story U.S. Bank Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

I had a 360-degree view of the city. A photographer from the Reuters news agency and a video crew from NASA were also on the building to document the event.

Around noon, the shuttle — piggybacked atop a 747 — was spotted gliding through the sky. It passed by our rooftop vantage point moving east to west on a flight path that took it past the Hollywood sign.

Using a Canon 400mm 2.8 lens on a monopod with a Canon EOS-1D Mark III body, I kept my hand on the shutter. I chose not to shoot with a longer lens as I was worried that the shuttle may be out of the frame.  The juxtaposition between shuttle Endeavour and the Hollywood sign seemed fortuitous.

In all, Endeavour made three passes by the Hollywood sign, but none of the passes resulted in the same juxtaposition as that first pass.

This was not my first opportunity to photograph a space shuttle. I can remember standing on a dusty road outside Edwards Air Force Base  northeast of Lancaster with a long lens pointed to the sky in 1983. I heard two sonic booms. Everyone was searching the sky, and then there it was: the space shuttle Challenger. I tried to find it through my 600mm lens but my hands were trembling with nervousness and excitement. I finally was able to locate it and was able to follow it as it came in for a smooth landing. I took a deep breath and couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Challenger had come out of the sky, passed through the atmosphere and landed safely; I felt like an excited kid.

It has been a privilege and honor to photograph the shuttles, whether they were landing, being transported on the streets or (standing practically under one) while they were being serviced.

Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, was no different.

Music credit: “Keeper of the Wind” by Eleni Hassabis from FirstCom Music


Time-lapse video: Endeavour on the streets on L.A.

PHOTOS: Endeavour rolls through L.A. | Endeavour’s Southland flyover | Endeavour 1991-2012

Time-lapse video: Endeavour detached from Boeing 747

Zoomable high-resolution image of Endeavour

PANORAMAS: Endeavour stored in the United hangar | Endeavour arrives in L.A. | Inside the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Order space shuttle Endeavour prints


  1. September 25, 2012, 6:47 pm


    These are incredibly beautiful shots. I've had the fortunate opportunity to see the shuttle twice on piggy back, both in Amarillo, Texas, and the thrill was like being a kid at Christmas time. When the Discovery came through a couple of years ago, I had the good fortune of knowing it was coming through ahead of time, and managed to get some really nice shots:

    It's a shame that the shuttle program has come to a close. I am anxiously awaiting the time when Americans get back into space on American spacecraft.

    By: Tony B.
  2. September 25, 2012, 7:56 pm

    Great shots! 2 things:

    1) Man the sky over LA is brown and nasty.
    2) IMO I like the shots with the plane almost reaching the sign instead of merging with it.

    By: Silber
  3. October 16, 2012, 9:02 pm

    Honey, it's the dirtiest and most polluted city in the USA. Welcome to Hollywood!

  4. September 25, 2012, 8:22 pm

    Man, oh man, that's nice

    By: Rosedale Gardens
  5. September 25, 2012, 8:42 pm

    GREAT SHOT. I must have been standing close to you in 1983 because I filmed the Challenger landing with a 35mm motion picture camera… same experience, heard the sonic booms, frantically searched the sky, but locked onto it with plenty of time to capture it gliding to a smooth landing. Quite thrilling! Hope it's not over for NASA.

  6. September 25, 2012, 9:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience and expert eyes with us! These photos are truly wonderful and will remain in the space shuttle archives for the generations to come.

    By: Grace
  7. September 25, 2012, 9:21 pm

    How come the Shuttle didn't do a flyover in the San Fernando Valley area where I live?? This is so unfair. I believe the engines of the Shuttle were built at Rockwell or Rocketdyne in Canoga Park.

  8. October 16, 2012, 9:03 pm

    The valley. A forgotten place somewhere in California?

  9. November 24, 2012, 7:02 pm

    Yes you are correct.

    By: totomcagle
  10. November 24, 2012, 7:04 pm

    Yes you are correct.

  11. September 25, 2012, 11:37 pm

    Most excellent!

  12. September 26, 2012, 5:37 am

    Whereas seeing the 747 & Shuttle lumber along at 1,500 feet over my house in Slidell, Louisiana as it flew from the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to the Michoud Plant in eastern New Orleans was great, it did not compare to seeing the Shuttle pass over our town at night on its way to a Florida landing many years ago. It was unexpectedly shocking to see a man-made object with humans aboard travel so fast. It looked like a red-hot large bullet as it moved from horizon to horizon in a matter of seconds. It was just like the opening sequence of the original Star Trek TV show with the Enterprise zipping past the planets. Twenty minutes later, it was shown on TV landing in Florida. A great memory.

    By: Glenn
  13. September 26, 2012, 9:59 am

    Just in case anyone thinks these are fake. I was at the Cafe At The End Of The Universe Cafe at Griffith Park Observatory. I shot the reverse angle from behind his photos. He took that photo between 11:57:49 and 11:57:55AM. I have 25 photos to prove it.

    By: Jon Viscott
  14. September 26, 2012, 11:51 am

    Beautiful, Gary. Thanks for sharing the contacts and back-story. Were you stopped down at all? Add any punch in post? I'm very impressed at how you got the planes to pop while shooting jpg through all that haze.

    By: Jack
  15. September 26, 2012, 7:39 pm

    where can i get or buy a copy of this amazing picture.

    By: aaa
  16. October 6, 2012, 11:12 am

    I was there as well on Mt Hollywood and your shot was not when the shuttle was at the Hollywood sign but when it had turned to fly south to the California Science Center between you and the sign. The plane was in iline with the sign from the location you were and compressed over miles away from sign. Several photgraphers have shot it as it passed behind the sign which is reality, but I know understand how you got yours. The shuttle passed the sign only twice.

    By: stephen coleman
  17. October 16, 2012, 9:06 pm

    Gary, your shots are gorgeous. I was lucky enough to see the 'doubledecker' four times that Friday. Being on a bus has it's advantages (that is how I became so lucky). But the first time was the stunner. Close, low, in front of my nose with the 2 fighter pilots on either side. Boy, they were gliding. But I froze – seeing this amazing piece of history in front of me. Felt like a 6 year old.

  18. January 30, 2013, 8:20 am

    Hi Gary, these are absolutely stunning pictures. It must have been incredible to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor so close up? I notice you used the EOS 1D Mark III. I am a huge fan of Canon and I recently purchased the EOS 5D Mark III. It's pretty sick!


    By: smodha82

Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published

Browse All Photos »