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