June 08 2011. Early hours ISS flyby (0231-0236hrs) over UK skies. ISS pic (© NASA)  shown for reference A very bright -3.3 magnitude. Captured with Olympus E5 & 8mm fisheye. The International Space Station is the biggest and brightest object orbiting Earth (The moon does not orbit the center of the earth, rather, they both revolve around the center of their masses called the barycenter).The station's solar panels span 240ft tip to tip, as wide as a football field. The ISS outshines Venus & only the sun and moon are brighter.

Capturing International Space Station (ISS)

Firstly, what is it? - The International Space Station or ISS is a large habitable spacecraft (artificial satellite) which orbits around Earth. It is the largest and most complex international scientific project in history. The ISS is the size of a football pitch fitted with almost an acre of solar panels that provide electrical power to six state-of- the-art laboratories.

The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields.  The ISS maintains an orbit with an average altitude of 400 kilometres (250 miles) by means of reboost manoeuvres. It circles the Earth in roughly 92 minutes and completes 15.5 orbits per day.

Now that is one piece of scientific equipment passing over our heads every day!

Can the ISS be seen from Earth? - Yes, it travels at an amazing 17,000 mph and orbits earth at an altitude of approximately 250 miles. The shear size of the structure and array of solar panels reflect sunlight, making it the biggest, brightest object orbiting earth. Only the sun and moon are brighter. It can easily be seen moving across the night sky, at certain times, almost resembling a slow moving fireball.

With a bit of planning and the right equipment it can easily be captured on camera. This guide will focus on how to capture the wide angle picture of the ISS flying across the entire visible sky.

Planning - Firstly, one needs to calculate at what time the ISS will pass over the skies above. This can easily be found by visiting a website Heavens-Above (or app) which will identify the exact days and times the ISS passes directly above one’s location, and which part of the sky to look.

Equipment - To capture wide angle ISS photos I use the following equipment :-

1) DSLR camera (Manual mode is required)

2) Lens (Wide angle work best. Personally I use 7-14mm or 8mm fisheye)

2) Tripod (to keep the camera dead still)

Camera Settings -  (These are my settings for Olympus OM-D cameras and based upon a stacking technique to ensure capturing the full width flyby of the ISS across the sky). Some cameras (including Olympus) nowadays have in-built composite or stacking facilities which could also be used.

Mode: Manual

Focus: Manual

Exposure time: 15s

F stop: Lowest possible to maximise light (All my shots in this guide were F3.5).

ISO: 320/400 (This is personal to the Olympus cameras I use, but a good start)

Set the camera focus to manual and shoot a few test images (before the ISS flyby time) to check subject composition (using LCD screen). When you are happy with the composition it is time to force the camera to continuous shoot. I use a remote cable release (set to lock - which forces the camera to shoot continuous exposures)

Camera - Capturing the ISS (wide angle) will require a long exposure. A tripod is therefore required to keep the camera nice and steady. A wide angle lens will ensure maximising as much of the ISS flyby which can travel across the entire horizon. Personally, I use a 7-14mm or 8mm fisheye which are ideal lenses. Try to locate a foreground object of interest within the frame, a line of trees, road, water or buildings in order to give the image perspective and scale. Set the camera to manual and use long exposure times of anything between 15 and 30 seconds. The ISS normally rises above the west horizon and travels eastwards. Depending on the day, time and extent of pass the ISS can span the entire horizon (west to east) before it disappears from view/into Earth's shadow.

With camera primed and in position it's waiting time for the ISS to enter the field of view (times from Heavens-Above). Capturing a single or number of continuous exposures will reveal a long trail across the frame. Capturing numerous and continuous images will allow you to stack and produce an ISS composite and stunning results. The pics in this gallery show the results of this technique.

On some occasions there can be multiple ISS passes in one single evening/morning. Some of the pics in this gallery show the results of capturing multiple passes. These were done by leaving the camera out in the same tripod position for the entire evening, and then bringing all the images together for a multiple composite. That is the ultimate camera challenge!

Good luck and enjoy the ISS flybys!

ISS Photos

  • International Space Station flies over tree

    International Space Station (ISS) flyby over UK skies. This is a composite image comprising 16 No long exposures captured in the early evening overnight in my local village of Cotesbach (Again, you don't have to travel far to explore the heavenly wonders). This shot captures the 1903hrs pass. Especially dramatic as the flyby was almost overhead and flew right over the crescent moon, over the giant oak tree and fading out as the ISS enters Earth's shadow (love this). BEHIND THE LENS To capture this, firstly using the excellent GoSatWatch phone app, I was able to find the time and direction of the flyby (Almost always west to east). The flyby was also directly overhead, which required an extremely wide angle lens to capture land & sky - In this case the Olympus f1.8 8mm fisheye was perfect. I located a good foreground subject (oak tree) gauging where the ISS would rise from horizon & finish (using the app). I mounted the camera on a tripod and set up the composition such that the ISS would rise above the crescent moon (far right) and pass over the tree. Set the focus to manual and shoot a few test images to ensure subject fits & is level (using LCD screen). Once I was happy with the composition and using the remote cable (set to lock - which forces the camera to shoot continuous exposures) I waited for the ISS to come into view & set the camera off. The foreground & tree were lit up using a technique called light painting. During the first few exposures I shone a strong torch over the tree and 'painted' with light. This helps bring daylight to a 'No Light' scene. I then took the camera back indoors & transferred 16 images (High res JPEG) to MAC and imported in StarStax software. This very useful (& free) software easily produces a single composite image. The resulting image reveals over 4 mins of the Space Station flying overhead. Not only does it look good on camera it is also a spectacle to watch with the naked eye. Download the app, go outside & look up....it's that easy :-) CAMERA: Olympus OM-D, E-M5II LENS: M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8mm 1:1.8 FISHEYE PRO ACCESSORIES: Olympus Remote Control RM-UC1 SETTINGS: Manual, ISO 400, F1.8, 15s. Resolution LN (4608 x 3456) TIP: Download GoSatWatch app which tells you all the ISS flyby times and maps where they will fly across the sky - A great tool.

  • 8mm wide angle ISS

    International Space Station (ISS) captured flying over UK skies. This was a very wide flyby and directly overhead so very challenging to capture it all on camera. The 8mm fisheye was a must tool. Captured in my back garden, it rose in the west and disappearing into Earth's shadow in the East. Captured 1940-1946hrs 27th March 2020. Camera: Olympus OM-D EM-5 (mk1) Lens: 8mm fisheye 14 image composite each 15s exposure time, ISO 320, F3.5. Tree and field lit with torch during exposure.

  • ISS entering Earth's shadow

    ISS flyby, 12 June 2014. The ISS delivers multiple flybys over UK skies during June allowing good opportunities to capture some or all, depending on cloud cover. This shot captures the 2259hrs pass. Especially dramatic as the flyby was a bit lower on the horizon and flew right over the moon fading out as the ISS enters Earth's shadow (love this). How did I capture this? Firstly, using my trusty GoSatWatch app I was able to predict the times and directions for all of the ISS passes (Well worthwhile download from the app store). I set my camera on a tripod pointing due south. Using a wide angle lens (8mm fisheye) I set camera in manual mode on a wide aperture (F4) and long exposure time of 15s and shot continuous exposures for the duration of the flyby (approx 15 No). When complete I hauled all the gear back indoors and downloaded. Using StarStax (Mac) software I imported each flyby exposure to generate a composite image. The long exposure time (15s) allowed the nearly full moon to shine out very bright. I lit the foreground with a large torch during exposure. Camera - Olympus OM-D, E-M5 Lens - Olympus 8mm fisheye

  • ISS flies over the moon

    17 Feb 2013. 1900hrs ISS flyby over Stanford Reservoir, Leics, UK. The West to East flyby was directly overhead and quite challenging to capture. One of my fave local sites was chosen and I composed around the water and anticipated flyby over the moon...and yes I was. I particularly love the moment the ISS disappears behind the Earths shadow (as seen fading out on the far left) . Only made possible due to fantastic wide angle capability of the Olympus 8mm fisheye. 13 No 15s exposures, F4.5, ISO 640 and put together with Starstax software.

  • ISS flies over the Motorway

    Feb 19 2012. The International Space Station (ISS) 1845hrs pass over UK skies. The super bright ISS travelling at 17,500mph flies over the more sedate 70mph motorway traffic at Lutterworth, Leics. The ISS started in the west (right) passed the first bright planet Venus (bottom right) and then almost crossed straight through Jupiter (next bright up) as it made its way east (left) and above the Orion constellation. To capture this photo I was perched on top of a motorway bridge and placed camera on tripod shooting a succession of 10s exposures. The final composite contains approx 25 images and stacked using StarStax software. Captured with Olympus E5, 8mm fisheye, F4, 10s, ISO 500.

  • Double ISS flyby over misty water

    June 11/12 2011. As featured on Spaceweather & National press. An amazing night of multiple ISS flybys across UK skies. I set up tent and camera waterside and watched all night as the ISS flew over 4 times. This shot shows a double flyby (0057 & 0232 hrs). The ISS was as bright as the moon and low lying water mist added to the eerie breathtaking scene! Stunning. Why are we getting so many ISS passes in one day? Universe Today Captured with Oly E5 & 8mm fisheye. Camera settings: 15s exposures shot continuous during flyby, ISO 500, F3.5. Mist & foreground lit with a few flash bursts away from camera. The International Space Station is the biggest and brightest object orbiting Earth (The moon does not orbit the center of the earth, rather, they both revolve around the center of their masses called the barycenter). The station's solar panels span 240ft tip to tip, as wide as a football field. The ISS outshines Venus & only the sun and moon are brighter.

  • ISS passes church

    18 Feb 2012. A very bright pass of the International Space Station (ISS) at 1806hrs. A difficult long exposure because of the ambient light having just lost the sun only half hour or so before. The ISS flew across the Orion constellation, so this was my composition guide (just left of spire), having chose my church location. Set camera on tripod and fine tuned the exposure time to 4s at F4, ISO 320. Captured with Olympus E5 & 8mm fisheye. Shot approx 80 exposures continuous and ran around the churchyard firing off isolated strobes. Stacked the frames using StarStax software. It was such a bright pass, made good by very clear skies after passage of a cold front earlier, combined with a polar airmass keeping the air cool and clear :-)

  • Stunning TRIPLE ISS flyby

    The ISS has been making multiple flybys over UK skies in recent days. Perfect opportunities for capturing multiple composite images, should the weather oblige. Sadly we have had much cloud over the last week, but on 6 & 7 June we graced with a few clear sky nights. This composite shows a triple flyby from the 2 nights. The camera was camped out all week on tripod. Olympus E3, 8mm fish, F3.5, 15s (dozen or so composite for each flyby). The final composite was put together with StarStax software.

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