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A Rocket Photographer Shoots New York

Erik Kuna
May 9, 20238:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)

Supercluster is based in the New York City neighborhood of Soho and while our hometown is not quite known as a space destination like Cape Canaveral, Houston, or even LA, we still know how to party. Sometimes you’ll find your favorite space beat reporters at a Brooklyn dive on a Friday night with the SpaceX livestream pulled up on someone’s phone, and sometimes we’ll get a visit from a NewSpace startup friend here in town to ring the opening bell at NASDAQ. 

Even NASA will take advantage of New York’s bustling culture and foot traffic with live streams broadcasted on the massive screens in Time Square during Mars landings and milestone missions. Fans and members of the space community know to make a quick pilgrimage to the Shuttle Enterprise, now retired and on display aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a former aircraft carrier parked on Manhattan’s west side.

Supercluster photographer Erik Kuna recently spent more than a week down at Starbase, Texas along with Robin Seemangal and Jenny Hautmann to cover the first flight of Starship Super Heavy. Erik captured an image that was seen around the world and shared by many but it was hardly the first time he’s shot an iconic photo of a space mission.

Following the explosive launch of Starship Super Heavy, Erik Kuna left Starbase for New York City to teach a class on photography. We asked him to shoot the Big Apple while in town.

"A big part of photography is luck, however, nowadays you can increase your luck through careful planning and the use of available technology and software," said Erik. These are the main ingredients for a good Supercluster launch photo.

A great app we use often is PhotoPills. It’s available on iOS and Android and allows you to plan any shoot, at any location, at any time in the future. These features are critical when capturing spaceflight and objects in the night sky. It also works for capturing photos of a busy metropolis.

For the above photo, we knew the full moon would be rising during twilight last Friday, May 5th. Now all we had to do is find a location we’d want to shoot that would align with the city in an interesting way. Erik needed a spot to the west that would allow us to shoot back toward Manhattan. "Luckily, there's a perfect place for this, located in Weehawken, New Jersey right next to the Dueling Grounds," Erik recalled.

Just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, these grounds are where the infamous duel between political adversaries Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr took place.

The area had become a popular spot for duels due to its close proximity to New York City and its relative isolation from law enforcement. The specific spot where Hamilton and Burr dueled, known as the "Hollow," was a small clearing on a rocky ledge overlooking the river. The duel took place on July 11, 1804, and resulted in Hamilton's death the next day. Shortly after, dueling was outlawed in most states and the use of the Weehawken site as a dueling site faded away.

"In planning for our moon shot, I started lining things up in the frame. We have the Intrepid Air and Space Museum where the Space Shuttle Enterprise is housed and a recent addition to the skyline, Vanderbilt One, that sparked the motivation to hunt for a moon pass right over the top of the building," Erik explained.

"Now, all we needed was the weather to cooperate."

Thanks to another useful app called Astrospheric, we can track the transparency and cloud cover hour by hour. It was super cloudy right at sunset in New York but Erik knew it would clear by the forecast. Then, about 45 minutes before the shot, he saw the glow of the full moon starting. The clouds were hiding it, but light was peering out here and there. Erik convinced his student group to stay that extra time and wait out the clouds, since he had a feeling the forecast was right and they would get their shot.

That philosophy can produce a great photo anywhere.

Erik Kuna
May 9, 20238:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)