Last night I took a trip out to the pad with the camera corps and learned a little more about how one goes about photographing the shuttle. Since you have to be several kilometres away from the launch pad when it launches, you need one of two things: a very long telephoto lens or a remote control camera.
Most photographers apparently opt for the later. The day before the launch they climb aboard a NASA bus and haul their gear out to the restricted area around the pad. They set up their cameras at what the think will be a good angle, placing them atop tripods and inside little armoured boxes. The cameras have sound triggers that go off when hey hear the deafening roar of the shuttle engines (usually above 100 decibels).
According to a local photographer I befriended, the guys are pretty hard core about getting their shots. They often tromp out into the marshland around the pad to set up their tripods, getting devoured by mosquitoes in the process (the ones around the pad are both numerous and ravenous). They also run the risk of being eaten by alarmed alligators, many of which, according to photographer lore anyway, are deaf as a result of previous shuttle launches.
I also learned that the single most embarrassing thing any photographer can do is ask to have their picture taken in front of whatever it is they’re supposed to be covering. I’m a reporter though, so I was unabashed about taking a quick snapshot of me and the Atlantis.