Shortly after midnight on the evening of July 20, 2011, my phone rang. On the other end of the line was Philip Scott Andrews, a photographer who currently works for the New York Times. Philip had received a Lytro prototype camera and was charging it up on his way to the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center to photograph the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis. Philip has been photographing NASA Space Shuttle missions for many years, and having a Lytro on the ground at the landing site for STS-135, the last Space Shuttle mission ever, was very special—the beginning of a new era in photography juxtaposed with the end of another era. We posted a few of Philip’s light field pictures this week and managed to catch up with him for a short interview.
EC: When exactly were these light field shots taken?
PSA: These images were taken at the Shuttle Landing Facility, the giant runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed there to conclude its final flight into space.
EC: How did you get access to photograph the last Space Shuttle landing ever?
PSA: I have been working on a project on the final flights of the Space Shuttle for the last few years. In that time I have had the opportunity to meet some of the people that make manned space flight possible. It was through these relationships, and a bit of lobbying around the press room, that I was granted access.
EC: How long have you been photographing Space Shuttle missions?
PSA: Hmm, the first launch I photographed was STS-114, the first flight after the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. That was July 26, 2005 (I had to look it up) so I guess 7 years. For my project, Last Days, I photographed the final 7 launches.
EC: How did you feel when you saw the landing of STS-135? What was the mood at the landing site?
PSA: It’s always a pretty happy vibe when a bird comes back safely. This one, of course, was different. I didn’t have a lot of time to think right as the orbiter was landing because I was working quickly to transmit images for [the New York Times]. A few hours afterward, when we were allowed to go under the wing, was when I really began to emotionally connect with the situation. Everyone was proud to be there. The Space Shuttle was always more than a job for those technicians but it was particularly poignant that day. For some of them it was their last day as an employee. It was a true gift to be able to be there.
EC: This was your very first experience with a light field camera. Can you tell us whether it changed the way you take pictures?
PSA: I think I probably looked at including things I would typically not consider in the frame, because I knew there would be no problem with the depth of field. I’m still getting used to the technology but it forced me to think about compositions differently than with a standard camera.
EC: How do you think light field cameras will affect photography and journalism in the future?
PSA: Whoa, That is quite a question. I missed the transition from film to digital in journalism but it will probably be something like that. The new crop of digital cameras have allowed photographers to do things film didn’t allow, from extremely high ISO settings to movies and audio capture. I think its impossible to tell what these cameras will do. I can almost guarantee that there will be naysayers, but if these cameras allow us to tell stories in a different or better way, and I think it’s obvious that they do, then they will be embraced and pushed to do incredible things that their inventors and early adopters can’t possibly imagine.
I just want to say thanks so much to lytro, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Born and raised outside Washington D.C., Philip Andrews has interned for the Associated Press and National Geographic, and currently covers Capitol Hill and the White House on an internship with the New York Times. Philip has won numerous awards in photography and journalism, and has completed freelance assignments of protests, Space Shuttle launches, and forest fires for publications including the New York Times and Getty Images.
See more of Philip’s living pictures of Space Shuttle Atlantis in the living picture gallery. You may notice that these living pictures aren’t as refocusable as are some of the other pictures in the gallery. While light field cameras are capable of producing pictures with dramatic refocus potential, not all pictures need to refocusable to be great!
Our living picture gallery features the work of photographers in the Lytro Professional Shooter Program (PSP), a small group of forward-thinking artists who lept at the chance to be the first to use Lytro prototype cameras in the field.