Eric Hartwell's InfoDabble

Welcome to Eric Hartwell's InfoDabble
About | Site Map
Home Tech Notes Apollo 17: Blue Marble Apollo 17 Flight Journal   Calendars About me
Apollo 17: The Blue Marble Overview Timeline Photo Timeline Geometry Photography Mag NN 35mm Transcripts  

Apollo 17: Blue Marble - Photography

Edited and annotated by Eric Hartwell - Last updated March 22, 2006

The Apollo 17 mission carried four 70MM cameras, and 23 magazines of film. A total of 3584 images were taken, 1645 in black & white, and 1939 in color.

More detailed reference:

In-Flight 35mm Photos

The ALSJ Apollo 17 Image Library has more than 150 35mm photos taken in the Command Module during translunar coast, lunar orbit, and TransEarth Coast. These have not been processed by the Apollo Image Atlas. I thought it would be handy to add thumbnail images to the index for these three magazines.

It's clear that Schmitt took most of the pictures.




Schmitt's portrait of Cernan in the Command Module  (AS17-162-24035, left), the first 35mm frame taken during the outbound trip, is curiously similar to the picture of Tom Hanks used years later to promote the movie Apollo 13


Astronaut Still Photography During Apollo

(excerpts) by Gary H. Kitmacher, NASA History Division

At the beginning of the space program hardly anyone thought of photographs from space as anything more than a branch of industrial photography. There were pictures of the spaceships, and launches, and of astronauts in training, but these were all pictures taken on the ground.

When John Glenn became the first American in orbit, bringing a camera was an afterthought. An Ansco Autoset 35mm camera, manufactured by Minolta, was purchased in a local drug store and hastily modified so the astronaut could use it more easily while in his pressure suit. At the time, everything that John Glenn did was deemed an experiment. At the beginning of the program, no one knew for certain whether weightlessness would prevent a man from seeing, or from breathing, or from eating and swallowing. Photography was deemed nothing more than a recreational extra. ...

On Apollo 8, Hasselblad EL electric cameras were used for the first time. The electric motor in these Hasselblads largely automated the picture taking process. The astronauts needed only to set the distance, lens aperture, and shutter speed, but once the release button was pressed, the camera exposed and wound the film and tensioned the shutter. Two Hasselblad EL cameras, each with a Planar f 2.8/80mm [normal] plus a single Sonnar f5.6/250mm [telephoto] lens and seven magazines of 70mm film, were carried. The cameras, film magazines, and lenses used on Apollo 8 had black anodized surfaces to eliminate reflections. Modifications to the cameras included special large locks for the film magazines and levers on the f-stop and distance settings on the lenses. These modifications facilitated the camera's use by the crew operating with pressurized suits and gloves. Additionally, the cameras had no reflex mirror viewfinder and instead a simple sighting ring assisted the astronaut in pointing the camera.

Each film magazine would typically yield 160 color and 200 black and white pictures on special film. Kodak was asked by NASA to develop thin new films with special emulsions. On Apollo 8, three magazines were loaded with 70 mm wide, perforated Kodak Panatomic-X fine-grained, 80 ASA, b/w film, two with Kodak Ektachrome SO-68, one with Kodak Ektachrome SO-121, and one with super light-sensitive Kodak 2485, 16,000 ASA film. ...

The film used for Apollo 11 was loaded and several test shots exposed prior to flight. When the film magazines were returned for processing after the mission, the test shots were cut off and processed first. These were compared against accurate color charts to ensure that there would be no defects in processing the remainder of the film and that the colors would be most accurate. ...

Five more flights landed on the Moon after Apollo 11. On all, the photographic equipment and films were similar to that taken on the first landing. On Apollo 15, the 250mm telescopic lens was added to the Hasselblad lunar surface complement. By the time of Apollo 17, a total of 18 rolls of film were taken to the lunar surface.

Astronaut Training for Lunar Photography

The Apollo astronauts underwent intensive training in preparation for their Moon explorations. Over the several years prior to the Moon missions, scientific and photographic training was provided. Astronauts were encouraged to take training cameras on trips to become more familiar with the camera operation and to enhance their photographic technique. Tutorials were provided to the crews on the equipment, its operation, as well as on the scientific purposes.

The crews visited geologic sites in Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii, frequently simulating their lunar traverse, completely outfitted with sample bags, checklists, simulated backpacks, lunar rock hammer, core-sampling equipment, and typically using Hasselblad EL cameras similar to those they would use on the Moon.

As the use of the camera was mostly automated, the most crucial training was in pointing the camera which was attached to their chest control packs for the suit's environmental control system. The astronaut would point his body in order to aim the cameras. Films taken during the practice exercises were processed and returned to the crewmen who would study the results.

Apollo Photography - Image Quality

(excerpts) by Jay Windley,

The Hasselblad cameras didn't have viewfinders, automatic exposure, or automatic focus. How were the astronauts able to get any good photographs at all?

Believe it or not, people were able to take good photographs before automatic exposure computers and automatic focus devices were invented. It required a bit of training and practice. Film manufacturers commonly provide exposure guides giving the average correct camera settings for common lighting conditions.

The exposures were worked out ahead of time based on experimentation. The ASA/ISO rating of the film was known, and NASA photographers precomputed the necessary exposures. These figures were refined over the course of the program. In many cases the camera settings for planned photos were given in the astronauts' cuff checklists. In other cases the astronauts followed some basic rules.


"I've used an Apollo Hasselblad camera with the Biogon lens. With no practice at all I was able to take appropriately framed shots. You just sight along the top of the camera body"

By Chip July 9, 2005 -- Journalists take pictures all the time without using a viewfinder. It's not nearly as "impossible" as the conspiracy theorists make it out to be. A reporter friend of ours has sometimes held a camera high over his head if a crowd is in the way, and took pictures in the approximate direction of the action. They come out remarkably well. In pre-digital Apollo era days reporters lugged around old Rolleiflex cameras or "Rolleis" which had viewfinders on top. They'd hold these up-side-down to snap pictures over their heads. They'd also simply shoot without even opening the view finder. Everything could be cropped in the darkroom. Photographers (who are not reporters) sometimes forget that one can take a picture with a camera in any angle. The finished photo can always be rotated. The Astronauts were not as rushed and they simply aimed in the right direction.  
  By infocusinc July 11, 2005 -- "An amazing feat of camera work?" Hogwash. I've used an Apollo Hasselblad camera with the Biogon lens. With no practice at all I was able to take appropriately framed shots. You just sight along the top of the camera body.

Automatic exposure controls were available on several consumer camera models during the late 1960s. Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins suggested that Hasselblad look into the possibility of incorporating this technology into the camera after his experience on Apollo 11. Apparently the professional photographers who used the Hasselblad model upon which the lunar surface cameras were based did not want automatic exposure controls on their cameras and so it was not a standard feature.

Shutter speeds were typically 1/125 or 1/250 second. F-stop settings varied from f/5.6 for up-sun photos to f/8 and f/11 for cross-sun and down-sun photos.

Photo by Eric Long of the f-stop decal on the top of the Apollo 11 film magazine on display in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Apollo Gallery. Apollo Lunar Surface Journal

The lack of viewfinder was occasionally a problem. Early missions used a wide-angle lens. It was sufficient to point the camera in the general direction of the subject and you would be likely to frame it well enough. On later missions a 500mm telephoto lens was also taken, and the cameras were modified with sighting rings to help aim them. Normally the camera would be mounted on the space suit chest bracket, but for telephoto use the astronaut would have to remove it and hold it at eye level in order to sight down the rings.

Focusing in The Zone

Manual focus is not as problematic as many suppose. Lens manufacturers mark the expected distance to the subject on the focus ring, and it's simply a matter of measuring or estimating the distance from the lens to the subject and setting the ring for that value. To aid the astronauts in measuring the distance to subject, length of commonly used tools was marked on the lens. Several Apollo photographs show the tongs and scoops used as distance references. Focus need not be exact either.

The Apollo astronauts were trained in "zone focusing", a technique used by photojournalists and sports photographers who often don't have the time to focus visually or by measurement. At a high f-stop, a camera's depth of field increases. This means that when the lens is set to focus at a certain distance, objects somewhat nearer and farther from this ideal distance are also sharply focused. The narrower the aperture (i.e., the higher the f-stop), the greater the depth of field. And the sloppier the photographer can be be about his focus setting. The Zeiss Biogon lens used by the astronauts had an indicator that specified the near and far boundaries of the depth of field for each combination of focus and f-stop.

Zone focusing is a technique whereby the f-stop is kept high, resulting in lenient depths of field. The focus range is then divided into "zones" corresponding approximately to near, medium, and far. These zones of clear focus overlap slightly and correspond to preset positions of the focus ring. The Zeiss Biogon lens provided to the astronauts had "detents" or click-stops that corresponded to these three zones. The astronaut had simply to push the tab on the focus ring to one of three easy-to-find stops to select the focus zone depending on the rough distance to the subject.

A different take on the Apollo 17 Lunar Liftoff TV images ...

 (click for full resolution GIF, 568K)

I decided to create an animated GIF that shows the view from the rover's
TV camera if it hadn't zoomed and panned to follow Challenger's liftoff.

Other Cool Stuff


Creative Commons License Unless otherwise noted, all material by Eric Hartwell is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License
  Many photos, images, and text copyright by their original owners as attributed. NASA photographs are not protected by copyright unless noted.   Site Map
About Me