Above: European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (a Flight Engineer with Expedition 42) photographs the Earth through a window in the cupola observation module, International Space Station, 3 February 2015. Credit: NASA.

The Cupola Shot

For me, easily the most compelling landscape photos made over the past twenty years are those shot by a series of otherwise unknown photographers shooting from a $2 billion tin-can 200 miles up in the sky. The very special aerial perspective obtained by the astronauts of the International Space Station reveal our planet's entrancingness as no other photographers ever have. A 2016 documentary A Beautiful Planet shows in some detail how they go about their photo-practice.

Each astronaut tends to take pictures of Earth below using Nikon and Canon cameras fitted with long tele-photo lenses. The cameras are racked all around the main viewing window of the ISS in the cupola observation module. The situation with photo-taking is that whenever one of the astronauts gets the urge they just go up to the cupola and shoot. Looking down at the Earth at night and seeing the planet all lit-up is one thing that gets many of the astro-snappers motivated to take pictures--the effect sometimes triggers Earth nostalgia in the astronauts, especially when they fly over their own country or city. At night many countries trace out their shape and land-mass in lights--some of which are poignantly offset against the blackness of the unlit ocean.

This cupola perch is one of the most enviable positions from which a photographer may set for a photo. How many would love to shoot from where Cristoforetti floats? It must be in the order of billions-of-persons. After looking at landscape photos shot from the ISS, pictures shot on the surface of the planet often seem dull and prosaic by comparison.

(13 January 2019)