Apollo I

by Ed Bernd, Jr.

[Apollo I Launch]

This sunrise picture could only have been shot at that one particular time. If there had been any delays, I never could have done it.

I took two Crown Graphics, both 4x5s. One had infrared black and white film, and was on a tripod. The other had short exposure color negative film, and sat on the front fender of my MG-A.

My friend Arch insisted that I couldn't take a picture like this in color. I believed that there would be so much fire spouding out of the tail of that beast that it would burn a line onto the film. Nobody had ever launched anything with so much power before. The Gemini rockets had about 250,000 pounds of thrust if I remember correctly. The Saturn 5 rocket had 7.5 million pounds of thrust! I thought it would light things up.

The shot went at 8 a.m., if I remember correctly, on a Thursday in November. We'd had an election two days earlier, and spent Wednesday doing our election coverage (we were an afternoon paper). I think it was during that day that I got the idea for the shot, so after the paper was out, I went and purchased some 4S Polaroid light reducing filters. I couldn't find any long exposure film, so I used VPS, if I remember correctly -- Vericolor Professional Short exposure.

I got permission to go to Titusville and shoot the picture from the bank of the Indian River at the interesection of U.S. 1 and the state highway that went to Orlando -- is that State Road 50? I promised I'd leave immediately, and would not stay if the launch was delayed (a delay would spoil my shot anyway) and would be in the office by 9 a.m. I was about three minutes late.

The flight went on time. Nobody knocked over my cameras -- there was a lot of jumping around as the big bird lifted off. As Werner Von Braun said, that 10 seconds that it took for the rocket to clear the launch tower was the longest year of my life! It seemed to take forever.

The lab I sent it to sent back horrible looking purple pictures. Lots of reciprocity failure. Most of my work had been in black and white, I'd never even heard of reciprocity failure. Now I got a first hand introduction to it.

Eventually, somebody recommended Florida Color Labs in Fort Lauderdale. They sent back their test prints, as well as the final color corrected one that had a pale blue sky and the colors of the sunrise. And they sent a note letting me know how impressed they were.

We ran the black and white on the front page of the newspaper. This color picture has never been published. It should be. Of all the pictures, this is probably the best artistically. I didn't have enough enough time to screw it up.

Copyright Ed Bernd, Jr. 1997

Brought to you by Graflex.Org