IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

One does not always get the opportunity to make a historic photograph, so if you’re fortunate enough to be able to plan ahead for a scheduled event, preparation will be of the utmost importance. If possible, try to scout out a good area from which you can photograph, and by all means, have your camera gear in good working order. Most likely, this will be your only chance to succeed – to document the moment and create memorable images.

by Mike Savage

Photo of the Endeavor space shuttle piggy-backed to transport plane by Mike Savage.
© 2012 Mike Savage. All rights reserved.
Subject: The space shuttle Endeavour, which was bolted atop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, departed from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sept. 19, 2012. This would be its final journey, as it headed west to California. Here it would be permanently displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The flight included a scheduled tour around the state before it would land for the last time.

Conditions: There was a lot of excitement about the fly over. He knew in advance that it would be fairly close, but the weather conditions that morning were definitely not optimum. His vantage point would be the roof of the office building in which he worked. Mike balanced his camera on an exhaust pipe when the Endeavour came into view. “It was a magnificent sight and truly a historic moment.”


1. A strong ascending diagonal lifts the plane.

2. Placement in the frame gave the plane room to “move”.

3. Repetition of large, medium and small shapes emphasize the subject

4. Inclusion of the small fighter jet helps show a perspective of size.

Noella’s comments:

Diagonals are a very strong design element in a photograph. The diagonal path of the planes, as you see in this particular image, can inspire in the viewer a sense that the Endeavour indeed reached lofty heights.

It is important for the photographer to give consideration to subject placement in the frame of the shot. The subjects within this image are obvious, but frequently, we are so anxious to get in tight that we lose perspective. What is the subject doing and do they need room in which to move? That is really an important question to ask as you are photographing any animate subject of interest. Does the bird have room to fly or has the person been given room to walk? Do planes have room to soar?

In this shot we have three planes: the large transportation jet, the shuttle and one of the accompanying small jets. They are close enough together to be considered one large subject, but in analyzing the image they must be considered as three shapes contributing to the whole subject. By the repetition of the shapes within the subject area, it gives more importance to the Endeavor than if it were just a single subject.

The small jet gives the shuttle a size perspective and helps us to judge distance. Even though the image does not show obvious signs of distance, such as mountains in the background, the implied distance is evident in the open feeling between the small jet and the giant transport plane with its piggy-backed shuttle.

We know that there will never be another opportunity to photograph this historic moment in time. The Endeavour was built in the Mojave Desert in 1991 and rocketed into space for the first time in 1992. It left Earth 25 times, logging 123 million miles. It “came home” permanently in 2012.

Mike you captured a wonderful moment in time and did it in a beautiful way. Thanks for sharing your superb image with all of us.

If you would like one of your images to be considered for IMAGE TALK…, please send Noella an e-mail with a low resolution copy of the image. Put the words “IMAGE TALK” in the subject line and send it to

Come back and join us for another IMAGE TALK in the near future.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Marla Meier for her editing assistance in order to present the images for this series. And, our thanks to the photographer/artists who allow us the use of their wonderful photos in these columns.
You inspire all of us!

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.