Transcript: Space4U podcast, Bill Ingalls
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
My name is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation. And this is the Space4U podcast, a new effort by the Space Foundation to tell the stories of the amazing people who have made and continue to make the space adventure possible behind all the amazing science technology, engineering and mathematics are real people who bring their energy, creativity, and gifts to make these amazing adventures and discoveries a reality.
Every month, we at the Space Foundation, we’ll be sitting down with some of those amazing people to learn more about their work, what they’ve learned along the way, how they got there and where they see the future going. Today, we’re sitting down with Bill Ingalls, NASA, senior photographer, who has literally captured the adventure of space around the world for three decades, from launchpads and Florida, California, and even Russia to historic events in Washington and other major cities and far off locations around the world.
The jaw-dropping images bill captures have appeared in every major newspaper and media outlet imaginable. He has for lack of better description, been the master visual storyteller of the humid adventure of space. And we are really thrilled to have him join us as we kick off our podcast series. Bill, thank you for joining us.
And I got to start off with this. How did you get this amazing front row seat job? Well, thank you rich. I really appreciate your asking me to be here today, and I think I’m better behind the camera than on the microphone, but happy to answer your questions and to talk a little bit about my career at NASA.
So far as a contract senior photographer, I got the job through university of Waynesburg university. Uh, I was taking a visual communications and English degree there, and one of the alum works at NASA headquarters, Joe Hedley, and he said he would take on an intern for the summer. And at my school, you competed for internships.
And so I went ahead and applied for the competition in that and worked hard to, to get it, uh, had a valuable lesson learned, uh, through that experience, which is when they told me that I had gotten the internship. I was rather surprised because some of them, people I was running up against I thought were extremely talented.
And they said that they, uh, all had become intimidated with the prospect of being at NASA headquarters and had dropped out. So a valuable lesson for me, you know, stick with it, hang in there. Uh, good things will happen. So I was an intern at NASA for a summer. Television is a writer and producer and they knew I did photography as well.
Um, I hounded NASA after that summer and said I wanted to work there so badly. And, uh, I think they got tired of me calling actually, and just figured get them a desk in the corner and we won’t hear from as much. God brought me on as a photo researcher and photographer and given the opportunity to try to revitalize the senior photographer position at NASA headquarters, which had dropped in stature, uh, somewhat throughout the years.
So why did you drop in stature? Um, I think some of the skills well sets that were there for PE people previous to me were really up to snuff and, uh, it maybe was not their passion and their number one thing. I can’t really say. Since I wasn’t there, but, uh, so they, they told me was a camera cabinet in the corner.
Go take an inventory of it and see what you like. And, uh, NASA was gracious enough to help beef that up a little bit. Although I will tell you, I never got rid of anything in that camera cabinet and a little bit of a hoarder. And a lot of those cameras have quite a bit of history behind them with the gentleman that did have my job during the Apollo days, a lot of his cameras are still in my cabinet.
So, so Joe Hedley was your sort of mentor and getting started there? Yes, he was. He was, well, he was my direct report for the NASA headquarters. So who was the mentor that got you started with, uh, photography and, and inspired you to pick up, uh, this incredible tool and capture. It wasn’t any one in particular that first got me going with photography.
It was, you know, like many, I had a passion for it and I enjoyed it and loved it. My father was a great inspiration as far as doing what you enjoy doing though. He was a successful businessman, a Yale graduate and kind of an intimidating figure to me as far as a success story. Um, but to my relief, he said, Hey, you should do what you find.
Your passion within what you enjoy doing, and you’ll be good at it. And that happened to be television and photography at that time. Early on, of course, like many photographers of my age Anzel Adams was, was a big, uh, influence on me. I loved his work. Um, Eugene Smith, a photo journalist that, uh, uh, did a lot for life magazine, uh, the doctor story, and he also covered Pittsburgh quite a bit.
And then, um, Arno, uh Minkin and someone, uh, bought me a book of his work called frostbite and black and white photos of him bending himself in all sorts of strange shapes and in Finland. And, uh, his sense of humor with photography really spoke to me. And I love that. So, you know, seeing work of others and just having a passion for it, I think is what inspired me.
You’ve covered every possible aspect of the space adventure. And in particular launches both here in the United States, Russia and elsewhere. Tell me, what do you do to capture those images? What kind of equipment do you carry? Where do you figure out where to stand to capture those images? How do you do that?
Sure. So there’s a couple of different sides to that. Of course. One is the technical side. What equipment are you going to need? Uh, where will you place it? Uh, how will it work, et cetera. And the other side of that of course, is the logistics with the people, you know, getting the access, what permissions you can have building relationships.
And I would save with Russia and my work with, uh, Roscosmos in, in Kazakhstan and in Moscow, it’s really been about the relationship and getting to know and trust each other quite a bit, uh, throughout the years, uh, to where they permit me to do quite a few things. And in my colleagues, Joel and Aubrey as well, who helps support launches in Kazakhstan.
Technically it’s, it’s about putting gears close in, in creative positions to get the shots that we can without trying not to fry the cameras. We, we take our, uh, shots and creative. Those cameras of course get closer than you would want to stand to see a launch. So remote photography is key for those kinds of things.
So how many cameras will you deploy for a launch and how do you pick the shots that ultimately go out to the news meetings? Sure, sure. Um, it varies. It, it. You know, when you’re traveling. Of course, it’s about, uh, how many cases of gear and the weight and you know, where do you draw the line on that? Uh, it gets expensive as well and physically it’s, you know, I’m not a spring chicken anymore, so I don’t care to break my back every trip.
So I I’m. I start to preach more and more now less is more, but no, I’d say typically for me, uh, for a, uh, Soyuz launch, you know, I’ll put six or seven remote cameras out and then I’ll shoot with about three cameras in total from where I’m standing. Of course, two of those are typically remote. But where I am, but it depends, you know, when we go to Wallops Island, uh, for a launch it’s we can load up the car and drive or not flying.
So we tend to pack a few more things into the car and tell the car can’t take any more gear. So, and then as far as choosing the shots, it’s all about trying to find a creative, unique angle. And, um, not every one of those cameras that we placed put out in the field is going to yield something. So, um, sometimes there’s technical issues, sometimes it just doesn’t turn out to be such a great picture.
So what kind of equipment do you carry to capture all of this? Sure. So the cameras we put out around the launchpad or professional DSLR cameras, or digital single lens, reflex cameras that any professional would buy, uh, for Soyuz launches to trigger them. We use a typical off the shelf camera release that just counts down because they launch like clockwork and they don’t have a launch window.
For other launches that have a launch window. That is to say that, Hey, we may launch between five and 7:00 PM. We obviously can’t have those cameras just start shooting for two hours. The cameras would be full. So we use a sound activated trigger to, uh, listen. And as soon as it hears a loud, a loud noise, it triggers the camera and search shooting multiple frames per second.
So what’s the difference between covering a launch at Kennedy space center? Vandenberg and say, Russia. Sure. Differences are technical as well as, uh, the people that you’re dealing with and so forth. For Russia, Kazakhstan, the Baikonur where they launch we’re awfully close. Uh, again, we had the remotes that we talked about and that’s true for any launch, put remotes close to the, to the rocket, but, but where are we physically stand for a launch, uh, for Soyuz launch.
We’re only three quarters of a mile away. So we’re very close. Now, again, it’s a smaller rocket of course, but we’re close. It’s pretty impressive to have that happen right in front of you. Whereas the shuttle by, um, Comparison. We were three miles away for, for a launch. Isn’t it a little intimidating to be three quarters of a mile from what is essentially a controlled explosion going off in front of you?
Yeah, no, it’s pretty exciting actually. Um, that being said, Brown still moving for you, right? Absolutely. That being said, my very first Soyuz launch was mere 18 in 1995 and I was about 120 yards from the rocket. It was at the edge of the flame trench, the next to a bunker. I’m not sure why it wasn’t in the bunker, but what made you think it was a good idea to stay at 125 yards away from him?
I did not think it was a good idea. I thought that I was going to be taken away after I set up my remotes, but I was told that I would just stay there and. In fact, I was told that if I died, I’d be buried with full honors. No, no, that’s nice. No problems. There, there would be nothing left. Yeah. Being said it was, it was incredible experience.
Uh, you know, I don’t care to do that again. It was a little too loud for my ears, but. Pretty amazing. It was minus 15 outside and, but I felt the heat, it got warm real fast. It got warm real fast. And then it got cold, real fast again. Yeah. Setting up. So if you’re three quarters of a mile fro in Russia, you’re how many I was away for a shuttle launch.
Um, I believe at Wallops were somewhere two to three miles as well from the rocket. Okay. So Vandenberg, same. Probably yeah. Three. So obviously at the Kennedy and at Wallops, you’ve got some swampy, coastal conditions. Vandenberg also has some fog, fog and coastal conditions, but Russia, you’ve just got a big colossal open Tundra.
Yeah. Although we’ve had fog situation there as well, where, where we’re standing, we see nothing. So remote cameras are extremely important for launches, uh, and they tend to get. Some interesting photos that, that you don’t get from where we’re standing anyway. Even if it is a clear day, what about landings?
What’s the dig big difference there? I mean, for the shuttle, you had a pretty good idea of where it was going to land either a Kennedy or Edwards in California, but in Russia, that’s a whole other experience. What’s it like to cover those landings versus say, you know, any of the shuttle experiences? Right?
Well, from my perspective, Well, the shuttle, for example, I was there primarily to help support, uh, our NASA senior leadership that was there to witness the landing. So my role was to try to tie those things together, to photograph the administrator, watching the landing or deputy administrator, and then going to walk around the shuttle underneath.
Now, of course I would photograph the landing, but that really wasn’t my primary. Goal at that point, whereas with a Soyuz, that is my primary goal. I’m in one of the first three helicopters that takes off to the landing zone. Typically in a Russian Mia, we go up to about 10,000 feet and then we opened the door and sneak ourselves out a little bit and, uh, myself and some other journalists.
And we, uh, what do you mean sneak yourselves out? Just our shoulders and head or, you know, kind of li I’m laying down typically. Cause I’m one of the bigger guys. Okay. So is there a belt? Do you have a belt? I have a little belt and a little wire that, uh, a little built in little wire hanging on a helicopter.
Yeah. And then I have someone typically sitting on top of me as well, which is nice. I guess it’s safer than standing 125 yards away from, in a launch trench. I don’t know which is worse, but yeah. Yeah. Anyway, it’s a little cold and windy up there. Yeah. Especially, uh, uh, this last landing, it was minus 20.
Then they say for every thousand feet you subtract 3.5. Now that being said, this last landing, our pilot didn’t find the soil. So we never opened the door, but I didn’t get to see it till it was on the ground. But it typically though, when we do have eyes on it, we’ll open the door and w and the pilot.
They’re just amazing. They’ll circle the Soyuz and we follow it all the way down to the ground. And if we’re lucky, we get to see, uh, to get, to see it land and get in even luckier. I get to see the retro rockets fire, which is a millisecond, uh, and get the shot with the flames coming out the bottom. When a shuttle lands.
They crawl through the opening and then come down a flight of stairs. But when I saw use lands, essentially they’re popping the top on around can. All right. What’s the, what’s the sort of, is there any sort of difference in the human emotion of seeing something like that? Well, uh, again, for me, my perspective, I was never really at the front door of the shuttle, per se, when they would open it, I would see them later when they would come down the stairs.
So it is very different from, from my perspective, uh, in that regard that literally right there with others, seeing it all happened firsthand and. Um, it’s very exciting. I mean, it’s, it’s fun to watch the crew take in the fresh air. And it’s one of the comments I hear often about how wonderful it is to smell earth dirt, and get the fresh air and to see them react.
Some aren’t always feeling so well at first and they have to kind of get their legs again and, and are helped. And, uh, even those that do feel strong often, uh, just out of abundance of precaution, everyone kind of. Huddles around them and helps carry them and so forth. But it’s a real thrill to see, to see them go through all that.
Often they’re presented with some small gifts, like an Apple or a cucumber or some flowers, and to, to see them react to, you know, they’ve, they’ve had good food in space and they’ve been healthy, but to get fresh fruit like that and the smells of earth, I think it’s pretty, pretty interesting. And you’ve captured some of those things, but taking back to the beginning of your career, that what was the first.
Shoot you had to do when you joined the NASA team. Hmm. I, I don’t recall the very first shoot, but I, within the first two weeks being at NASA, I was sent to the white house for the Apollo anniversary. I’ll never forget to this day what that was like for me to, uh, from NASA hop in a taxi cab and, and asked to be taken to the Northwest gate of the white house.
I had to pinch myself. I mean, that’s. It’s uh, you know, from a kid from Pittsburgh to end up in DC. And all of a sudden here I am at the white house with the Apollo 11 crew, it was a real thrill. And I must say, even though we don’t drive to the Northwest gate in a taxi anymore, it’s still an incredible honor.
Whenever we get to do those kinds of photo assignments. I say we, because my colleagues, Joel, and Aubrey also support these kinds of things as well. So you walk into the white house, you’ve got the president and you got other dignitaries and you’ve got the legendary Apollo 11 crew. Did you really pinch yourself when you were sitting here saying Holy cow, here I am.
Uh, I think I was more Holy cow. I hope I make a good picture here. And that’s true of any one of these shoots. I think, I think the pressure, when you start to realize that. That your camera is the eyes for the thousands of people that can’t be there. That’s a huge responsibility. So, um, I think the moment, uh, the realization of where I was, and, and what I witnessed typically comes later after I’ve reviewed the imagery after I’ve edited, after I’ve had time to reflect, do you keep a journal?
I did when I first started, and then I stopped and I. It’s a terrible mistake. I would recommend anyone who’s out there. Keep a journal. Now, Rob Navias who’s the voice of NASA has a very good journal that he keeps every single day. He’s got volumes and volumes and volumes. Someday. I might have to ask Rob to help me remember a few things.
Yeah. I think the two of you have a book in you somewhere, but you talked about the responsibility of capturing those moments and images and images have a way of transcending words and language and. Can you share some thoughts on a couple of your most notable shots and what messages you think those images sent?
I’m not sure about the messages port portion of that. And for me, what’s memorable changes on a regular basis. There are a few things off the top of my head that stand out and one is of course, Neil Armstrong’s passing. And, um, the incredible honor that the family gave me to, to, uh, be in Ohio and be the only photographer of the family service and then to fly to Florida for his burial at sea in the Navy, giving me, uh, Total leeway to, to document that that was a huge moment for me personally.
I just felt incredibly honored. Again, huge responsibility did not want to screw that up. I feel comfortable with what I did, uh, which is good. Um, but that was a big, memorable moment for me. Sometimes just a, you know, getting a unique picture. Something that I hadn’t been able to do before becomes memorable to me.
Uh, the Maven launched, for example, at, at Kennedy space center was one of those moments. I’d put a camera out in the swamp as many photographers do this one area, I think goes off to myself. And when I went back to retrieve the camera, I was doing what we call in the business chimping, which is in the days of digital cameras, you, uh, Look on the back screen.
And as you go through each of the pictures, you know, it’s w w w w w. Yeah. So I’m through the remote camera for Maven launched in there, uh, found a frame where, uh, during the launch where the e-cigarettes and the birds were all around, taking off at the same time, the rockets launching, and, uh, it just was kind of a beautiful image to me and unique in that regard, other memorable moments, I think.
More personal for me, JFK Jr’s last visit to the white house. Uh, when bill Clinton was president, it was a big deal for me. Anytime I photographed a president, the queen, when she was at the Goddard space flight center was a very memorable moment for me. And one thing I always tell people when I give talks and show photos is what I discussed when the space shuttles were being sent to the various museums around the country.
Um, it was kind of a bittersweet moment in the fact that, uh, it didn’t like to see that the shuttles were being put away without something ready to go. And instead, but. On the other hand, um, what a great moment to be able to photograph this amazing hardware, literally next to people with their emotions and their reactions, you know, as the shuttles going through the streets of Los Angeles, to see people on the roofs of their homes and people with tears in their eyes and jaws drop and pointing.
And to be able to capture that with the shuttle in the same frame. I mean, that’s typically, it’s, you know, here’s a launch and here’s people reacting, trying to tie the two together is always a real challenge. Right. Here’s a spacecraft coming down your neighborhood street. Exactly. Yeah. Unbelievable. Yeah.
Something, it just doesn’t happen every day. Right. So you’ve talked a little bit about, uh, earlier about some of the cameras that you’ve used, but you have one camera that has. Been a bit, well, let’s just say has its own history, I would say, and own texture and even smell has its own name. It has its own name, the chart camera toasty cam toasty cam.
There you go. Um, tell me the story about toasty cam and how a guy with your experience, uh, in, in photographing all of these launches after doing all these launches, all of a sudden gets a camera that ends up being well. Let’s just say, I don’t want to say deep. Fried, but I think charred is probably the right, uh, crispy, crispy.
That’s probably even better. How did that happen? Well, rich, I was really, uh, wanted to increase my social media following. So set the camera on fire. Oh, it’s better than setting yourself, you know? Um, No, no. I was looking for, it was at a space X launch at Vandenberg air force base. And it turns out this camera is actually the furthest camera from the launch bed.
It was misreported when it first came out that it was his up-close, this was the furthest camera from the pad. It was across a direct line of sight from the flame trench. Uh, but, uh, I couldn’t tell you how far away it was, but it was pretty far, it just so happened that that flame trench shot out enough flame to catch the vegetation on fire on that hillside.
And the hillside fire crept its way up. And, uh, you know, the rest is history of melted my camera and set it ablaze. Luckily the flashcard remained intact and was able to get some pictures out of that. The camera’s gone it’s toast. I mean, Oh, I just have it on my desk. It smells like a campfire. So you’ve got the camera.
So it’s the, yeah. Will it have its own exhibit space somewhere in the air and space museum or I think it should. It hasn’t been figured out yet, but I think it should, yes. Okay. And we have other cameras that, that might want to go with that firm. Other launches as well that have also been charged a little bit charred yet a little bit.
Some of my colleagues have done their bit too. How did you find this camera after it? Basically a California hillside catches fire. Uh, was it still in its stand or what happened? No, I knew there was a fire and the firemen were letting me up on the hillside and, and I was. Pretty much in fear for the camera’s life.
Since I saw where it was, uh, finally they let me run up the Hill and they were still there putting out some small fires. And I didn’t see the camera though, in the. One of the firemen said, Oh, you must be the photographer. It’s in the back of my pickup truck. And I went and looked in there. It was in a little burnt self.
And he said, yeah, he said, um, not only was it on fire, but I nearly drove over it as well. So it almost had a second death. Well, but, uh, does a homeowner’s policy cover the camera replacement or what? I don’t know. We’ll have to talk to NASA about that. Not sure I had to ask. Yeah. Yeah. All right. But as much as space is about the high-tech and the cool gadgets, it’s also about the really amazing people that make all this stuff happen.
And you’ve mentioned a couple names. I mean, you’ve had a chance to get close to people like John Glenn and Neil Armstrong in so many other space legends. What’s that experience been like, and what’s been like to develop people with literally who are part of our history that are legends and that, um, you say either their first name or their last name in PDP, people automatically know who you’re talking about.
What’s that like, it’s been a real honor. I think that’s the word that comes back to me often with all the kind of work that NASA has given me to do. I mean, I know that. The reason that I have gotten to know these folks is through my work at NASA. And that’s the only reason that our paths have crossed.
And it’s a little bit of a balancing act because, you know, as much as I get to know them, my job is to stay back and document what’s happening in front of us and in the news and the events. But yeah, I have been very fortunate, uh, through the years to, uh, have worked with John Glenn and Neil Armstrong and buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins and others.
I don’t take it lightly. I think it’s a huge responsibility to be around these folks and to document what they’re doing. And I want to build trust with them is with anyone. Uh, photography is a lot about trust and comfort and making sure that these folks know that, you know, you’re not gonna do them wrong.
So, yeah. So as you build that rapport and trust though, I mean, you’ve gotta be starstruck every now and then. I mean, you’re, you’re you either have history or again, a, a famous entertainer or a personality or something like that, or even a president. Don’t you starstruck? I do. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, uh, it, I mean, it becomes clear very quickly that everyone is human, you know, uh, folks consider themselves fortunate.
I mean, I remember, I remember when I met Jeff Bezos, uh, in how I just thought it was so cool that he said, look, I’ve won the lottery. I’m a very, very fortunate person. He, he did not come off as I. Dessert. I, the richest person on the planet. Right. I deserve this. And you know, I mean, not that he’s not deserving, but.
I considered him to be very humble about the whole thing. And, uh, in most people in those situations that I’ve gotten to meet and experience have been like that, luckily for me, none more. So though, then John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, I mean the two of them were just salt of the earth. And I, John Glenn would just, I mean, I remember him coming into a room and there literally could be the president of the United States and some of the custodial staff and John Glenn would treat everyone the same.
It was such respect. And I just love that. I love that what’s been your toughest assignment that you’ve been given as NASA photography. Yeah, I don’t, I can’t think of one specifically. And as I’ve mentioned in other talks, I’ve given, I think, I mean, part of it’s maybe just my personality or, or, or maybe.
The personality of a photographer. I don’t know that there are some that are technically difficult of course, but, but even the ones that aren’t technically difficult, I think they become difficult for me because I want to, I want to do the best I can. I mean, the example I give is press conferences at NASA headquarters.
And me we’ve been in the auditorium a hundred times. We’ve shot a million press conferences in there. The room doesn’t change. It’s physically the same room every time, but I consider it. And I think my colleagues would say the same, a challenge to try to come up with something interesting, something unique.
So in that regard, every shoot is a bit of its own challenge. Uh, maybe not technically, but visually to come up with something interesting. When you given you. Portion of your career. You started with film and now of course, everything is digital. How hard was that transition or has it made your life easier that you could produce more images and transmit them faster?
Or is it just made it harder to select what shots go out? Sure. All the above the answer. Yeah. I, um, I was a hold. I didn’t go to digital as quick as many. Um, you know, I used to take a darkroom with me everywhere. I traveled around the world, had a big, uh, storage tub with chemicals and tanks and reels and hairdryers and would develop my stuff.
And there was a phase in between where I would still shoot film, but I would develop my film in the. Hotel bathroom and, and then scan, scan the negatives and, and transmit that back via phone line, which often would take two hours to send one image. And of course, inevitably one hour into it, the phone connection would drop and you’d have to start all over again.
I bet the hotel cleaning staff loved you. They did. Yeah. I remember once when they, they came in on announced and I was there with my smock and rubber gloves on, in the bathroom with all the crazy things, going chemicals all around, they went. Screaming out of there. It was pretty funny, but with digital, um, it’s, it’s fantastic.
I mean, on one hand I’m I can do this chimping and see how I’m doing on the back of the camera right away. Get a sense of how I’m doing. I can certainly take more photos of, I need to then than I certainly did back in the days of 36 exposures on a role. Also, there are times though, where you get a little lazy and that’s kinda, you don’t think as much, but work around that.
But the downside really with digital, for me, I mean, all of it’s for the most part, a plus I’m very happy not to carry a darkroom around the world anymore. I love that my laptop is my dark room. My satellite dish is the same size as my laptop when I’m in remote parts of the world, such as Kazakhstan. And I can get things out the door.
The problem of course, is that now with, uh, everyone wanting to see things right away. So the pressure to be quick and to get things out the door and not just the picture, but a picture with an AP cell capture with key wording, with an ID assigned to it, all the proper metadata in there. Uh, the pressure to get that stuff out quick, um, is the only downside to it because often I’m having to put the cameras down and miss some of the story that’s happening to meet that need.
And to feed that machine, you talked, uh, earlier in our conversation about some of the people that now work with you, uh, and again, how you got your own position at NASA headquarters. How do you train people for what is the photographic. Uh, the photographic job of a lifetime. I mean, what type of skills are you looking for?
How do you train them to know where to stand, how to record a particular, uh, Epic space event, launch, landing, whatever that may be? Sure. Sure. I don’t train them. I, I, um, I’ve been very fortunate that the folks I work with, um, and I’ve hired throughout the years have come in with a skillset that is really gotten them on the ground running, I believe from, from day one.
Sure. There’s some small nuances about our workflow that need to be learned, but often I’m learning more from the folks that are. Work with, and I hired my office, then they probably do for me. Uh, I can’t tell you how much throughout the years, people that have come on board have taught me and helped me up my game technically.
And, uh, and creativity. We typically, how about that for a word? Totally strategic. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Strategic. Now, whether they’ve learned anything for me, I think you’d have to ask them. But I don’t necessarily sit down and today say today, we’re having class and I’m going to teach you this. So I’d say for the most part, I’m learning from them.
What’s the elusive shot that you have not captured yet that you’re still working on. Okay. Well, I often say that that, uh, for me, it’s not a particular shot, but it’s the, um, The interest of getting more of the human element of space flight in my, in my work and in the emotion that goes with that, and the people behind the scenes, uh, you know, when the space shuttles were retiring.
And we talked about this earlier, I think maybe that, you know, when the shuttle was coming through Washington, DC had photographers on rooftops throughout the city and Smithsonian photographers are helping us and. You know, you see one amazing picture, come in the space, shuttle, the capital behind another amazing picture with the Mon Washington monument and the white house.
I feel like the fifth or sixth one, you’re like, Oh, All right. It’s a space shuttle. Uh, we’re missing something here and you start to see pictures, come in with the human element where people reacting and people with their jaws dropped and you start to realize this is what really grabs you. This is yes.
The hardware’s impressive launches are cool, but to tie that together with the human element. So I would say if anything, I would love to improve that amongst my work, it, to see more of that in my work. You and your team have had your pictures on the front page of every major newspaper in the world, let alone all the social media posts.
What’s it feel like to have your work be front and center like that? I mean, it is the ultimate, uh, Epic golden report card to put on the refrigerator. You’ve got a photo on the front page of the New York times or Washington post or whatever it is. What’s that feel like? Oh, it’s great. It’s a real thrill.
I’d be, I’d be lying if I said anything else. Uh, love seeing it sometimes you’re like, wait, they pick that one. Really? I would have chosen a different one. Oh, wow. Okay. But no, it’s, it’s a real thrill in, it’s a real shot in the arm. Um, I think, you know, When our names are attached to the photos, you know, our photo credits go out NASA slash photographers name.
And on there, it’s a real insight. I don’t get paid any more or less if my photo ends up on the front page. And yet that is an incentive. It gets me excited. It gets my colleagues excited about seeing your stuff in print. I mean, that’s, that’s the end game, right? And you want, you don’t want to just go off and do all this and capture it and have it sit into a vault somewhere.
You want the world to see it? So, yeah, it’s a thrill. It’s a real thrill. You’ve captured launches, landings, the highs and lows of so many different things in space. Uh, certainly on this planet, but one place you haven’t been yet is space. Does bill Ingles want to go to space and shoot from there? Yeah, absolutely.
Let’s get a go fund. Me started. Let’s work on that. Why not? No, I’m joking aside. I would absolutely love it. I think it’d be great. You know, and, and, you know, I daydream and fantasize about what would I do if I were. Quote unquote, a photographer on the space station. And, um, throughout the years, I’ve seen that list get ticked off by, uh, other astronauts that have chipped away at that list of my ideas.
Don Pettit just took it to another level when he was up there doing the long exposures and tracking and so forth. Uh, and other astronauts since him raised the bar even more. Have you trained any of those astronauts? I have not trained them. Uh, they get training at the Johnson space center in Houston. I have been asked by a number of astronauts leading up to the launches if I had suggestions and ideas of what they might do, that might be different.
So, yeah. So I’ve got to ask this because this is, this is the hard one for any photographer, but I got to ask you this. What’s your favorite shot that you’ve taken? Oh Lord. And I don’t. I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer, man. That’s a Dodge. I really don’t have an answer. It changes for me all the time. And, and one of the things that I do when I come back with a shoot, for example, just, we just wrapped up at a John Hopkins APL out in Maryland for the, uh, new horizons fly by of ultimate Tooley.
And so what let’s say, I put out 15, 20 pictures that day from the shoot. Um, I’ll later, sit down and look at those and they’ll say, what are my favorites amongst that? And I’ll save them out to my screensaver on my laptop, in my screensaver, my laptop, randomly cycles through these things all the time. And I find myself over the years, looking at these pictures repeatedly.
And some of them, I grow weary of very quickly. It’s like, Oh, okay, that’s boring. It’s, I’ve seen it a million times on my screensaver. It’s matte. But there are a few that every once in a while I look at it and I go, no, that’s still rings true to me. I still am very proud that I made that picture. And I think they, you know, the Maven launch, I mentioned earlier with the, with the birds and flight was always a big one for me and the alarm strong.
I think those ones that I mentioned earlier, those were big for me, but it’s. You know, it’s trite and I know it’s people say all the time, but you’re only as good as your last shoot and there’s always what’s next. And that’s kind of what you’re always thinking about. So what is next? What’s the next thing you want?
What’s the next thing you want to shoot? Yeah, well, I mean, uh, I, I really enjoy the coverage that we’ve done over the years in Russia, in our partnership with them. I do. However, of course, miss seeing astronauts launched from us soil and I can’t wait to be a part of that. You’ve captured a lot of history, but I’m going to give you the opportunity if you could go back and it doesn’t have to be a space answer, but if you could go back and be the photographer of note for a particular historic moment, what would you choose?
Uh, it’s a curve ball. Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, I guess I would have to stay with NASA since I’ve I’ve really. Got that in my skin now, you know, and Apollo 11 probably would have been, that would have been nice to be part of that. Absolutely. Like my colleague of many years ago, he, since, uh, since deceased built hub, uh, covered that though as well.
And he did via task. So where would you have been on Apollo? 11. Where do you have wanted to. Certainly want to be there for liftoff, but would you want to be in mission control when everything’s going on? W where does billing goes, want to be on a phone line? I would have done what bill did, and that was he trained with a crew.
He traveled the world with a crew and yeah, he covered from mission control, covered the launch, and then he traveled the world with them afterwards and just incredible. He got the whole adventure. He really did. In fact, during the Apollo anniversaries, when he was still with us and bill would show up at the event, he was brought into the fold as if he was one of the crew.
I mean, it was just amazing to watch that, uh, experience they all had together. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah. And I still have his cameras. They were the ones in the cabinet when I first showed up, uh, his Leica cameras, uh, Uh, still in my cabinet and they have a great history to Nikon us underwater cameras. I, he and I used to get together every once in a while.
And I said, bill, where were the Nikon cameras for? I don’t recall seeing underwater photography. And I said, no, no. And then he threw a, a couple of swear words in there, you know, hell no, you know, what we would do is he said, I’d be out on the aircraft carrier and, and I’d throw those cameras at the frogmen and say, take pictures.
Bleep bleep bleep take pictures, you know? And so I’ve got those cameras sitting in our shelves. And so whenever toasty cam finds a shelf in a little. Place for it to be seen by the world. Those cameras will be right there next to it, with their little stories, place in the air and space museum that somewhere, that those need to go.
Um, but as you’ve talked about built, help recording all of that, you’ve been the recorder of so much, and I’m very grateful for you spending some time sharing your story, sharing how you have made. People connect with what is their space program, because in the end, this is about people and you’ve done a yeoman’s work and sharing that.
And so I want to thank you bill for sharing your time and your stories with us. It’s been a thrill for me personally, uh, to share this time with you. And I know the listeners of the podcast have enjoyed that as well. And just like the amazing images you capture. You really are one in a million. Uh, thank you very much.
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