Photography Techniques Used In Photo Of The Space Shuttle Endeavour

The Photography Techniques used by Chris Carlson in his photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour as it moves through a Los Angeles neighborhood.

Space shuttle Endeavour Manchester Blvd. in Los Angeles by Chris Carlson, AP Photo, October 12, 2012

After 25 space flights, the NASA space shuttle Endeavour made her last mission. It was a journey through the roads of Los Angeles. Her final home will not be in Florida where she made her missions; instead, she will be at the California Science Center. Chris Carlson’s photograph of the Endeavor moving down a residential street in Los Angeles not only captured the departure of an American icon; he also captured the end of an era.

With this photo, he effectively appealed to our pathos by using several photography techniques. He leveraged four different design principles to articulate his perspective in his photo called The Road Home. The four principles are iconic representation, top-down lighting bias, framing, and the von Restorff Effect.

Iconic Representation In Photography

There are a couple of clear uses of iconic representation in Carlson’s photo. The first one is the shuttle itself. The full, unobstructed view of the ship invokes a sense of nostalgia. It reminds us how it is a national symbol of adventure, exploration, and progress. It has inspired the dreams of millions of people. And there it is, a pick-up truck towing down a residential street. Another noticeable icon is the gas station. Gas stations are the ubiquitous representation of American mobility and consumption. The Endeavour epitomized the American passion for mobility, traveling far beyond what our cars and gasoline could ever take us.

Also, the American flag along the side of Endeavour with “United States” written next to it is another important national icon. It incites the pride that many Americans have. Especially in knowing that we were the first and only country to have sent a man to the moon. For millions of Americans, the space program embodies the patriotic spirit of the United States. It represents our passion for progress. By clearly depicting the American flag, Carlson is deeply appealing to the pathos of many Americans. It helps them to connect with his photo.

Top-Down Lighting Bias Technique

Another technique used in The Road Home is called top-down lighting bias. Top-down lighting makes objects appear natural, giving people a sense of familiarity. The time of day provided for direct sunlight to shine upon the shuttle’s fuselage. Capturing the space shuttle with this kind of lighting really helped make the ship appear natural and easily recognizable. I believe this enhances its nostalgic effect.

Light has a dramatic effect on the feel of a photo. The top-down lighting makes the entire scene appear natural and pleasant. The rooftops and the people in the street are easily visible and seem very familiar. The photographer did a great job taking advantage of the top-down lighting that was available. He used it to further convey the message of his photo.

Framing Effect

The Framing Effect, another technique, is used to influence the way people feel and think about something they are viewing. Context, words, or images are used to manipulate emotions. Carlson’s use of framing in this photograph is very precise and powerful. Another one of America’s great inventions, a suburb, surrounds The Endeavour as she is pulled down the street.

Carlson captured the shuttle surrounded by homes. It appears he’s telling us that the shuttle is home, among the American people. He shows us an American icon outside of her typical scene of a launch pad or in orbit. And lets us see her among the people who have built and supported her.

The strong framing of this portion of Endeavour’s journey aids in invoking emotions and creating attachment to the subject. The neighborhood of modern homes surrounding the shuttle helps induce nostalgic feelings, which contain both pleasant and unpleasant aspects. The exciting visual of seeing the ship pass through a neighborhood mixed with the knowledge that this trip represents the end of NASA’s shuttle program incites “bittersweet” feelings.

Von Restorff Effect

Lastly, another technique used by the photographer is the von Restorff Effect. This technique is applied when the subject is noticeably different from other things in the same context. The main unique and interesting thing about this photo is that the space shuttle is out of her typical surroundings and is now surrounded by homes. Endeavour starkly sits among the sameness and blandness of modern houses and brilliantly emerges as a source of awe and inspiration. Visually, this is extremely appealing and effective. When the photo is first looked at, the eyes immediately go straight to the shuttle making it very easy for the viewer to recognize the subject of the photo.

The application of the von Restorff effect in The Road Home greatly appeals to pathos by showing modern new homes as plain and bland up against a wonderful and amazing piece of technology from the past. The many houses that surround the ship are of similar shape, color, and size, making them almost indistinguishable from one another. This further reinforces feelings of nostalgia, longing for a time when dreams were much more grandiose than monotonous subdivisions.


Chris Carlson did an excellent job of appealing to the viewers’ pathos with his photo. He cleverly used a variety of photography techniques to say what many Americans were probably feeling. The feelings they had about the momentous event of the space shuttle Endeavour retiring to her final home at the California Science Center.

The photo depicts her standing out like the American icon she is. Rolling through a residential neighborhood of modern plain homes fading into the background. Carlson effectively showed his viewers the end of an era. He did it through the implementation of four different photography techniques that are used to help people connect to images on deeper levels. Making an argument with an image can be very challenging. To do it well, one must use several of the known tools that exist to connect with audiences. Just like Carlson so effectively did.

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