‘Whoa': Night Photography Class Team Captures Fireball Over California

The team of photographers saw the light, later confirmed to be a Chinese rocket, shooting over Mt. Whitney across the night sky

A team conducting a shoot for a night-time photography class was in the right place at the right time with the right equipment Wednesday night when a mysterious bright light shot across the sky over California.

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The light, later confirmed to be a Chinese rocket, was at the center of a social media storm late Wednesday as bewildered witnesses across the state turned their cameras skyward to capture the brilliant, fast-moving object.

But not everyone had a high ISO Sony A7 camera and the training to use it.

A team with CreativeLive, which offers online photography classes and lessons on other subjects, was set up Wednesday night to capture some spectacular images of the Milky Way from the Alabama Hills, a rocky formation on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada with little light pollution — ideal for night-time photography. They had been in the remote area for about two hours when one team member noticed a stunning light streaking over the top of Mt. Whitney.

"A lot of this was a combination of the right place, right time, the perfect gear, and the right cameramen," said Kristy Ellington, director of content marketing and social media for CreativeLive. "Our guys were set up and immediately sprung into action the second they saw it."

The team trained a highly capable Sony A7 camera with a high ISO, generally used in low-light situations, on the light and captured the video above.

One of the photographers said it all: "Whoa. Whoa."

"It really was the perfect situation for us to capture it," said Ellington. "We were all awe-struck for sure. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It literally lit up the entire area, which before was pitch black."

The team also captured the International Space Station earlier that night, but had never caught anything quite like the Chinese CZ-7 rocket as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. Like many people across California who saw the rocket, crew members initially thought it might be a meteor breaking up as it entered the atmosphere. The team heard a boom about three to five minutes after it raced out of sight to the east.

U.S. Strategic Command later confirmed the object was a Chinese CZ-7 rocket re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

The video was taken during a pre-shoot for the online class and will be used during CreativeLive Night Photography Week in September. The company specializes in online education covering a range of subjects, including photography, design and audio engineering with live and on-demand classes.

The Details

  • Camera: Sony A7s
  • Lens: Sony FE PZ 28-135 F/4 G OSS
  • ISO: 160,000
  • Shutter speed: 1/30
  • Aperture: F/4
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