Endeavour and the Hollywood sign: How we got the photo

The space shuttle Endeavour passes the Hollywood sign.
The space shuttle Endeavour passes the Hollywood sign.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

The shuttle Endeavor wowed Southern California on Friday with fly-bys of landmarks including Dodger Stadium, Griffith Observatory and Disneyland before landing at LAX.

A striking photo by Gary Friedman in Saturday’s Times showed the piggybacked shuttle and 747 passing yet another L.A. icon: the Hollywood sign.

It was an image that others tried, but were unable, to capture. That may be why it raised some skepticism.

Andy Serrano of Los Angeles was among the readers who emailed to question the veracity of the photo.


“I was at the west end of Mt. Hollywood on a ridge and took photographs at every second of each flyover,” Serrano said. “In my opinion, there never was any point where any photographer could possibly have photographed the shuttle in front of the Hollywood sign like this. I went there specifically to see if I could capture a scene such as the one shown in The Times, and it was not possible.”

Reader Andrew Doyle of Burbank was more blunt.

“The fact is this, that shot never happened,” he emailed. “That pass was never made. The shuttle never flew there. I know this because I was there, at Griffith Observatory, at that angle. If that pass had been made, I would have several shots of it. It just simply, never happened.”

And John Norman of Encinitas shared his own experience.

“I was at Griffith Park yesterday and took my own photo of the shuttle flying level above the Hollywood sign so was puzzled by your photo showing it banked in front of the sign,” he emailed. “Also my photo shows the escort fighters positioned considerably further behind the shuttle than your same photo online. Also the shuttle seems way too big relative to the sign. … Seems these are altered images to enhance the drama of the moment.”

As it turns out, Friedman was not on Mt. Hollywood, at the observatory or in Griffith Park. He was on top of the U.S. Bank tower in Los Angeles – downtown’s tallest building. And he had a really big lens.

Steve Stroud, The Times’ deputy photo director, gave these technical details about the photo:

“Metadata that is recorded by the camera for every photo shows that he was using a Canon EOS-1D Mark III camera with a 400mm lens, and ISO of 200, aperture value of f7.1 and a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.”


Alteration or manipulation of photos is prohibited by The Times’ ethics guidelines. They state, in part:

We do not add color, create photomontages, remove objects or flop images. We do not digitally alter images beyond making minor adjustments for color correction, exposure correction and removal of dust spots or scratches required to ensure faithful reproduction of the original image.

Also, Stroud said of the shuttle, “Because it made more than one pass, it may have looked slightly different to different people at the same location.”


Follow the Readers’ Rep on Twitter and Google+