Once a year or so it seems everything really comes together well and I get a storm in the right place at the right time, to really have fun with. There are a lot of things that must happen to get a decent photogenic thunderstorm.
There can’t be a lot of rain between you and the storm. That screws it all up. Ideally, the sky should be pretty clear except for the storm coming at you. There can’t be a lot of trees, street lights, etc. covering up parts of the cloud. It needs to be really active, without a lot of ground lightning strikes close to the ground you are currently occupying. Ground shots are nice, but when you are perched outside next to a metal tripod, cloud-to-cloud strikes are much friendlier.
It’s a mess, but once in a while, it all comes together. So, last night I was on the couch and hoping for a storm, as I had seen some really awesome clouds earlier on a long drive home. Sure enough, Radarscope (for iPhone… great app by the way!) showed a horseshoe shaped storm cell heading for my area. Full of orange, red and even some purple nasty colors. Woo hoo! I raced through the house finding camera bits and went outside.
The first and most active storm was down the road from me to the east, but it was between trees on either side of the road, and was pretty active. It took me a minute or two before I got the settings dialed in, and it produced a couple of pretty shots. It was dying out though, and quickly moved on and went dormant, but not before throwing out one or two good ones.
The below image is reddish, not because the fires of Hell opened to consume us all, but because I set the white balance to “cloudy”, and got a much redder appearance. If you see the ‘proper’ version, the structure doesn’t show nearly as well, and it’s much less dramatic. You’ll see the same thing done later on if you keep looking. You might have had this happen to you by accident. Have you ever taken a picture (film or digital) and had the photo come out with wonky colors? White Balance. The camera doesn’t know what should be white – and guessed wrong. Those street lights played havoc with some of my shots…
After the above cloud moved away and died out, I stood outside for quite a while, watching and waiting, and checking the radar. Most of the stuff seemed to be moving on, but there was a persistent and almost continual paparazzi-like flashing beyond the trees. Finally the stormy bits got close enough for me to see some action. The strangest thing I’ve seen happened…
The dark section at the bottom of the photo above is a flat dense section of cloud out in front of the rest of the storm. It almost looked like Thor was pulling a comforter across the sky under the storm. Really strange stuff. All the lighting was between this low-level cloud and the upper parts of the storm. It was shooting out in front of this layer. Unfortunately I couldn’t see or capture any upper-level detail, it was all shrouded in rain or clouds or something.
With the almost constant flashing all throughout the cloud, it was almost impossible to get a well lit set of lighting bolts without them being washed-out. I was firing pictures off every couple of seconds, and still unable to get much without the bright backgrounds.
The above shot made me scream like a little girl. It was almost right overhead. The advancing cloud front had me constantly adjusting the camera angle.On the one below I’m losing the lightning behind the clouds… I’m looking almost directly up at it.
Below, the cloud is angled because I’m rotating the camera around on the tripod as it passes over. This last shot filled the sky out past where I could cover, despite being zoomed out. I needed a wider angle lens at this point. After this, I was behind the front, and the wind and rain quickly picked up. Any lightning was above the clouds, and all you could see was white.
One last gasp, and it was time to go. All in all, a very nice evening.