Summer storms are the best. My wife and child worry about my sanity sometimes, I think. A veteran of way too many things that have been blown up or destroyed by lightning, I always unplug everything and switch off certain breakers when I hear a storm approaching. Then I rush outside with my camera on a metal tripod and stand out in it hoping for some really nice lightning.
Such was the case last night when I started seeing flashes outside the window not too long after dark. I look at the Radarscope app on my iPhone showed me that storms were quickly approaching, so I grabbed the camera and headed out.
Thankfully I could get a good view of some of the action right from my driveway and didn’t have to go far. If they are approaching from a different direction I can run a few hundred yards down the road and point out over my neighbor’s field. I probably would have had some better shots that way, but the wind kept whipping around and I didn’t want to get suddenly drenched.
So, here are the results:
This last one was the scary one. It actually happened about the middle of the shoot. Most of the stuff was going off to the north, but in storms you never really can tell where something will happen. So this shot happened when lightning came out of the clouds almost directly over me. It spiderwebbed out in all directions, what you see is just a little bit of it. I just closed my eyes because I figured I was about to be toast. Thankfully it didn’t hit the ground, most everything I was seeing was cloud-to-cloud and “anvil crawlers” which just come out the cloud base and run along the bottoms of the clouds. So far it’s been a pretty slow season for storms with anything visible, I was glad to at least get this much.
The colors vary a lot in these shots because I take a little artistic license and play with the color temperature, contrast, highlights and shadows trying to bring out the lightning the best I can. When I’m letting the lightning make the picture, usually everything is black, the lightning is there for an instant, and everything is black again. There’s no real way for my eye to see what the sky actually looked like during that fraction of a second. Is it grey? Purple? Blue? Orange? When I used to shoot film, the brand of film had a big part to play in the final color, but with digital, just choosing a different white balance (flash, tungsten, sunlight, clouds) can change it a lot.
You may see some green/red/white specks in the pictures that resemble stars. The way I take these pictures is by pointing the camera in the general direction of a storm and using a cable with a button on it to hold the shutter open. I may hold it open for 15-20 seconds, and then let go and start over. Holding the shutter open like that for long exposures causes some parts of the sensor to get “confused” or register false positives, as I understand it, so some pixels light up when there’s nothing there. Hence the red and green spots.
The best shots happen right after the shutter opens, and then I can let go and start over. Less extraneous light. This storm was SO active, the sky kept lighting up to the side even when I couldn’t see any lightning. It makes for interesting storm watching, though. Different parts of a storm seem to react to the others. Lightning in one set of clouds may seem to set it off in other clouds. Watching for a while, you can even start to guess correctly where the next blast of lightning will come from. One of my favorites ever came from a cloud that was putting out little bolts from the bottom, and started flickering WAY up top. I moved the camera to that area and BANG, got one of my most impressive shots ever.
It just goes to show you, there’s always a risk involved. But it’s exceptionally thrilling to watch. I’ve jumped up and down and shouted when I see an image like that pop up on the camera when I let the shutter go.