It was a hot night, I just finished shooting a fashion show and thought I saw some weather brewing to the north…a few notable lightningarcs had made it out of a huge thunderhead and caught my attention… I stood at the back of my van, deliberating and watching the sky… I could be potentially wasting the next 1-2 hours literally trying to put lightning in a bottle or I could go home and get some much needed rest.
Several times a year summer storms are predictably epic and I often gear up for some storm chasing and shoot lighting. Regardless of how prepared you are shooting lighting is a maddening process of waiting and hoping you get an amazing shot; However, if you didn’t come prepared to shoot lightning it is like playing whack a mole with your eyes closed.
As we all know lightning is obviously over and done in an instant so trying to capture it by simply clicking the shutter every time you see it it almost an effort in futility. When I am storm chasing it is simply a waiting game, thousands of shots over several hours non-stop from multiple cameras on tripods, the hardest part, is keeping all the gear dry and pointed at the storms and keeping camera settings optimum for the ambient light AND the lightning when it strikes. Tonight, I was shooting fashion so I was equipped with only a monopod and my 24-70mm f2.8 lens. As I watched the sky I knew I was at the right place at the right time… the lake was right in front of me and every lightning strike reflected off the surface of the lake. Every strike was a perfect picture, but shooting on a monopod meant that I would have to make some sacrifices on image quality to get the shot… I watched the sky for a few more minutes… and grabbed my gear and headed towards the lakeshore.
don’t look away… not even for a second… you know you will miss it if you do…
Like I said, it was a hot night and the air was still, I could just barely hear the thunder rumbling, the lighting looked to be over 20+ miles away and the two thunderheads looked pretty ominous when the lightning lit them up. So I sat for the next hour and a half squinting through the lens…camera set for rapid fire … lightning strike… click click click click click… over and over… one in every 50 shots are good odds when you are shooting lightning freehand… 30 minutes in I got a few passable shots but nothing epic… The urge to give up and go home was pretty high…but i convinced myself to stay… more squinting sweat in my eye the saltiness burning and making my vision blurry… my eye was getting tired and I kept telling myself “don’t look away… not even for a second… you know you will miss it if you do…”
finally I had to take a break… I took a few seconds and reviewed my shots… lot of crap.. nothing really useful…aaand I look back up at thesky as a 3 second spiderweb arcs its way across the sky… I cuss a little bit under my breath… “shouldn’t look away… not even from a second.” I missed the big one… by just a few seconds. So back to squinting through the viewfinder for another 30 minutes…. counting… waiting…. “ok if I don’t see a strike in the next 20 seconds I’m packing up” I tell myself under my breath… no strike…”ok like the next 30 seconds or I am done”… nothing… “the big one is coming… I can feel it … ok so no strike in the next minute and I am walking away…. over and over until I convince myself the storm has spent its energy.
I share this because I want folks to know what actually goes into some of the images that I produce… its not as simple as just clicking a shutter these days. Creating an image that can cut through the noisy social media landscape to actually get someone’s attention takes patience, technical skills and lots of creativity. This image called “Leyden Jar” is a combination of 12 lightning strikes taken during the 1 1/2 hour time on the lake shore. I hope you enjoy the final result as much as I love it.