My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

To see all of my blog posts to date, click here.

When the sky explodes

 CRACK: Lightning crashed down right near the water treatment plant in Big Rapids. After several hours of waiting, I finally “got the shot.” I also may have “got” a heart attack. 

CRACK: Lightning crashed down right near the water treatment plant in Big Rapids. After several hours of waiting, I finally “got the shot.” I also may have “got” a heart attack. 

When thunderstorms roll through I’m usually out in the thick of it with my camera. Last Tuesday was no exception.

It was around 1 a.m. that I ventured out to Roben Hood Airport to see if I could do a time lapse video of the storm rolling through. However, the thick clouds and humidity were making things difficult as far as seeing lightning is concerned.

Additionally (and most importantly), my camera and I were in the middle of an open area and as “brave” (read crazy) as I am, I’m not so courageous that I was going to let myself (or my equipment) be struck by lightning.

So, I moved to the gazebo in Osceola Park in town near the water treatment plant.

Constructed nearly of all metal ... the gazebo was the PERFECT place for me to tempt fate.

But at least I wasn’t wet.

 MY SET UP: I took this image with my cell phone right as lightning struck so the image was properly exposed. Lightning acts similarly to a flash except it’s on an exponentially brighter scale.

MY SET UP: I took this image with my cell phone right as lightning struck so the image was properly exposed. Lightning acts similarly to a flash except it’s on an exponentially brighter scale.

I set up my camera on my tripod and found a good place under the gazebo that the rain wouldn’t reach. After configuring the settings on my intervelometer (a remote that tells the camera to take a photo every few seconds), I let my camera take it from there.

I set the intervelometer to take a photo every 12 seconds with an exposure time of 10 seconds. With these settings I have a higher chance of catching a bolt as it cracks open the sky.

Time passed and I started to become discouraged. It was roughly 2:30 a.m. at that point and, while the storm was getting worse, all of the lightning was above the clouds.

I shut off my camera and sat there for a moment thinking about whether or not it was worth staying out any longer and I thought to myself: “You know, with my luck I’ll turn my camera on again and take one last shot and that’ll be the one.”

I thought I was joking ...

But then it happened.

I turned the camera back on and hit the start button on my intervelometer and within a few seconds of the shutter opening ...

CRACK!!!

The bolt that you see above crashed in front of me. I saw it in slow motion as the bolt connected and wrapped around the tree in the image.

Sparks erupted from the edges of the bolt and the crack was deafening.

I stood there shaking thinking, “I got the shot ...”

For the next 10 minutes after the strike I could still see the after image of the bolt whenever I blinked.

It’s nights like these that I can be out for hours and walk away with one good shot and be completely satisfied.

After processing this image in Adobe Camera Raw I noticed that the image is actually overexposed in the sky ... with my camera settings the way they were, it took a LOT of light for it to overexpose the image. 

Color me impressed.

If you’re a storm chaser like me, be sure to have fun but most importantly be sure to be safe. Hunting lightning is a dangerous task so be sure you take adequate measures to be somewhere that isn’t likely to be struck.

Like an all metal gazebo ... (sarcasm)

Happy hunting!