Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening!

As the summer fades into autumn, temperatures in the air and sea can vary in such a manner that huge thunderstorms form and for a week or two we get more rain than we do the entire summer. This year was no exception with days of warm fog followed by days of cold rain. One evening as we were watching Stranger Things, I noticed several flashes going off out at sea but shrugged them off as boat lights in the dark (although I suppose it could also have been the mind flayer). Once the episode ended, we stepped outside and realised that the numerous flashes were coming from one massive cumulonimbus cloud. The frequency of lightning strikes was incredible, almost one every 15 seconds!

Each + is a recorded lightning strike. For a while it stayed out at sea but began to head NE around 0230 and completely engulfed us!

In photography, there are so many different techniques and genres to try out. Lightning photography has been one that I have waited years to try but thunderstorms don’t come this close and when they do, it usually rains. Not tonight! I packed my gear and we ventured out to the beach where the following view greeted us.

The storm as seen from the beach. The orange glow is lightning (far away) and the white light at the top is either moonlight or lightning. Not sure which one. Possibly both!

I had been fascinated by photos of lightning strikes since I was a kid, wondering how photographers caught so many strikes in one photo and at the same time avoided getting zapped. The method is quite clever – its just long exposure photography! By keeping the shutter open, you let more light in. Lightning is very bright and so it gets recorded very easily, and more strikes can be seen if you have the shutter open for 30-60 seconds. The professionals use expensive devices that are called lightning triggers but I don’t think I will be picking one up…yet.

For an hour or so we were able to stand on the beach, completely exposed and watch the storm way out on the horizon. We were safe and dry. Here are my first ever lightning photos from that evening. The photos below show variation in colours as the first one was taken far out to sea (south) and the other one had light pollution from the town to the west.

Around 0200 the wind picked up and I noticed the cloud had covered the sky making me a bit anxious. The forecast said the storm would not make landfall nor would it rain but there it was, fast approaching with large curtains of rain being lit up by lightning.

The photo below was the last one I dared take. The sound that came after the lightning shook my bones. I tend to push my luck when I’m photographing but I did not take any chances with this so I packed up my gear and saw how a fork of lightning struck in the same place. Kind of wish I had taken one more photo but it was risky. I ran back to the nearest building and reconsidered my decision to take shelter. The lightning looked amazing this close and I almost headed back out but thats when the rain started falling. I had to run back to the cabin, shielding my camera gear with my rain saturated jacket.

The last photo taken before the storm reached us. Glad I didn’t stay outside any longer after this strike.

After returning home, Jenny and I watched the lightning from the bed. It must have been hovering above us for half an hour or so and we could not sleep – the noise and fury was too intense and the entire house was lit up in bright white every time lightning struck. We ended up unplugging every single electronic device from the wall as a precaution. A week later we had another thunderstorm but it remained out at sea. I tried using my 50mm to get ‘closer’ shots and got these two photos.

Since the last thunderstorm its been very quiet and I doubt we will see anymore this year – they usually don’t occur in winter but its not impossible. I think I will start preparing for the northern lights instead!

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