It’s been a while since my last visit to our friends in Kansas. I need to get back and see them soon. Our first visit there was a dramatic one. We had gone to the movies to see War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise. At the beginning of that, there is a scene of what looks like lightning striking but it repeatedly hits the same place. In the film, that is noted as being unnatural. As we left the theater and drove home, a storm started raging around us. The lightning was striking frequently and seemed to be in the same places. Uh oh!
We got home and stayed inside as the storm reached its peak. I have always loved thunderstorms and this one was outstanding. I watched the lightning striking around us constantly. I decided to take some pictures. Photographing lightning is normally tricky to do. If it is dark, you can go for long exposures and hope to get the lightning in some of the shots. If you have a lightning trigger, you can let it do the work. In this case, you didn’t need either. I just shot out of the window and the chances were that there would be some lightning in the shot. It was crazy. Here are a couple of shots looking out of a bedroom window!
The F-35 has been around for quite a while by now so I have shot them on plenty of occasions (although an F-35C is still on the wish list). My UK trip was one where I was hoping to get an RAF F-35B. It was scheduled to make an appearance at RIAT but the information did not make it sound like a display. On the first day of the show, the weather was shocking. Low cloud and rain got in the way of a lot of things displaying. Late in the day the F-35B was due in. Our initial forecast for arrival was extended as the cloud base meant an instrument approach was needed. It finally appeared and flew through the display line once. Then it powered away and a while later we were informed it had gone home.I was shooting video of that which is at the bottom of this page.
The next day had better weather so I was hoping for a little more. It did show up and we did get more than one pass. However, even then, it was a rather lackluster performance. I guess they have not worked up any form of display – not even a hovering portion – so we got some passes and a couple of configurations and that was it. I don’t think I was alone in feeling a little underwhelmed by what they put on. I guess in coming years, a more worked up display will be seen but I will have to wait a while for that.
When I shot film I had a go at shooting lightning a number of times but never with any success. I would try and react to get the bolt but it was always gone. When you are using film and having a very low success rate, things get too expensive. Consequently, I gave up on it. The move to digital opened up a new range of possibilities.
My new approach doesn’t involve much skill (but then neither does using an electronic trigger). I set up the exposure to have a reasonably long shutter speed. Then I put the camera on continuous mode, plug in the cable release and lock the shutter open. Then the camera takes a steady stream of shots. Of course, when there is a slight gap between shots, you can imagine when the lightning will strike.
I used to shoot a lot from the apartment in Chicago. Set the camera up and go and do something else. Unfortunately, the heavy rains that would accompany the storm activity could result in the sky glaring out but you still had a chance. Some of the shots were okay and every once in a while you would get a really cool outcome. The Trump Tower was next to us and it would be struck occasionally but it was too close to get a good look at. You could hear it though!
While I was walking around the display line of the Airshow of the Cascades during the evening show, the Erickson collection’s P-38 was carrying out its display. I was in amongst a lot of people when the announcer told everyone to be ready for a special pass. My location was not great but I got ready as the P-38 ran in for a topside pass expecting the detonation of some pyrotechnics behind it. Nothing happened. The P-38 flew by and no explosions.
A short while later, the announcer had a second crack at getting us ready for the pass. Obviously the first pass had not worked as planned. This time the P-38 was coming in from the opposite direction. I also had a few moments to try and reposition myself to get a better view. This shot was the result. Some of my friends were further up the display line and got a different angle on the shot which was cool. Even so, I am pretty happy with this.
I was flying cross country and my layover was in Chicago at Midway. I had deliberately chosen a window seat on the right side of the plane in case we carried out the approach from the lake in order to have a view of the city. Sure enough, we did approach from that direction. As we headed out to the lake, I could see some showers over the water. At the time, I thought they would not show up well on a photo but the motion of video would make them more conspicuous. Consequently, I started filming some video on my phone.
I was focused on the screen and initially didn’t notice that the showers I was watching were a lot smaller than their neighbors! There was a big storm just north of the city. It came into view on the phone and then I gave it a bit more focus. Sadly, the phone does not always pick up the lightning bolts. However, I think you will get the idea of how big a storm it was. I know someone who was at O’Hare during the storm and they describe the effect as pretty dramatic. From my location, everything was totally smooth!
When we first moved to Chicago, we had a lot of storms that came through the city which resulted in some great lightning displays. For some reason, the number of great storms we had in the city decreased in recent years. You could watch them come through on the weather radar but they tended to go either north or south of downtown. However, recently we got a bit lucky.
A storm came through that lasted a long time and produced a steady stream of lightning. At first, I thought it was going to finish quickly and, by the time I could get my camera set up, it would all be over. However, as we sat and watched, the storm continued to be a steady stream of big lightning bolts all around us.
Finally, I decided it was too good to miss so I went and grabbed the camera, the tripod and the intervalometer. I set the rig up in one room to take a steady stream of shots and then retreated to the other room. In days gone by I have had the camera with the cable release and spent my time pressing the release as soon as the previous shot finished. Now I set up the exposure and set the intervalometer for one second more than the exposure. There is still a small window when the lightning might strike without the shutter open but it covers almost everything. Plus, I don’t have to do anything.
Then it is just a question of downloading the shots when the storm is over and running through to see what lightning I caught. Fortunately, there was a lot of lightning but not much rain so the lightning did not flare out the moisture in the air and I didn’t get rain drops on the window to ruin things. The result? A bunch of interesting looking lightning shots. I was happy…
A little night shooting today and a confession about my role in what was going on. We moved to Chicago eight years ago. When we first got here, we were amazed by the storms we got. There seemed to be lots of them and they were really pretty spectacular. When looking out of the window we would see lightning all the time. Sometimes the storms went on for so long it was hard to believe that it was a storm and not someone planting an emergency vehicle outside the window – a neat trick at the height of our place!
Strangely, for the last few years, we have had very few storms. They seem to miss the city and go either north or south of us. Some people are getting a lot of them but not us. This was a bit disappointing to me because I love storms! They are so dramatic and very cool. They are, of course, rather destructive but watching them is exciting. This week we got a good storm. The sky was alive and it was a lot of fun. It was also rather late and I needed to go to bed. Consequently, I cheated.
My 17-40mm lens is not enough to cover the full view south of us so I went with the fish-eye zoom instead. I set the camera up on the tripod, added the intervalometer and basically set it on its way. The gap between the shutter closing and the trigger for the next shot was just long enough to allow the file to write out. Then I went to bed. The result is a LOT of pictures with almost all of them of no use. However, it did capture a couple of shots that I really like. I even tried using the new lens correction facility in Photoshop CS6. Our view is a little less impressive since the Trump Tower blocked a big chunk of the skyline but it still gives a nice look to the storm. Hope you like them too.