Musings of an Aviation Photographer

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Showcase: Occasionally, you’ll shoot that one photo that really stands out above the rest.  Sometimes it can be totally unexpected, and you don’t even realize it until you see the photo on your computer.  Other times, you can see the photo falling into place allowing you to click the shutter button at the exact moment that you know you’ve caught your own personal masterpiece.  Ever so often I’m going to showcase some of what I personally think are interesting and pretty cool photos I’ve taken, with a bit of info behind the photo and how it all came into place.


Lightning flash over Southern California (September 19, 2005)

One of the toughest unpredictable type of photography is that of lightning storms.  You can guess where lightning will strike next, and do a long exposure for 30 minutes and not capture a single thing, only to have an instant flash of lighting go off the second you’re not taking a photo.  In some parts of the world, you might have better luck at guessing when it’s a freak lightning storm with lightning flashing what seems like every few seconds.  But for down here in Southern California, lightning storms are few and far in between.  How far you say? Try sometimes a few YEARS before we see another lightning storm.  And sometimes it’ll just be a handful of quick flashes, and then it’s gone.  I suppose that’s one advantage to being a photographer in the middle eastern part of the United States.  Naturally, whenever there is a lightning storm here in the valley of Southern California, photographers scramble to get their equipment and get anything they can.

The above photo and the shot to the left were shot in 2005, and as already mentioned, was a total luck shot. Lightning flash over Southern California (September 19, 2005)Pointing the camera in the direction where the lightning had been flashing and watching the clouds slowly moved, I tried to anticipate where the lightning would strike next.  Opening the shutter for 30 second bursts, mostly getting nothing but grey skies at night.  Ever so often lightning would flash and I’ve capture part of it off to one side or another of the camera, or the lightning would not break through the clouds, so it’d just be some bright clouds.  This shot, however, happened in a blink of an eye, and had I not looked up from my camera, I wouldn’t have noticed I got it.  When you take a long exposure picture with an SLR camera, the shutter opens to reveal the digital sensor inside the camera, so that shutter ‘mirror’ that’s opened blocks me from being able to see through the camera.  So basically, the viewfinder turns black.  During that time I can’t see anything, so I often try to open another eye to see if I captured a bolt or not.  In this case, I’d just started to take the long exposure when in the corner of my eye I saw the flash go off.

I’ve seen a lot of tutorials that say as soon as you capture the lightning, you should cover your camera lens with something dark, that was you don’t expose over the lightning flash and fade it out.  So, I had with me a black hat that I’d put over the lens once I saw the flash of the lightning go off during a long exposure.  I was trying to shoot at the lowest ISO possible to have super clear shots and help not blow out the long exposures along with a very narrow aperture. Then, once the exposure was finished, I’d take the black hat off and start again.  It was a luck shot, but the photo above is by far the best lightning shot I’ve ever gotten, and probably could ever hope to get here in Southern California!

Lightning flash over Southern California (July 16, 2005)

Fast forward one year to 2006.  We were lucky and got another lightning storm, something unheard of for two years in a row! With my tripod handy and camera quickly readied to go, I ran outside again and from the middle of the street started taking photos again with 30 second exposures.  The clouds were a lot lower this time, and it was earlier in the evening, so the lights from Tustin and Irvine reflected brightly on the clouds, making an almost reddish glow.  The photos are not as spectacular as the one above, but I was still able to capture some pretty amazing shots of the electrified bolts playing around in the clouds.  I shot for a while outside for this storm, pretty much until the lightning storm was right above me, and I realized I was the tallest thing standing in the middle of the street.  That’s when you know it’s time to go in.

While the shots came out pretty neat, they are not nearly in your face as the lightning strike from 2005, probably the best lightning shot I’ve gotten yet! Here’s hoping we get some more lightning storms in the coming future someday to have the chance to snap a shot better than that one!

Lightning flash over Southern California (July 16, 2005)

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