Lightning was lighting up the clouds all around me, but I wanted more. I had my camera set up on my tripod. The ISO, the f-stop, the exposure were all set, but Mother Nature would throw no lightning bolts my way. All I was seeing was this wimpy cloud lightning which we used to call heat lightning when I was a kid.
I’m standing out in the open on a levee, next to a 600 acre lake outside Tulsa trying to take lightning photos. My wife thinks I’m crazy, thinks I’m going to get myself killed.
Like the time almost thirty years ago when we were driving back from Colorado and just beat a bad thunderstorm to a hotel. We checked in and the manager said there was a tornado on the north side of town. I went out the front door to look at the weather and actually saw a beautiful – albeit deadly, I know – funnel cloud perhaps a mile or two away moving away from the hotel. My wife came out a couple of minutes later screaming because she couldn’t find me, said everyone was supposed to be in the middle of the hotel because of the warning. I was confused because I could see there was no immediate danger, but I was still in trouble…
So I’ve been on this levee for almost two hours, clicking and catching nothing but heat lightning, watching the radar to see when or if a major storm southwest of me will ever make it here. In the meantime, I am fine-tuning my exposure times and I do get some pretty night shots of the lake with the lights on the other sides.
But that’s not what I’m here for. It’s rather late, pushing midnight, I’m tired (next time I’ll remember to bring a chair), my back is hurting, and I’m starting to mumble foul sentences in Mother Nature’s direction. I’m also feeling disappointed because I’ve spent all this time and it looks like I’ll be going home empty-handed, as well as I just wanted to get some lightning photos.
Then I finally see an actual lightning bolt! Yea! Of course, the camera is not pointed at it, so I reposition and start shooting much more quickly. Nothing, at least nothing for another five minutes. Then another bolt, and you guessed it, the bolt comes where I originally had my camera aimed. Now I’m really starting not to like whoever is aiming the lightning gun. (Back to the safety thing, these are probably hitting 5 to 7 miles from me.)
So I start thinking about lightning discharge and randomness. Ok, I decided to keep the camera right where it was and keep shooting. In another four or five minutes I’m rewarded with my very first streak of lightning captured. I almost jump for joy but that’s just not my style so I smile to myself and keep clicking the shutter.
Lightning is a fickle beast, especially when the storm is a slow one and lightning is just not popping everywhere. We’ve all seen storms where the lightning is coming so quickly that you could point in one direction and you’d see bolts there no matter what. Well, this storm was not so virulent.
This storm was apparently on its last legs and was only throwing a bolt every three or four minutes. When a bolt would squeeze out of the clouds, it was never in the same place and it was not in any predictable progression. Sometimes the new bolts would progress to the right, then suddenly a beautiful bolt would appear at the tail end of the storm far to the left. The entire storm seemed to be moving to my right.
I decided to stop chasing individual bolts and settled on a particular spot for a while. I wound up catching one or two good pictures in one location, then I’d move to another and wait it out over there. This approach gave better results than always chasing the last bolt as it does seem lightning doesn’t strike twice, at least not twice in a row.
The storm I’ve been watching on radar finally rides in from the southwest bringing rain and way more heat lightning directly overhead than I like, so I call it a night. I’m happy.