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Lightning SAFETY + tips and tricks for landscape photographers.

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  • Lightning SAFETY + tips and tricks for landscape photographers.

    I dig this post up each year and the severe storm season is fast approaching and has already started in some areas as recently as yesterday.

    The image below was taken quite a few years ago using a panasonic FZ30, ISO 100, f/ll and 30 sec exposure. It really kick started my career in weather photography with a lucky centre bolt of lightning. The energy in this storm was just unbelievable and many watched in fear as this storm ravaged Warwick. That's my parents neighbors house. The jacaranda is much bigger now.

    If I knew back when this image was taken what I know now about the dangers of lightning and photographing it, I would never have ventured outside during this storm. In this image, there are leaders all around me that I am unable to see. Seeking out my belt buckle or the rock near my feet.

    I thought crouching down in the field offered some safety, away from the camera and tripod, forget that idea.

    I have been a fool (and I admit it) with the risks I have taken getting under storms. My new approach is to photograph them from a distance. That is of course unless I am magnetically drawn in, i can't help that can I? No.

    The advice is, if you can see lightning or hear thunder, stay inside.
    .
    As a dedicated storm chaser, I find that extremely difficult to do.



    Thunderstorms have a huge electrical field and lightning grounds when a charge is at it's maximum. After a chase last season I explained to a friend in Darwin conducting research on lightning the popping and crackling I experienced. Basically, he said I should go buy a lotto ticket. I was the target, rejected for another object close by and I can tell you the flash was not far from me, i saw it disintegrating, I was that close.

    What we can't see (cameras can capture them from 1500 to 100 000 fps) are the hundreds of stepped leaders searching for a target.

    When you see a flash in the cloud, the stepped leaders dart in all directions. They retreat, change direction, change regions, all continuous all unseen by the human eye.

    Lightning will target you regardless of what is around you, poles, trees, towers etc. Remove yourself from the menu and yes, it will strike static objects. Essentially, humans form a part of the huge electrical field surrounding a thunderstorm. Place yourself under or around a thunder storm, as I do, then risks are ten fold and chances are you will be struck and remember, lightning can travel up to 20km and while you think you are far enough away, be sure that you are.

    This link http://www.ztresearch.com/ shows a CG BY Tom Warner in South Dakota who recently completed his PhD in lightning physics, demonstrates the stepped leaders and finally the return stroke.

    The positive upward leader (if you are unlucky to be close to it) can be heard as weak thunder or popping/clicking sounds. If you can hear these sounds, then you are a target for the downward step leader.

    If you look at the image I have posted above, you can see the return stroke and the stepped leaders that have discharged in the branching aspects. What you are unable to see are the hundreds of stepped leaders all around me searching for a target.

    They are the most fascinating and most terrifying aspect of lightning and why lightning is dangerous.

    While I don't mean to alarm people it really is best that you know what is going on during a thunderstorm. The majority of people don't take risks and stay inside, that's the sensible thing to do but I know many photographers are keen to capture flashes during storms myself included.

    That's the safety message so the next post i will focus on tricks to capture daytime lightning in the landscape and of course at night.

    Regards,
    Chris.
    Last edited by Dragonfly; 19-08-2012, 12:52 AM. Reason: resize photo it was too big!!

  • #2
    Thnx for the safety lecture.

    I gave the lightning thing a go last year and for an amateur I did ok but on strike less than a k up my street made me jump. It was amazing to capture the lightning and the only thing on my mind was photography and I wasn't thinking of safety and wasn't scared as I was on my front porch. It wasn't until a few comments regarding how close it was, that I realised I was a bit reckless being out there.

    Sent from my GT-I9100 using Tapatalk 2
    Anna
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladymilli/
    My stuff - 7D |100mm macro|Tamron 17-50mm|50mm 1.8|Sigma 50mm 1.4| stuff for macro

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    • #3
      I remember that flash Anna!

      I'm going to use this recent image as an example of how i focus at night if I don't already have the lens set at infinity focus, held by a small piece of 100 mile an hour tape.

      I was fishing for most of the day at Leslie Dam in Warwick and while i could see the storm it didn't become electrical until it had reached cumulonimbus, well after dark. So my camera wasn't set at infinity focus. To achieve infinity focus, in this instance, the focus was set on auto and while raking in the dark it locked onto a flash of lightning.

      I use a canon 40D and a 17-40mm F/4L wide angle lens. I changed the focus to manual immediately after the lens found focus. I had the lens set to f/5.6, the ISO on the camera low at 100 and I use bulb mode in manual plus a shutter release cable so I don't touch the camera during the manual exposure. If I was unable to catch a flash, I would have spot focused one of the lights from the farmhouses and changed the lens to manual focus. Where you need to be careful is if you bump your lens, you have to start again so a small piece of tape can save you precious time. On a side note, i never rely on simply dialing the lens to infinity, it doesn't work with my lens, or at least, i can't count on it to be accurate. Older lenses are far more accurate while turning the ring right around to infinity. Instead, while i have good light, I use hyper focal on the landscape and once infinity focus is achieved, I change the lens to manual focus and tape it there for the night using a small piece of custom cut ( i cut them and stick them to paper that folds up in my kit, ready to use) one hundred mile an hour tape, it's great and the lens doesn't move.

      In the image below I have had a lot of people ask how did I get so much light on the flanking line of cumulus cloud feeding the updraft of this thunderstorm (right side of the image) The image was taken looking S/SW and the full moon rising on my left illuminated not only the cumulus flanking line but also the anvil at the top of the storm.

      The flanking line is produced along an outflow boundary extending from the storm and it can move rapidly into the storm. I was lucky in the sense that i could contain the exposure to 20-30 seconds because the flashes were frequent so there is no ghosting or out of focus clouds in the flanking line. With an exposures of 40-60 seconds, the clouds would have appeared to be out of focus because of how quickly they were moving into and feeding the storm. It's not so apparent when there is a direct light source provided by the moon however if it's dark and there are many internal cloud to cloud flashes in the storm, each flash illuminates the flanking line, or any part of the storm for that matter, and is recorded on your sensor thus appearing as ghosting in the final image as the storm moves across the frame during the exposure.

      The trick is to judge how quickly is the storm moving, is it stationary or pulsing in one spot or is it being steered and moving at a fair pace away or towards you. That's generally how you judge the length of exposure while waiting for a flash. If the flash doesn't appear in 30 40 seconds and the storm is moving, plus there have been internal flashes, chances are the image will have ghosting, especially if you capture a bolt a second before you decide to close the shutter.

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      • #4
        Chris that last image is amazing, thanks for the info too. I was playing a round of golf one day when it started lightening, as i was doing really well i wasn't impressed when they closed the course, after reading the above info i'm glad they did ..

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks Chris,

          Good advice - not worth dying for one's art.

          Cheers
          Alan

          Still trying to make the ordinary look extraordinary

          D7000 | D90 | Coolpix S31 | iPhone 6s | Mac

          Flickr

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          • #6
            Holy [email protected] - scary stuff - thanks. I'll be careful next time.
            Life is short, smile while you still have teeth .....
            Art-ography

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            • #7
              Originally posted by caralan View Post
              Thanks Chris,

              Good advice - not worth dying for one's art.

              Cheers
              but look at this way; most artist don't become rich and famous before they die so .................

              good tips Chris.

              We also should be aware that lighting can strike any where and not under a storm cloud

              I have often thought photographing from inside the car was a safe option but then I'm too low so I get onto the car roof for a better angle
              Cheers for now, IanB.
              Photos by Ian Browne on Facebook

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by twistednoodle View Post
                Holy [email protected] - scary stuff - thanks. I'll be careful next time.
                I sort think you have more chance of being hurt in a car crash as you race around to get the best photo position than being hit by lightning. Both are a possibility IMO
                Cheers for now, IanB.
                Photos by Ian Browne on Facebook

                Comment


                • #9
                  Excellent thread Chris, thanks for the heads up.


                  My first attempt at storm photography was nearly my last.


                  Note the position of the channel marker...

                  (Excuse the processing as these are from the archives.)


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                  Kaboom!!!!



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                  Running over rocks in the dark while carrying camera/tripod and bag is not an activity I'd recommend but after this strike I was in an extreme hurry to get back to my car lol. Within a minute the wind was raging at about 60kph, lightning going off all around and the rain so heavy I crawled towards home at maybe 30kph on an empty straight road.

                  So now I go for the long distance stuff and reckon the images are far more interesting.



                  This was taken at a range of about 70km with the storm moving at right angles to my position.


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                  Forget the close up stuff, it ain't worth the risk.
                  -----------------------------------------------------
                  Question everything ~ Christopher Hitchins

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                  • #10
                    chris, do you have any links good Aust storm chasing forums/sites? Sort of thinking of doing some chasing in the top end before the wet session. Will be next year at this stage.
                    Cheers for now, IanB.
                    Photos by Ian Browne on Facebook

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Jcas View Post
                      Chris that last image is amazing, thanks for the info too. I was playing a round of golf one day when it started lightening, as i was doing really well i wasn't impressed when they closed the course, after reading the above info i'm glad they did ..
                      There is a very good reason for leaving the golf course Julie. Graphite being one of the main reasons. I remember an incident where 19 golfers were hit by lightning on a golf course. They thought the storm had passed and got out of their cars. The lightning strike arced from man to man and while they all survived quite a few of them had life threatening injuries. As soon as you see a flash, head inside. If you happen to get seriously stuck in a storm on a golf course, you are well advised to leave your clubs behind and get inside or at least 100m away from your steel and graphite clubs.

                      Originally posted by Lost View Post

                      We also should be aware that lighting can strike any where and not under a storm cloud
                      You are right Ian and you would have heard the phrase, "a bolt from the blue"

                      Originally posted by Lost View Post
                      I sort think you have more chance of being hurt in a car crash as you race around to get the best photo position than being hit by lightning. Both are a possibility IMO
                      again you are right Ian. If you don't concentrate on the road there is a much higher risk of a car accident than there is of being struck by lightning.

                      Originally posted by loose cannon View Post
                      Excellent thread Chris, thanks for the heads up.


                      My first attempt at storm photography was nearly my last.


                      Note the position of the channel marker...

                      Kaboom!!!!

                      Running over rocks in the dark while carrying camera/tripod and bag is not an activity I'd recommend but after this strike I was in an extreme hurry to get back to my car lol. Within a minute the wind was raging at about 60kph, lightning going off all around and the rain so heavy I crawled towards home at maybe 30kph on an empty straight road.

                      So now I go for the long distance stuff and reckon the images are far more interesting.
                      This was taken at a range of about 70km with the storm moving at right angles to my position


                      Forget the close up stuff, it ain't worth the risk.
                      Thanks Mick, you have witnessed first hand the dangers and there is nothing worse than mistiming your judgement to get the hell out of there. If you can feel the temperature changing rapidly you should not be there. Love the photo's especially the last image and your right, the distance shots give you a much better perspective of the storm and the dog legs are ten's of thousands of feet long so a much more dramatic bolt of lightning is captured!

                      Originally posted by Lost View Post
                      chris, do you have any links good Aust storm chasing forums/sites? Sort of thinking of doing some chasing in the top end before the wet session. Will be next year at this stage.
                      Sure Ian, Weatherzone will be a tremendous asset to you up north.

                      http://forum.weatherzone.com.au/ubbt.../forum_summary

                      The tropical and central Australia forum will keep you up to date and any contributions on the ground are appreciated.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Made this one a sticky.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Great idea Julie. As a person who has been within 10 metres of a strike & actually felt the power behind it I will not go anywhere near a lighting storm! I had a tree strike outside my bedroom window many years ago while I stood watching the storm through the window. The air all around was charged and the noise was incredible, hissing and cracking, you could feel it even inside the house, it was like the power was actually passing through you and everything around you. It was quite scary actually to realise it had the power or control, not you, you are just a passenger. The tree was split in two but went away from the house luckily. No, I don't mind and actually enjoy watching from a distance, but not when it is close enough to strike.
                          Lloyd
                          Never make the same mistake twice, there are so many new ones, try a different one each day
                          Flickr
                          Smugmug

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                          • #14
                            thanks Chris, I use weatherzone every daybut I have never looked in the forum section. Some great lightning images in there but some are just a little too close me thinks
                            Cheers for now, IanB.
                            Photos by Ian Browne on Facebook

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Lost View Post
                              thanks Chris, I use weatherzone every daybut I have never looked in the forum section. Some great lightning images in there but some are just a little too close me thinks
                              The forums are great Ian. You can pretty well stay up to date with a weather event as it unfolds. Each state is covered and where there is a likely weather setup using global forecasting sytems, (GFS) a thread starts and members in the region contribute in the way of visual observations, photographs and stats. It's a great way of staying safe during severe weather events especially where flash flooding occurs. If the setup is there and it has the potential of becoming severe, weatherzone forums stay on top of it where possible, usually from people on the front line. They also work closely with the Bureau of Meteorology.

                              The Weather Chaser is another fantastic site. http://www.theweatherchaser.com/

                              The archives of BoM radars is an excellent tool for us and have a look around at the loops, amazing stuff.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                This is amazing, the month of January 2012 observed by satellite:JMA MTSAT looped in three minutes! I love the explosive convection in FNQ.

                                http://www.theweatherchaser.com/vide...ia-new-zealand

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                                • #17
                                  Chris, that first image is an absolute cracker and really shows the size and magnitude of this lightning. I've seen plenty of pics of human remains after being bolted with a lot less electricity than a lightning bolt and believe me have no urge at all to venture outside to take photos during any storm and I can't even drive my car during a thunderstorm I'm so chicken.

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                                  • #18
                                    That storm was a doozy Nat, only because it was directly above us. That bolt is a 40 000 foot dog leg, a positive charge from the anvil of the thunderstorm.

                                    The most stunning photos are those where you capture the entire length of the "dog leg" for this you need to be 30-80 km from the storm and if it's at night, be able to focus and time the exposures.

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                                    • #19
                                      I love your flickr page. Some of those shots are incredible.

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                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Bloke View Post
                                        I love your flickr page. Some of those shots are incredible.
                                        do you have the link?
                                        Cheers for now, IanB.
                                        Photos by Ian Browne on Facebook

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                                      • #21
                                        Someone sent this to me today Name:  Lightning photo.jpg
Views: 1
Size:  481.7 KB
                                        Alan

                                        Still trying to make the ordinary look extraordinary

                                        D7000 | D90 | Coolpix S31 | iPhone 6s | Mac

                                        Flickr

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                                        • #22
                                          Aaah....no!
                                          It's the little things!

                                          Cheers, Greg C.

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                                          • #23
                                            One close call with lightning was enough for me.

                                            Methinks these two clowns need to do some research...but doubt they will.

                                            I'll give the author of the article 10/10 for sensationalist ill-informed gibberish. And I'm being kind.:nudgewink:
                                            -----------------------------------------------------
                                            Question everything ~ Christopher Hitchins

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                                            • #24
                                              A sensational shot but no shot is worth putting yourself in danger. I keep remembering that Dad who was killed by a lightning strike in Qld recently - can't remember whether it was Fraser Is or Moreton.

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