Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Shooting The Monsoon
How to catch the big summer weather in the Southwest
It was the bolt atop the ridge directly in front of me that finally got my attention. For over an hour, I had been photographing the eastward progress of a dazzling thunderstorm just north of what had been a safe vantage point. Mesmerized by the frequency and intensity of its activity, I had failed to register the storm's approach until that warning shot landed less than a mile away. Reluctantly, I began packing my gear, still dry, but knowing I was in danger, vaguely resentful of the oft-repeated lightning warning: "If you see it, flee it; if you hear it, clear it." Stooping for my camera bag, I rationalized that I pass that warning's threshold every time I photograph a thunderstorm, so surely... Flash-Bang! The simultaneous bolt and boom sent me retreating so fast that it wasn't until I was safely in the car that I realized I had left my camera in the line of fire.
Lightning photography is as dangerous as it is thrilling. Though photographer and camera survived this adventure, no person outside in an electrical storm is completely safe. And while nature photographers aren't averse to taking risks to get their shots, neither should they be as foolish as I was.
How To Photograph Lightning
Before setting out to photograph lightning, understand that anyone outside when lightning is visible, or thunder is audible, is at risk. You can roughly compute the lightning's distance by counting the seconds between the flash and thunder: five seconds for each mile. While 10 miles is often stated as a safe distance, lightning bolts over 100 miles long have been recorded, and lightning can strike when no rain is falling and the sky overhead is blue.
Rather than hearing it from someone who goes out in thunderstorms despite the risks, read what the experts have to say about lightning safety:
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