By BRUCE LUND
“Chasing Lightning” was the title of an article in the August 2012 National Geographic magazine. It was a story and spectacular photos of lightning researcher Tim Samaras. With his one-of-a-kind 1,600 lb. camera originally used to film details of above-ground nuclear tests, Samaras captured 10,000 images per second to record the 200 millisecond life of individual lightning strikes.
That article came to mind on my post-dinner walk last Wednesday evening as I watched a big thunderstorm develop over Meadow Valley Wash and then roll down over Moapa. Reaching the hilltop point of my walk, the dark underside of the storm came into full view, with lightning stroke after stroke thrashing the blackness.
Having my point-and-shoot Pentax in hand, I started thinking how neat it would be to get one of those iconic photographs we’ve all seen of lightning streaking through the sky. How hard could it be? Just point the camera at the storm and take a thousand chance shots and switch out 10 spent camera batteries until you get lucky and capture a bolt in a picture.
What the heck – why not click off a few shots? So I aimed, waited, tried estimating the average time between lightning bolts to increase my chance for success (nah, total variation), took about ten shots – and to my astonishment, captured lightning in three of them. Take that, Mr. Samaras.
Jesting aside, the National Geographic article illustrates the anatomy of a lightning strike: how a negatively charged “leader” drops from a thundercloud and when it gets close enough to the ground, a positively charged streamer rises to close the connection. The connecting moment creates a burst of light (which is what I think was caught in one of my images). Even though we think we see lightning coming down from the sky, what our eye really records is the upstroke lightning from the ground.
Sitting on the porch watching the annual summer lightning shows around our valley has become a free natural fireworks show for Flo and me. From now on, I’ll have to keep the camera handy to see if I can do it again.