Lightning Reflexes

I read a blog recently, which is a bit old (May, 2011) but had one line that left me a bit… We’ll say curious.

… a longer exposure is necessary, as no human has the reflexes to catch a lightning bolt. …

I beg to differ. Too often we define ourselves as limited. We decide “We can’t do that, so we’ll use a tool to do it for us. We’ll cheat.” and just accept that as reality. The truth of the matter is, we CAN catch a lightning strike! I have personally done this with a relatively cheap point-and-shoot camera.

July 7th, 2008; 6:02am. Higginsville, MO.

No long exposures. No tricks. No Photoshop. Just good timing on my part.

I’m not saying it’s easy to get a shot of lightning, quite the opposite. It can be a royal pain in the rear. You will get many shots of nothing, which some will see as a waste of good opportunities you could have had with long exposures. I don’t see it that way, because this shot is beautiful, simple, and un-edited. No cloud noise, no funny lighting, plenty of drama. The only bad thing about this picture, is the lack of quality due to the poor camera I had to shoot it with.

The camera I took this with was a Kodak Z710. I didn’t even use a stand, just waited for the show to start, and clicked when I saw signs of life. I actually caught several strikes that day, but this was the only one that didn’t end up distorted due to the lack of stand. We shall see if my new camera can do any better this spring… Sony NEX-5, which I will write a review of in the coming weeks. I need more shots with it.

I guess my point is: Don’t assume it’s not possible just because you haven’t done it yet.


4 thoughts on “Lightning Reflexes

  1. I think you miss my point — which was merely that it’s impossible (okay, extremely unlikely) for human reflexes to see a bolt and react to it with a camera. Average lightning flash duration is around 0.2 seconds. Average human visual reflexes are about the same — around 0.2 seconds. This doesn’t include any time for physical movement or camera latency, either. The reason I mentioned that in particular is because I recall a particularly tragic day when I ran into a friend of mine on a bridge during a storm, and watched while (to sad but comic effect) he would react to a lightning bolt, fumble with his camera, and try to get it up to his eye in time to take a photo.

    Certainly clicking away with longer exposures will catch some action. Your exposure was at 1/8 seconds — plenty long enough. Your method is in line with my recommendations — you just used yourself as the tripod. 🙂 (steady hands, by the way!)

    You’ll love the Sony — I just got one myself. it’s an amazing camera.

    • The exposure length issue I was referring to was the idea that it needs to be some several seconds long and catch lots of bolts, etc…

      I do have to admit that I wasn’t just “clicking away,” as there are certain signs to watch for. Usually if there is a “cloud-only” flash, it will be followed by an actual strike within a few seconds. This was the sign of life I was referring to. By using this trick, I can guesstimate the timing and area of the next strike. It doesn’t always work, but you’d be surprised how often you can be looking in the right direction by watching for that.

      Love the Sony so far, got some great shots of the snow this morning, and will be including some of them in my review of the camera. Now I just need to get to a big city and really have a go…

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