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The most amazing lightning strike photo I've ever seen

The most amazing lightning strike photo I've ever seen

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This may be the ultimate photo zap

May 10, 2010

Jonathan Davino of Bossier City, LA is lucky to be alive. Take one look at his photo of a bolt of lightning, below, and you'll immediately understand why.

I've been looking at photographs for decades, and have seen hundreds of photos of lightning strikes, mostly captured either by lucky amateurs or (more likely) by experienced storm chasers shooting from a relatively, but not totally, safe distance. The typical image depicts the cloud, the lightning, and the place where it hits. The best of the breed are dramatically lit, well-composed, and have a hint of danger.

Of all of these images, I've never seen one shot from such an uncomfortably close and shockingly dangerous angle as the one shown below, by Jonathan Davino. It came across my in-box as a submission for PhotoZAP, our ongoing series of photo critiques. My first thought, after "he's lucky he's alive," was: Yeah, it's not technically perfect, but what could any of us possibly say to "improve" this once-in-a-lifetime shot? What are the odds that someone could replicate it?

 

 

Photo © Jonathan Davino

 

Jonathan describes how he bolted down the shot: "This photo was a complete surprise.  I was playing with the ISO of my Canon 50D, trying to capture the contrast of the black clouds and deep blue sky. I zoomed in all the way with my Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens, boosted the ISO to 3200, and slowed down the shutter for a long exposure. Right after I pressed the shutter, the bolt of lightning shot out of the cloud. I froze in my place, and  (once I realized I was still alive) I prayed that I captured it on my camera.  Luckily I did, but there is a ton of noise.  My favorite thing about the picture is the silhouette of the tree branch I was standing over is in front of the lightning, giving you a reference of scale for the lightning.  I slightly adjusted the levels in photoshop CS3 and cropped the image as well."

In reading his description, I was struck by how little fear Jonathan expressed about being struck, and how he was more concerned about the technical aspects of the photo than the physical danger he was in. It reminds me of the descriptions of war photographers who would venture into an active battlefield and feel that somehow their camera protected them from harm. Not a totally rational thought process but sometimes, denial is the only way to deal with physical danger.

I probably would have soiled my Dockers.

Nonetheless, this is a fascinating, and educational image. I'm sure meteorologists would have a field day with it (in fact, if any meteorologists are reading this, please feel free to leave a comment about what you see. I'm sure there are scientifically interesting things going on in this view that the mere mortal rarely gets to see and live to tell the tale.)

Thank you to Jonathan for sharing this amazing picture, and I'm glad you're alive to talk about it. But if anyone wishes to deliberately try for a similar under-the-cloud lightning strike shot, my advice to you is, don't!

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