Nocturnal lightning

The last time I saw a full on nocturnal lightning storm was 13 years ago in the middle of the Prairies in Canada, long before I was in to photography. Since then, I've often wished I had taken a photo or two of the experience. And I've been determined eventually to be able to photograph one since.

Last night, my 13 year wait was over, and my dream came true!

The day was hot - the hottest of the year so far - and the warm, humid conditions were ripe for the development of some significant convectional cloud, and even the chance for lightning! As the day progressed, however, nothing materialised - until the early evening, that is. Radar revealed lightning storms off the west coast of Donegal in the Atlantic Ocean. But nothing over Co. Antrim.

But, around midnight, I spotted it. The most amazing of lightning storms moved north over Islay in Scotland - giving great views from the North Coast of Northern Ireland. The lightning strikes were happening at least one per second at its height, covering the full scope of the sky from due north to due east. In fact, the strike rate at 1.30 am for the entire storm was a staggering861 lightning bolts per hour!

The towering cumulonimbus clouds flashed with intense light, glowing monstrously from within. Most of the actual lightning bolts were obscured be the clouds themselves. But I managed to catch four actual bolts themselves: two high in the sky, and two that came all the way down to the sea surface.

But, despite this amazing visual show, there was not a hint of a sound of thunder. The storm was too far away. It gave the whole thing an enigmatic quality - all that drama, and no sound to accompany it at all. I spent the most amazing hour watching and photographing away as the cloud above us closed in and the storms moved gradually further north.

An amazing experience. Here's hoping it's not 13 years until the next time I get to see this stunning natural wonder.

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My photo featuring on BBC Newline's weather forecast (thanks to Chris Ibbotson for taking this photo for me!)

Photographing the lightning

As this was my first time photographing night lightning, I had to experiment a bit with the settings to get it right. At first, I thought of going for 30 second exposures: more chance of catching more bolts that way, I thought. But I quickly discover that, when the strike rate was as high as it was last night, that this just caused the whole of the clouds to light up and I lost any definition. 

I then went much shorter with a higher ISO. But that way I was missing too much action! So, I went for a 10 second shutter speed with a high ISO. But that way the shots were too bright and washed out!

As for lenses, at first I used my Tokina 11-16mm to try to fit as much in as possible. But I was missing some of the detail. So I swapped lenses to the Fuji 18-55mm and zoomed in a bit to try to catch some more of the detail of the strikes and clouds as they were being lit. I combined that with a 10 second shutter speed, ISO 800, and f/4.0.  Settings set, I settled back to enjoy the view and capture the shots.