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Thursday, 15 August 2013


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We have reached the sad point in photography where no picture can ever speak for itself anymore - it's authenticity must be explained, re-emphasized, and restated and clarified. While fake, garnish HDR and distorted meaningless fisheye pictures win competitions the world over and gather thousands of likes and favorites online, real pictures (witness the latest world press winner debacle) get unfairly scrutinized, critiqued and questioned for the intent and genuineness.

Maybe old school photographers should put #nofilter #nophotoshop hash tags with every picture submission.

To photograph lightning you need a slow speed camera. To photograph Bolt you need a high speed one.

Hi Mike,
Personal experience tells me it is perfectly plausible to get several frames of the same lightning bolt.
While we were watching a daylight storm and I was explaining that the flashes are too fast to photograph except on "B" setting, my g/f pointed her slow compact camera at the sky and pressed the shutter whenever she saw a flash; she got 3 photos of lightning.
So, I don't know if it is ionised air glowing for a moment or multiple bolts following the same path, but no reason to disbelieve it.

all the best

Yes, this is right. When a lightning strike happens it leaves a trail of ionisation in the air. That air is thus more conductive, and any successive strike for short time following will tend to take the same path.

Interestingly enough I shot my first lightening strike ever just last night from my driveway and can attest to much of this. My first good score was a pair of bolts that "appeared" to least for a solid "two count" and also appeared to "double strike" it's own path. Here's the shot in question.


Don't know whether this is allowed, as it contains a swear word, but I'm reminded of a recent Twitter post:


Dear Mike,

Anyone who's ever seen much lightning KNOWS it can do this. I mean, I've seen more than enough of this on my occasional visits to the Midwest. You get multiple strokes following the same ionization trail and it can go on a substantial fraction of a second. I've seen long enough stroke groups (some just this last June) that if i'd had my finger resting on the shutter button, I could've clicked off a frame that captured the last stroke(s) after seeing the first.

And, no, the strokes in the two photographs aren't identical, that's visible even in the small online images. They're very, very similar, but not identical. Which is what successive strokes do-- the don't exactly follow the preexisting trail.

And then there are the folks who just think it's even plausible it's a fraud. Sure, if this were some anon amateur on Flickr with nothing to lose, why not fake up a photo and pass it off as real? But we're talking about a news photographer, posting on his own agency's website. If it's a fraud, what's the chance he won't get caught and when he does there goes his career. Impossible? Of course not. But over such minor stakes (not like he'd blown the assignment if there weren't any lightning), at all likely? Naaah.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

@ Sergio Bartelsman: "To photograph lightning you need a slow speed camera."

Actually, no. Photographing lightning has become so automated with gadgets like this that such images are no longer representative of much skill, reflex, or luck.

Although such a device would seem peripheral to this topic.

Some of these points have already been discussed in previous comments but I've taken the liberty of adding some relevant links.

The individual strokes in a lightning flash are very brief -- generally on the order of tens of milliseconds. The initial return stroke is usually followed by additional return strokes of similar duration. The duration of the entire event is almost always less (a lot less) than one second - although if there are enough return strokes the duration can approach a second. See the following links for some information on duration:


If the camera is moving during the lightning event the individual return strokes can be seen. Careful examination will show that each return stroke follows a similar but not exact path as the one that preceded it. Much of the early research on lightning employed this technique. See the following link for an example:


Finally, here is a link to my personal web page with lighting photographs:



@Kenneth Tanaka,

Not all who photograph lightning use lightning triggers. I don't, nor would I recommend them to anyone serious about lightning photography. Those triggers are sensing light (or RF) from lightning that has already started: the results won't always show all of the lightning. Of course, this clearly doesn't mean others who do use them don't get results they are happy with! I think only those who are hampered by equipment limitation or don't know what they are doing would try to use their reflexes to photograph lightning. I can certainly see some advantages to using a lightning trigger during the day, when the other approach is to simply take photos continuously and hope the timing matches up with lightning. However, that brute force method can also yield a nice time lapse at the end of the day. Finally, while I do agree that there is not much skill needed just to get lightning in one's frame, achieving an artistic result does require some skill beyond simply pointing a camera with a lightning trigger attached. Cheers.

Not that it helps answer this debate but this is a link to Peta pixel which links this video of a one second flash of lightning at an amazing 11,000 frames per second.


It is truly mind boggling how much happens during a flash and how little of it shows up in our perception of a instantaneous flash.

Thought you might like it. Sincerely Brian

When I was about 13, traveling with a group of teens in the Utah mountains near Dinosaur National Monument, I was pleasantly surprised when my efforts to capture a lighting strike with a snapshot camera proved fruitful. I waited for the next strike then pressed the shutter button. It didn't seem I'd done it, as lightning strikes are fast. But when the slides came back from the lab, I had indeed captured one of the latter bolts. I've subsequently learned that once the path is open, charges from other parts of the massive cloud find their way to ground, resulting in multiple strikes, pretty much as your expert said.

This discussion reminds me of the "Apollo Moon Landing is a Hoax" conspiracy theory. People would post NASA photos from the Apollo missions and point out the visual effects depicted on the photos don't happen on Earth therefore the photos are fake. Quite a few years ago I read some articles on the Bad Astrononmy website (author Phil Plait), where he explained the physics behind the photos, keeping in mind the differences between the Moon and the Earth.

[Phil is currently visiting Australia to talk about his latest book. I saw him a couple days ago in Adelaide; he's an interesting and entertaining speaker.]

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