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Photography Question 
Romen Vargas

Dodging Lightning or At Least Avoiding It

I want to take some shots of an electrical storm over the ocean or over the city I live in. I've found a good spot (I think) on a lookout which overlooks the city and the ocean at the same time. I was about to go shoot the other night (big electrical storm and no rain) but it occurred to me, level land, about 30 or so meters away from trees, metal tripod... aren't I just asking to get hit by lightning by doing this??? Some thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advanced.

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1/24/2001 4:32:27 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
You're right about the risk of a metal tripod on a high point in the open.

Most lightning shots I've seen done in the U.S. are either from a far distance or of a small storm cell. Either way, the photographer is a safe distance from the storm producing the lightning. Having lived in several areas that have frequent electrical storms, lightning is very unpredictable with awesome power, and it doesn't just strike one object. Contrary to popular belief, ground to sky lighting almost always emanates from the ground and travels to the sky, the strokes are multiple in very rapid succession and the source on the ground moves around some.

Be safe, very safe, and be patient. If the conditions are not safe, there will eventually be another storm on another day and try again. I've been near direct strikes and have seen what it does to military communications gear . . . starting with half an antenna literally vaporized.

-- John

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1/24/2001 8:51:07 PM

Carlos E. Rentas   Romen (and John);

Would using a carbon fiber tripod help?

Anyways, I have some experience at this from when I lived in Tucson, AZ. The city lies in a relatively flat valley and you can see storms (cells) moving in or out of the area from miles away. Having this advantage, it is almost easy to predict the way and the rate at which they move. You can anticipate were to go next, if the storm is still active, becoming stronger or weaker. It also gives a little time to set up a nicer shot (say a silohuette of a city skyscraper, trees, etc., instead of just shooting the storm.

A good suggestion (and one that rarely failed while I was in Tucson) is to check your local doppler radar on the Weather Channel ( webpage in the mid afternoon hours during the high season for electrical storms. Since they usually intensify with the afternoon heating, by late afternoon early evening you might be able to catch a great light show. With the radar in motion, you can also see the direction the storms are and might be moving to. Also check out local storm warnings issues by the National Weather Service. They sometimes go into such detail as to telling you the location of a specific storm cells or group of cells, the rate at which they are moving and the direction they are headed. You basically become a storm chaser, but always with caution and distance.

Happy shooting!


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2/27/2001 6:19:48 PM

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