Lightning over Italy

A decade of lightning photography

On May 27, 2009 – a decade ago – I caught my first bolt of lightning during a vacation in Italy (see above). The strike wasn’t particularly impressive, but just catching the lightning hooked me. So when I returned home to Chicago, I made it my mission to capture more lightning. To celebrate these 10 years, I put together a blog post detailing some of my more memorable strikes through the years.

_____________________

1) May 31, 2010: Almost a year after capturing my first bolt, and an upgrade to a DSLR, a strong spring storm dropped massive lightning bolts over the south side of Chicago. I hadn’t yet fully figured out the best settings for catching lightning, but managed to nail this shot. Though the foreground was improperly exposed, I was impressed by the bolt’s size and brightness.

Lightning

_____________________

2) May 3, 2012: I stood on my balcony as the sky flashed in the distance. I noticed a particularly active region in the cloud, so I pointed my camera at it, and zoomed in a bit. I was shocked when I caught the clouds illuminated from within. Intracloud lighting is the most common type of lighting, but I didn’t expect to capture such amazing cloud texture.

_____________________

3) June 30, 2012: For the first couple years I photographed storms, I honed my technique from my balcony. Looking over the BNSF tracks bordering Pilsen, I had a nearly unobstructed view to watch storms roll in form the south. In this frame, I blended two separate strikes taken minutes apart for my first ever lightning composite.

_____________________

4) May 28, 2013: This wasn’t my first ‘skyline strike,’ but it was the most powerful – up to then. I was shooting from my friend’s balcony, when this massive surge of electricity dropped from the sky.

Lightning

_____________________

5) June 19, 2014: This was the first  bolt I caught from an elevated position after I managed to get special approval to use my tripod at the Skydeck. Lucky for me, a storm was moving in that evening.  Unfortunately,  the storm weakened by the time it moved over the loop. Lightning

_____________________

6) July 12, 2014: At the time, the ‘triple strike’ was my holy grail, and I managed to catch it in a single frame…no compositing here. I was ecstatic when I captured these bolts flashing simultaneously. My only regret was with the settings I used. The city was slightly overexposed, and my aperture was a bit too small for the strength of the lighting.

_____________________

7) April 9, 2015: A few photographers and I were up at 360 Chicago waiting on a storm. For a while we though it was going to bust, but we started to see flashes north of the city. For those of us who stuck it out, we were rewarded with a distant lightning storm. This is a composite of five separate frames taken over the course of a few minutes.

Lightning

_____________________

8) July 13, 2016: To date, this is my all-time favorite lighting strike. I was shooting a late afternoon storm atop 360 Chicago, when the skies dramatically darkened. I dialed in my setting and blasted off one second exposures. When I saw the bolt strike, I knew my shutter was open and I captured it. What I love so much about this photos is where the lighting is striking. Not the tip of an antenna 1000′ feet in the air, but dow into the loop. As the lightning illuminates the heart of the city, it creates a lot depth between the dark foreground and rainy background. Luckily, the windows stayed dry long enough to capture this image.

_____________________

9 ) July 21, 2017: As the fog drifted through the city, I begged Mother Nature to drop a bolt onto the Willis’ antenna and she delivered. Over the next few minutes, I captured two other distant strikes and composited them into the scene.

_____________________

10) May 16, 2019: It had been a long while since I last shot lighting from my balcony, but when I looked out the window…there is was. A large storm was throwing out intracloud lighting like crazy. I set-up my gear, zoomed-in, and captured some pretty cool flashes illuminating the clouds from within.

Lightning

_____________________

If you want to see ALL of my storm and lighting shots throughout the years, check them out here.

Also, here’s a tutorial I wore eight years ago (gulp) on how I capture lighting.

Now, onto the next decade of storm photography!