Evening Lightning along China Hat

Lightning along China Hat Road outside Bend, Oregon

My experience of summer thunderstorms here in Bend, has been that they generally dissipate around dusk. In this case, I’d chased a storm southeast of Bend out the China Hat Road near Besse Butte. The results were disappointing. Lightning was all around me but generally distant and mostly confined to the clouds. All I got was wind, mosquito bites, and sore shoulders from holding a blanket high above my head to shield the camera from a naggingly persistent spatter of rain. Dejected and hungry I packed up my gear and started to head home.

But seemingly out of nowhere, the storm began to intensify further east and I found myself scrambling down a bone-rattling dirt road in the dark trying to re-locate a vantage point I’d put to memory a couple weeks earlier. I managed to find the spot and was treated to a spectacular, even frightening, display of intense lightning that illuminated the sky all around me.

The bolt in this image here is my favorite out of 5-6 solid strikes I was able to capture.

Two Bolts over Bend

Lightning over eastern Bend, Oregon

While I’m still relatively new to Bend, Oregon, I’m told by the locals that this summer has been more monsoonal than normal with an abundance of summertime tropical moisture sliding north from the desert southwest. Which means more thunderstorms. Yay!

In the last couple of years, I’ve added lightning photography into my photographic routine acquiring a lightning trigger from AEO Photo which I consider an essential tool to the craft. And while lightning photography sits in rather stark contrast to the more contemplative film photography I primarily engage in, it’s admittedly quite a rush to chase storms. The combination of energy and beauty (and a tinge of danger) is exhilirating.

While there is indeed an element of luck to lighting photography, an understanding of the movement and formation of storms in a region, coupled with the proper tools, will greatly increase your chances of capturing something compelling. For the image here, I spent an afternoon tracking cloud development which started to get intense SE of Bend around 4pm one day last July. I quickly packed up my gear and headed towards the storm hoping to flank its northern side and capture lighting moving directly at me. Driving out, it quickly became apparent my strategy was going to be a bust — the storm was too close. Fortunately, an old cinder cone, Pilot Butte, sits in the heart of Bend and provides an exceptional 360° panoramic view. Within minutes I was atop the butte and set-up. The storm had intensified to near supercell status providing an exceptionally good ~30 minute light show (not to mention heavy winds and dust) before eventually dumping heavy rain and hail on us onlookers as we scrambled back to our vehicles.

The image here is a blend of two separate lightning strikes that occurred literally within the same second of each other.

Mammatus Clouds over Bend

Mammatus Clouds, Bend, Oregon

Playing some blog catch-up here in mental preparation for what should be some posting frenzied-ness this fall when I head to Zion National Park for nearly two months.

These wonderful clouds here, captured at dusk in late Spring, are called mammatus or mammatocumulus. They commonly form under cumulonimbus (thunderstorm clouds) though the exact hyptohesis for their development is still in question. They are often a warning of impending severe weather, though, in this case, they formed under dissipating conditions. Which was fine by me.