September 17, 2012

Lightning, White Mountains

Lightning, White Mountains

On a recent trip to the White Mountains of California, I had the opportunity to test out a new accessory for my Nikon D800e, a Lightning Strike Pro from AEO Photo. The device is fairly small (2.25 x 2.75 x 0.75) and mounts into your camera's accessory shoe with a cable interface connecting into and communicating with the camera. Following the proper set-up sequence, the device is immediately ready to capture lightning.

Fortunately, the weather was accommodating. Tropical moisture from Mexico was streaming into the region generating afternoon storms. The first storm I attempted to photograph was midday and ambient light was fairly strong. Lightning, about 4 miles away, was striking every 1-2 minutes over a 15-20 minute period. I witnessed several lightning strikes and the trigger set off the camera with each. In the end, out of about 15 photographs, 2 ended up with faint strikes, and one image had a solid lightning capture (not the image shown here).

The Lightning Strike Pro is designed to trigger the camera on the first strike and then capture the lightning bolt on a successive flash, if there is one. Successive flashes are fairly common but their intervals are random. I've witnessed strikes with upwards of 4-5 flashes. The flashes themselves last approximately 20 milliseconds. Bottom line, there's definitely an element of luck involved particularly during midday when exposures are fairly short (1/60 sec @ f16). It occurred to me that a 10-stop neutral density filter would go a long way in providing longer exposures (~1 sec) that could be helpful in capturing lighting with longer intervals between flashes. But that option would have to wait for another trip.

The next day saw a storm build up over our encampment and move east. I followed the storm in my truck up to the saddle of Cottonwood Creek which had an excellent view to the east. Once there, I was able to set up and photograph an isolated cell with some lovely sunlit shower patterns and a plethora of lightning strikes. With each strike the Lightning Trigger dutifully set off the camera shutter and, as I watched the lightning, I could start to tell which image was likely to be successful. The best strike, quite an exceptional one, is the one above.

I look forward to working with this new accessory for many trips to come.


It's a landscape that has to be seen to be believed. And, as I say on occasion, it may have to be believed in order to be seen.

N. Scott Momaday