Razor-like lightning with an equally sharp reflection, photographed during a thunderstorm in Queensland, Australia. So perfect is the picture’s composition and clarity that it looks almost fake, but photographer Steve Mac assured us it is real – courtesy of Mother Nature's artistic hand!
Boom! As deafening thunder booms, the photographer eagerly awaits the star of the show – the lightning bolt that is to be captured on camera, along with its reflection in the water’s gloomy surface. When the lightning finally strikes, illuminating the scenery for a split second, the photographer leaves the safety of shelter and steps out into the weather, snapping away in the hope of getting the perfect shot.
Thanks to those willing to brave the elements for their craft, we’ve found 13 amazing lightning reflections that will leave you, quite simply, awe-struck.
A stunning example of cloud-to-cloud lightning and a beautiful reflection to match it.
Getting a good, clear reflection of any kind often depends on the water’s surface: the stiller it is, the better it is likely to work as a mirror, and the better able it is to deliver truly spectacular results. That's certainly the case in this scene – made almost tranquil by the sepia tones of the sky – which was snapped in Oegstgeest, South Holland.
In this amazing shot, we can see the branching paths that make up one lightning bolt, here in different colors: Nature gives us purple, white and peach from her palette.
Though there are around 16 million lightning storms worldwide each year (affording lots of opportunities!), photographing lightning is not an easy task. One reason is that lightning happens so fast. To the human eye, a lightning strike often looks like a single bolt, but typically there are actually three, four or sometimes more different strokes per strike, each about 40 to 50 milliseconds apart.
This incredible shot was taken in St. Michaels, Maryland. The thunderstorm produced this wonderful looking lightning reflected in Chesapeake Bay.
High-speed videos and multiple exposures can show the different individual strokes of single lightning strikes. And as we can see, good cameras manned by skilled and tenacious photographers can also capture their reflections near-perfectly in water!
Photographer Don Naumann calls this image ‘Mostly Scattered Showers.’ However, it could just as easily have been named ‘Scattered Lightning’, as we can see at least three areas being hit by the bolts from above. With the sailboats in the foreground, the tone here feels serene, and also a little scary...
There's another good reason excellent lightning photography is comparatively rare. The subject matter is not without its perils, as Don Naumann, who has been a lightning photographer for 21 years, confirms: “It is dangerous and I am very afraid of it.” Still, living in Florida, one of the lightning capitals of the world, sure makes his job easier in terms of having his chosen subject close to hand.
As if this shot weren’t spectacular enough, it also contains the STS-128 space shuttle sitting on its launch pad (the bright spot at the center of the orange glow just right of center.) The amazing lightning bolts, one light purple and the other light blue, are both beautifully reflected in the water.
Three conditions are required for thunderstorms, and with it lightning, to form: moisture, an unstable mass of air, and a lifting force – meaning heat. Though they can potentially develop anywhere on Earth, thunderstorms are more prevalent in tropical rainforests and are often connected with monsoon seasons worldwide.
‘August Midnight’ beautifully illustrates cloud-to-ground lightning and the different strokes that make up one lightning strike.
Photographer Naumann recalls the conditions that gave rise to this dramatic capture: “‘August Midnight' is almost the perfect shot," he says. "The storm is moving from left to right and not coming directly toward me, [which is] less dangerous. It also shows the three different levels of clouds that carry lightning and it has a step leader from the cloud about to join the ground leader (the right side of the photograph). The complete photograph is in focus.”
Magnificent monsoon lightning over Queen Creek, Arizona. As we can see, the lightning stroke is not touching the ground, suggesting that it is a case of cloud-to-cloud lightning.
When warm, moist air rises upward – because its density is lower than that of the cooler air surrounding it – it cools and condenses, forming cumulonimbus clouds. These tall, dense clouds are rightly viewed as signs of bad weather thanks to the severe storms they can bring. They can tower as high as 20 kilometers (12.5 miles)!
Hard to believe that this amazing image was photographer Austin Westphal’s first capture of a lightning strike.
When lightning struck one summer evening in Log Boom Park, overlooking Lake Washington, Austin Westphal grabbed his camera and snapped away. Looking southeast toward Juanita, this image is one of the best of that night.
Lightning reflection captured on Manhattan Beach, California.
Here, we have lightning that struck over the Pacific Ocean, close to Catalina Island and Palos Verdes Peninsula in Manhattan Beach, CA. The forked strike bursting out of the clouds is just beautiful, and what looks to be another stroke is just visible in the background on the right.
’Well Done’ is a perfect capture indeed, revealing the artery-like branching patterns of a single lightning strike.
For those inspired after seeing these stunning images, there’s one burning question: how do you become a lightning photographer? Don Naumann was kind enough to share his beginnings with us, which take him back to college: “I was developing my photographs on my screen porch for my final portfolio (due the next day),” he explains. “The time was about 11:30 pm when a thunderstorm came in off the Gulf. I had to stop because of the light from the lightning. I decided to set up my camera on a tripod and shoot some shots. I did manage to get one fairly good shot – at least I thought it was good at that time and developed it and included it in my portfolio. It was a hit.” It sure is!
The right preparations are important, too. But if you want to be a lightning photographer, you have to be ready...
Even in our age of digital cameras, post-processing isn’t everything, according to Naumann. Like many other top photographers, he still uses actual film. Explaining the advantages, he says: “The Hasselblad with Zeiss lens was a gift from a friend and is the best camera made. I still shoot slide film (E-6) and film (C-41), as do most great photographers of art. I leave my lens open for an extended period of time. This causes reciprocity failure and I use the color shifts in my final product. My final product is exactly what I photographed.” It's an art that’s becoming increasingly rare, making these images all the more special.
Beautiful lightning reflection at a beach in Alberta, Canada.
Looking at the path of this lightning bolt, it seems as though Nature couldn’t make up her mind as to whether it should be cloud-to-cloud lightning or cloud-to-ground lightning that she should produce. It almost looks as if she opted for a hybrid of the two – though at the last second decided on the latter. In any case, it’s a spectacular shot!
A scene out of Mad Max?
This incredible image shows several bolts of lightning reflected in what appears to be a shallow lake. The thick cloud layer and desert make the shot sinister yet fascinating. Certainly a once-in-a-lifetime capture!
As we have seen, it’s possible to capture near-perfect lightning reflections – if the conditions are right. Each image is special, and we’re sure glad the photographers whose amazing images we’ve shown here were there at the right place, at the right time, and had their cameras at the ready!