Captured Lightning - 1998, 1999

One fine day in 1998 quickly turned ugly.

I don't believe I've ever seen another storm front quite like this one. It literally rolled across the sky, turning everything dark in about 10 minutes. 'The Nothing' from "The Neverending Story" had become a reality. I must have been awestruck, because now, nearly 10 years later, I can't comprehend my motivation for remaining outside with such an ominous cloud hanging overhead. I suppose it was impossible for me to resist trying to document this unusual occurrence.

Let us step aside from this illustory for just a moment. All the photos in this post were taken with a Casio QV-11 digital camera. This was the first age of consumer digital cameras. It was widely believed that including a flash with a digital camera was unnecessary because all the details might be brought out with photo editing software. Isn't technology wonderful? Anyway, besides being flashless, this things max resolution was 320x240, and it's image processor was about as fast as drawing maple syrup straight from the tree. At least there were no confusing settings to fuss with. But wait... it has a sloooooowwwww image processor? Perhaps that's not such a bad thing?

At some point in time now washed from my memory, like sand castles eroded by waves at the beach, I discovered that I could capture lightning with this camera. If the camera was pointed in the right direction I could simply watch the sky for lightning. When the lightning fired I had time to click the shutter and catch the bolt. Of course, lightning is very bright and I was fortunate that the camera wasn't completely blinded. I had to severely darken the pictures to make the bolts visible amid the flash. And now, back to the pictures...

As I review these images I am more and more concerned for my sanity at the time I took them.

This may be the day I learned I could capture lightning. I really don't remember, but I can't recall ever trying to shoot lightning before this.

As you can see, a distant lightning bolt stands out nicely against this dark sky without overwhelming the camera.

The spot of light near the bolt is a street lamp.

A similar image. This time I was a little off my speed and this bolt's light had already begun to fade by the time I clicked.

I'm finally inside, relatively safe. I don't know if I wised-up and got out of the storm or if it began to rain and I was worried about damaging my camera... I suspect the latter because I DO remember frustration at losing a good angle from which to shoot, having no windows on the side of the building where all the action was.

Anyway, I really like this shot because it's got some of that iconic lightning bolt zig-zag in it's upper half.

This was the last photo I took during this storm. The camera had internal memory only and could hold a mere 16 pictures before it had to be emptied to a hard drive via com port connection. By this point in my computing history (a much larger story of which this is a minor, but somewhat interesting part) I had already lost 2 modems to electrical storms and had adopted the habit of physically disconnecting the computer's phone line and power during outbreaks. Phone lines, therefore modems in dial-up connected computers, will get zapped before it is compromised through the power line, almost every time.

So, now I knew what I could do with my camera during storms. This was terribly exciting and excitement makes people stupid. So here are some images from another storm the following summer...

This storm was in another part of town. A busier part of town. A bustling part of town. We were parked at a busy gas station, surrounded by metal utility poles and business signs and telephone lines and traffic signals and crosswalks, any of which would make great conductors for lightning. I was outside in the rain. I was a moron.

These shots were taken almost a year after the first set and we were directly beneath the storm. Also, it wasn't raining hard, and, by this time, I had managed to spill a beer on the camera and was somewhat aware of how much 'wet' it could stand.

My aim was off for most of these shots because the event was much closer and it wasn't possible to determine where the lightning might flash next. Lucky shots, all.

This image reminds me of something in between a Hubble image of a nebular cluster in another part of the galaxy and an ultrasound scan of a baby's head (eye, nose, & mouth facing right and down, with a little fist curled up near the chin). Do you see it too, or have I watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" too many times?

These last two images are examples of a 'blinded' camera. I have found the picture on the left to me unalterable. Tweaking it seems only to highlight the poor resolution of the camera. The picture on the right is my favorite of them all. It seems to bring out the true and devastating nature of lightning. Perhaps it was this final image that scared me back into the van and out of harm's way.

I hope you've enjoyed this romp through my ancient digital photo collection. I've only posted them because I still find them fascinating after all these years. I hope you will, too.

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