Last Friday, after hours spent editing photos from a portrait session with two dance instructors, I was in bed by about 9:30, ready to catch up on some sleep, when I heard the far-off sound of thunder. The soft, distant rumbling was soothing at first, a sound of summer, like cicadas and the pop of fireworks. But, gradually the thunder grew louder and more frequent, and I noticed the room starting to light up, even with the curtains closed. I considered closing the sliding glass door and turning on the AC to cut out the sound, but something told me this was going to be a big storm, and the shutterbug in me started to get excited. So instead, I got up and started getting my camera gear ready. By the time I had my camera and tripod set up in the stairwell of our condo, the strikes in the distance were coming pretty regularly. I used the intervalometer on my 7D so that I could take continuous 6 second shots, with a one second gap between them. Generally, when trying to photograph lightning in Japan, I might capture one strike for every 20 or 30 dark frames, IF I happened to have my camera facing in the right direction. Even with my wide lens (24mm), I can only observe a smallish cut of sky at a given time, and trying to guess where the next strike will come is a challenge, but on this day there were so many strikes coming that my hit rate (as well as my miss rate) was much higher. At first the strikes were fairly far off, and mostly hidden behind the clouds.
But, as they continued to get closer and more frequent, I realized this was a rare sort of storm, and decided to get my other camera going as well, so I could cover more of the sky. My 6D doesn't have an intervalometer, so I set it to 8 seconds, pushing the shutter manually every time an exposure finished. When processing, I tried both color and black and white, and liked both. I liked the cool of the sky against the warm lights of the city in the color photos, but I thought the black and white had more drama and emphasized the lightning bolts better.
Finally, the locus of the strikes passed right over us. I dropped the exposure settings on both cameras by another stop to compensate for the increased intensity of the light from the bolts, but even with that the strikes were so bright that I had to underexpose even more in post production. Our whole building shook as the bolts dropped around us. This was by far the best session I've had shooting lightning, and despite getting so many shots, there were many more that I missed. Still, it was a very satisfying night, and I ended up being so excited that I didn't get to bed until after midnight. So much for catching up on sleep.