Mid-day one summer I heard the distant rumble of thunder. I went outside and looked up into the sky and saw a thunderstorm coming over the tops of houses in my neighborhood. This storm was mild, it had no high winds and heavy rain. I decided I might have a good chance of catching some lighting bolts on film. In reality it was too bright and the storm too mild. No matter I wanted to give it a try so I headed down to the Menominee Park in my town, Oshkosh, WI.
For the best chance of getting a good lightning photo a photographer needs a tripod, and an aluminum tripod such as mine seemed to be about the worst thing one could have in an electrical storm for reasons that should be obvious. The other trouble with taking lightning photos is rain, and getting the camera and most importantly the lens wet. A lens with water droplets on it will give very poor results. I had solved these problems already by selecting a gazebo at the park for protection. I was able to set up free from the rain and I would not attract lightning bolts with my tripod.
The camera I was using that day was a Toyo 45aii. I knew I was going to need many frames to be lucky enough to get a shot of lightning, so after focusing etc. I installed by 6×9 120 rollfilm back, loaded with Fuji Velvia 50 (RVP). This would be a much more economical alternative to 4×5 sheet film.
I had, and still don’t have, a lightning trigger. These devices sense the bright flash of the lightning bolt and then trip the shutter. Instead I relied on taking long exposures and hoping a flash would occur. After say thirty seconds to a few minutes, depending on how dark it is, I then stop the exposure and start again if no lightning flashes. However if lightning did fire at anytime, I stop the exposure and advance the film. Using this simple method I have taken a number of good lightning photos over the years. This day however was pretty bright for a thunderstorm, and the lightning flash infrequent. I got no photos of bolts. However I did focus on the scene above of the park and dock. The raindrops softened the landscape and gave a pleasing look in the color transparency, but I prefer the conversion to black and white.
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