Beginnings: Washington, PA - July 28, 1993
My first thunderstorm shots are proof that it takes absolutely no experience or skill in photography to catch lightning.
Although my fascination with storms began when I was a child, my storm chasing career got its official start in the summer of 1993. It was my final few months of living at home in Washington, Pennsylvania, as I would go away to college that August.
My new Pentax K1000 camera came as a graduation gift from my grandfather in June, and I was anxious to try catching lightning. My frequently-read book by Dr. Martin A. Uman, 'All About Lightning' gave me my first instructions on how to capture the event on film: focus at infinity, aperture at F8, shutter open on time exposure.
With the Pentax, I now had the ability to do long exposures for the first time. So when severe weather forecasts began showing on TV on a muggy July afternoon that summer, I decided to go give it a try. I set out with my modest storm chasing gear: the Pentax camera and 50mm lens, a cable release, 400 ASA film, and a 20-year old tripod.
The anvils of the approaching storms were visible at dusk, and faint anvil crawlers were visible high behind the darkening western sky. Not sure of the best place to shoot the storm, I drove around downtown Washington until finally deciding to venture out of the city limits as the storms drew nearer.
I ended up east of town on a ridge along Floral Hill Drive overlooking the Windsor Highlands residential development. The view to the northeast was unobstructed, so I pulled over and set up the camera and tripod in the passenger seat of my parent's 1985 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon. By now it was dark, and lightning was becoming visible through the clouds.
As the lightning drew closer, I started opening the shutter. The storm was spectacular - dropping cloud-to-ground strikes every 10 seconds. Several bright bolts occurred in my frame with my shutter open (first 4 photos at right). I knew I got them, but had no idea what they would look like when the film was developed. As the lightning drew closer, the rains hit suddenly - forcing me to abandon the photo session and wait out the storm before heading back. The frequent lightning continued as the cells passed over me, but rain prevented further photography. I was excited about these first catches and headed back to the house.
Several more waves of thunderstorms moved over Washington throughout the night, which I shot through my bedroom window at home (last photo at right). The activity was over by 4:30 AM, and by then I had used 2 rolls of film. I took the film to the Giant Eagle photo lab first thing in the morning. The storms were perfect for a beginner to the hobby of lightning photography, and the photos turned out nicer than I expected. From that point on I was hooked.
Camera, Lens, Film: Pentax K1000, 50mm lens, Kodak 400 ASA negative
Exposures: 5 to 25 seconds at F8