My photographic journey began in the year 2001 when I started shooting mountain scapes in my hometown Kullu in Himachal Pradesh. But storms and lightning caught my imagination only around 2008. During my outings to the remote regions of the district I found that some of the most dramatic images in outdoor photography can be made during the build up of a storm. With the passage of time my focus shifted to storm and lightning photography.
My Perspective: I found that the transition between good and bad weather threw up the most dramatic light during day time…I would in fact label it as the “king of all lights”. So I utilised these small windows of opportunities to create some of my best shots. As the day came to end, nature would show up in its fiercest form –bolts of lightning all over the valley. I was hooked for life.
The Process: Storm and lightning chasing is so addictive that when most people are heading for cover after the first rumble of thunder, this breed of people are heading out…!
But there’s a method to this madness , if you wish to create stunning lightning images. First and foremost is to decode the weather patterns. I have normally seen that western disturbances in the months of May and June and going well into the onset of monsoons yield some of the best conditions for this kind of photography. A typical scene goes like this…it gets warm/hot and humid, not a blade of leave moves and the skies are overcast. This is what we call as the “lull before the storm”. This is the time when I am on “standby.” At the first sound of thunder I make a mad scramble to my car along with the gear and the chase begins. I normally scout around for suitable vantage points well in advance. All I need to do is to safely make my way to the chosen locations. Upon reaching I set up my tripod and camera and simply witness a few strikes. This way you come to know the intensity, direction and frequency of the lightning strikes. Point your camera in the direction of the strike. Set your focus on manual mode. Focus to infinity. Set your aperture at 5.6. Switch on the bulb mode. You need to shoot with a cable release. Make sure that the cable release is set to “lock open “mode in case of the old manual ones. Don’t wait for the strike to happen. Simply press the cable knob. Now the shutter is in a “locked open” mode and is exposing the scene. As soon as a bolt enters your wide angle frame, release the shutter. Shutter speeds between 15 secs to a minute usually work out well. Repeat this without waiting for another strike. The key to a successful image is the composition. Take as many shots as you can while the spectacle lasts, so that you get some decent exposures.
Precautions: Lightning chasing is a dangerous activity. No image is more important than your life.
Avoid driving recklessly while chasing as you risk a head on collision on the road. Instead get somebody to drive for you safely.
Don’t be near or under single trees.
Being near or in water.
Being on top of a meadow, hill or a high rise building.
Being in an open field .
Being near electrical poles, overhanging cables and other good conductors of lightning.
Do not attend or make phone calls.
A car is a safe place to witness a lightning spectacle and also photograph it.
A first/ second storey window in a building is quite safe.
Always carry plenty of film rolls (in case of analogue),memory cards, spare set of batteries.
Tank up your vehicle well in advance.
Rahul Sood been shooting lightning since 2008