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  How to photograph lightning

Lightning, Gateway Arch
I did a lot of scouting to identify several places
that would make good shots like this one
of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

©1980 Joseph Matthews
This statement is wrong: "Planning a lightning photo isn’t possible, it just happens."

Lightning may seem random to most people, but to the weather-wise it happens with a certain phenomena — a thunderstorm cell. And cells have a life cycle and a pattern of movement that is resonably predictable. If you get to know your local resources, patterns and weather information you will have a good idea where that cell is and where it is headed.

Go scout locations for both day shots and night shots. Test shoot your favorite locations and make notes. You need to identify a series of places and landmarks in your area that would look good as part of a lightning photo. A skyline, a statue, a mountain or just a good clear open space showing a clean horizon will all do well in photos. Note where the best sight lines are, where the sun will be when the afternoon storms roll through (keep a compass in your camera bag) and if there is shelter or a protected place to shoot from. Is there parking? Is there a distant place that shows the same view? It’s a lot safer to shoot from a distance than from underneath a lightning active cell.

If a shooting location is on private property, get permission from the owners in advance. Some public areas that work well are parking garages and hotels. You pay a little, but you might stay dry.

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