Lightning photography can capture milliseconds of the most powerful natural phenomena. Just be sure you’re at least 6 miles (or 30 seconds between flash and thunder) from the storm.

IN THESE IMAGES, lightning appears close up, often seemingly just a few city blocks away. Don’t let the images fool you though — pro lightning photographers let the lenses do the work, or shoot from relative safety inside vehicles or under cover.

As lightning strikes only last for an eyeblink, it’s also necessary to use long shutter times (up to 30 seconds or longer) or devices which can trigger the shutter when lightning is detected. Note then, that most of the images are not single instants in time, but composite images containing several individual lightning strikes over a given period.

The odds of actually being struck by lightning in the US over one’s lifetime are surprisingly high: 1 in 10,000. For information on lightning safety, check the National Lightning Safety Institute.

1

San Tan Mountains, AZ

Satellite imagery shows that only a quarter of all lightning actually strikes the ground. Most is cloud to cloud. Once lightning does strike the ground, however, there can be multiple “return strokes,” causing the lightning bolt to appear to flicker.

Photo: sundevilstormin

2

Denver, CO

Photo: Denver Digital Photography

3

Chicago, IL

What happens when lightning strikes water seems poorly understood by science. In general, the current stays on the surface, otherwise there would be lots of fish floating up after a strike.

Photo: imgur.com

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2

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4

New York, NY

Photo: Several seconds

5

Beijing, China

Lightning (and electricity in general) travels in a way that’s similar to water in that it follows the path of least resistance. In storms, this typically means that it strikes the tallest objects.

Photo: ndosborn

6

Kafleni, Nepal

Photo: Andrew Castellano

7

Banten, Indonesia

Volcanic eruptions produce their own lightning in a weather phenomenon known as a “dirty thunderstorm.” Science is just beginning to study how static charges are generated from collisions of rock fragments, ash, and ice particles in the volcanic plume.

Photo: hshdude

8

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Photo: msmartinsz

9

Sandestin, FL

Western Florida has the highest number of lightning strikes per year in the US.

Photo: Foto Fresh

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10

Austin, TX

Photo: imgur.com

11

Grand Canyon, AZ

Most lightning seen close up is similarly whitish-yellow in color; however, when seen through different layers of atmosphere (similar to a sunset), the colors vary widely.

Photo: imgur.com

12

St. Johns, MI

Photo: nathan_lounds

13

Scarborough, ME

When lightning strikes sand, the intense temperatures can instantly fuse the sand together into lightning bolt-shaped fulgurite, which is classified as a mineraloid.

Photo: andrewmalone

14

Brisbane, Australia

Photo: Matthew Stewart

15

Marin Headlands, CA

Lightning striking the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. Cloud-to-ground lightning averages 3-4 miles in length, although much longer bolts (up to 90 miles) have been calculated from photographs.

Photo: maxxsmart

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11

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16

Rapid City, SD

Note the mammatus cloud formations, harbingers of severe storms.

Photo: Kevin Aker Photography

17

Chicago, IL

Photo: Aris Vrakas

18

Sorrento, Italy

Photo: Andrew Turner

19

Grand Canyon, AZ

Photo: sundevilstormin

20

Tokyo, Japan

Photo: ebtokyo

21

Providence, RI

Photo: antone_b

22

Sahara, Tunisia

Photo: Kristina Lang-Ree

23

Taipei, Taiwan

Photo: johanilsemari

24

Si Racha, Thailand

Photo: Paolo Cellammare

25

San Diego, CA

Photo: Lee Sie Photography

26

Isfahan, Iran

Photo: ArneSchoell

27

New York, NY

Photo: Dan Nguyen @ New York City

28

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Photo: Julian B Ho

29

Denver, CO

Photo: Denver Digital Photography

30

San Tan Mountains, AZ

Photo: sundevilstormin

31

Tokyo, Japan

Photo: josephta.me

32

Rico, AZ

Photo: John Hays

33

Baton Rouge, LA

Photo: Frank McMains Photography

34

New York, NY

Photo: South Florida Wedding Photography

35

Kim, CO

Photo: www.danballardphotography.com

36

Porvoo, Finland

Photo: Niklas Montonen

37

Grand Canyon, AZ

NPS photo by Michael Quinn

38

St-Palais, France

Photo: Janicskovsky

39

San Tan Mountains, AZ

Photo: sundevilstormin

40

Kuwait City, Kuwait

Photo: mr.alsultan

41

Madrid, Spain

Photo: sadaiche (Peter Franc)

42

Denver, CO

Photo: Denver Digital Photography

43

Mesa, AZ

Photo: sundevilstormin

44

Paris, France

Photo: imgur.com

45

Boise, ID

Photo: Dylan MacMaster

46

Grand Canyon, AZ

Photo: NelsonGP