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.
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.
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.
New York, NY
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.
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.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Western Florida has the highest number of lightning strikes per year in the US.
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.
St. Johns, MI
When lightning strikes sand, the intense temperatures can instantly fuse the sand together into lightning bolt-shaped fulgurite, which is classified as a mineraloid.
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.
Rapid City, SD
Note the mammatus cloud formations, harbingers of severe storms.