The Story of My Weather Shot of the Year


I hope your summer has been filled with vacations and exciting photographic opportunities. I dedicated a lot of time to local weather photography this summer and obtained a shot I have been looking for over 5 years, a full rainbow and lightning strike. The photograph exceeded my expectations of what is possible to capture. The lightning bolt has multiple components, a cloud to ground strike as well as a cloud to cloud crawler across the rainbow!  There is a faint double rainbow along side the main rainbow as an added bonus to an already gorgeous setup.

My storm chase began on August 8th of 2018 as I watched the radar on my favorite mobile weather application, FOX Sky Tower radar. A large storm cell well out to the east of my location drew my attention.  The radar showed multiple lightning strikes, and the position of the storm left it wide open for the setting sun rays to penetrate deep into the clouds. I began my chase after an early dinner and headed east on highway 60. As fate would have it, a full lane closure forced me to detour down a different road as I approached very close to the edge of the storm system. Initially aggravated, I viewed the GPS and checked the radar again and figured I still had a lot of opportunities for some great shots. I spotted a few small rainbows as I drove south so I stopped and photographed. As I moved further along the edge of the storm I spotted the makings of a full rainbow with some nice cloud structures and the radar showed lightning strikes nearby. At this point I went full in, parked the car, pulled out 2 cameras and 2 tripods with lightning triggers and setup as I watched the rainbow and storm unfold. I photographed the obscured rainbow with strong sunlight rays and some cool looking clouds. After about 10 minutes the clouds receded and a full rainbow opened up before my eyes as I snapped away and watched some lightning strike near the rainbow. I re-positioned both cameras and let the lightning triggers decide when to shoot next. As I re positioned one of the cameras it happened, a nice streak of lightning crossed the rainbows as I heard the trigger open the shutter of my Canon 5D.  A quick check on the viewfinder indicated a winning weather shot and a brief feeling of relief and euphoria. I quickly setup again and waited, 3 minutes later a huge strike with crawlers enveloped the rainbow. Both cameras fired and both cameras captured a photograph; as I checked the viewfinder I saw the capture of a lifetime.

I used two cameras to capture the scene, a Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF16-35mm lens and a Canon 6D with a Rokinon 14mm prime lens. Using two cameras improves your odds of success when shooting storm systems since lightning is very unpredictable and at times it is best to cover as much viewing space as possible. Furthermore any equipment failures will not end your trip with the added benefit of being able to review photos on one camera as the 2nd one covers you. The Canon 6D captured the best photo at f/10 ISO50 with a 0.3 second exposure time. The 5D captured the same view at f/20 ISO 50 with a 1.3 second exposure. The higher f-stop setting on the Canon 5D diminished the brightness of the lightning.  Had the lightning been even closer the f/10 aperture may have blown out the image and the f/20 setting would have been the winner,  yet another reason to use multiple cameras. I chose the 6D image capture as the cover for my 2019 calendars.

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