July 14 , 2007

I started this entry a week ago when I tried something new for the capture of lightning shots. As things happen, I got a couple of images processed and then life interrupted.

I've also started putting together a couple of images that I want to add to my sunset collection, because for whatever reason, we had a fairly non-descript sunset spring season and the summer has had some spectacular make-up sessions.

Yesterday evening's sunset, while not the most breathtaking I've seen in a while, did give a hint of what was to come, and I'm including it here because it was very close to an image that I shot a week ago.

Sunset over the Rio Grande Valley, Albuquerque NM

So the primary ingredient in the weather mix for these two Friday shots is the advent of the evening / afternoon thunderstorm which is the trademark of the "Monsoon Season" as it is known here and in Arizona.

The long strip of light on the left is the signature of a departing flight out of the Albuquerque sunport, while on the right you can see the classic storm pattern on the western rim of the Rio Grande valley.

From what I was able to measure, the thunderstorm on the horizon is somewhere close to 30 miles away.

While looking out across the valley the other day I figured out one reason why the lightning strikes are so dramatic here, and it's a factor in another weather phenomenon that happens here, one we call Virga.

Actually what's happening above is the opposite of Virga, it is rain storm that is intense enough to cause some blurring of the lightning. What I noticed is that the storm bases are very high above the surrounding terrain, frequently over a mile above the ground.

As a consequence, in this dry climate rain frequently falls from the bottom of the storm but evaporates before it ever reaches the ground. The name virga comes from the latin word, twig.

The storm height adds a dimension to lightning that I generally did not see in the midwest, that being that the strikes are frequently over a mile or two in length, at least when you are watching the storms from a distance.

What is evidenced here is part of my new "technique." If one camera is good, two are better, right?

Since a lens can only be pointed to one section of the sky at at time having only one camera means that you are going to miss the strikes from storm two, or three or whatever is going on outside of the horizon. So on the "forked" spike, you have the view from right camera and left camera.

So that's the picture, me on the balcony, left hand on the left camera shutter release, right hand on the cable release (extension) for the right camera, surrounded by all that metal and clicking away. Last night however, I must have shot 40 or 50 images without a lightning strike before I gave up for a while and went about my business. I had pointed out raincloud that was approaching the mountain and told the MRS that I suspected that when it got close, the rising ground might cause friction with the cloud, and hopefully there would be good lightning.

As you can see, there was.

I love the shots where you can see the lightning actually strike the ground. I'm curious as to just how large of a burn mark a strike like that makes.

As the night got darker, the exposures got longer, 30 seconds at a time.

My comment when the image appeared on my viewfinder...

"Now that's what I'm talking about."

Mrs had been trying to get me to come to the bedroom, but I convinced her to come on back to the balcony to see the show.

We watched for a few more minutes and she said to me...

"So let me see if I've got this right, that thing in your hand is metal, right? And it's connected to the metal tripod which is connected to the camera?"

"And if the camera is hit by lightning?"

Just then a nice big stike flashed across the field of view.

Mrs screamed, jumped up and said, "I'm outta here."

In concert, the rain started to hit the house and for the second week in a row I had to retreat off of my perch.

All things considered, retreating to the bedroom in the middle of a storm was not so bad.