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Timaru 4-5 January 2006

 A lighning storm chase and the story

 

See full set of images here
Storm Chase Information and Links here

Please visit the Storm Albums in the Events Gallery to see all images

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Electrical Storm Chase - Timaru 4-5 January 2006

The forming clouds hinted of thunderheads and I headed out from home for a better look from the Old North Road above Washdyke. From here i determined my favourite hunting grounds of Taiko Valley showed most promise and was soon heading straight into solid hail.

The thunder and lightning became consistent and not being able to see anything I veered north for a chance of sunlight and a better view - only to be confronted with dull cloud everywhere.

Turning my attention away from the storm I finally started to see unexpected things:animals huddling ponderously in the middle of paddocks under very ominous black clouds.

The rumbling thunder was relentless and squalls of rain demanded storm clothing and frequent toweling of the camera as I tried to gain a shot of the cattle and epitomise their peculiar state. Eventually a luminosity grew in the west behind a wall of rain signalling the storms readiness to move. Off to the south it went with much hammering and banging.

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If only I could capture the lightning. I tried many random shots to no avail. Senseless really. What were the chances of my camera's 200th of a second latching onto a split second of lightning. Better to buy lotto!

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The hole on the west grew and slowly I could see parts of my favourite Taiko landscape emerge - ridge by ridge - tree line by tree line.

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More cloud began to fall in behind as if to shunt away the thick of the storm. To my side there was more clearing and finally blue sky shone out from under our old faithful nor' west arch of cloud, giving clue of the sudden change in the winds quarter. 

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Taking chase I passed bobby cows compressed into a corner of fencing, and beyond another storm heading north up the Canterbury Plains. Delima! which one to chase?
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I elected for the one close on hand despite its rapid scurrying away. No time to stop for photos now. Hang on - it's the photos I came out for so better make the best of what I have now. Too late to chase it any further as it seemed to have headed out to sea. Nothing left now but to head home for tea, albeit two our late!

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The sun made a final burst out of the cloudly gloom before settling and I wandered to the coast for a final assessment. Simple really - I figured it had departed forever.

What I didn't understand was how extensive the storm was. It was far inland inland further south, going hammer and tongs. - as the rain radar would later show and news reports tell of the damage. In fact such storm cells were frequent through most out New Zealand.

Settling in to do the few hours work I missed that day I was startled at 11:30pm by my lad exclaiming as excited as lightning itself. Looking out the window we could swear it was the new years eve fireworks all over again. We rushed out to the Port breakwater, setup the camera only to discover all batteries were flat. Strange both units had full charges that morning. Funny my other one did seem to go flat very prematurely.

With the best show on earth flashing away I couldn't console myself to missing out on a single photo. After several years of stalking storms, this was the perfect chance. A very actrive storm. A clear veiw and at night. Compared to the afternoon, this was a far better time to catch the flashes as the camara can have the shutter open always ready for that inpredicable instant.

I put in the previous battery for some lost hope of a charge. Wow, there was some residual charge and I got underway - well for five minutes. My other battery had only started charging on my 230 volt inverter installed in the Landrover.. In hindsight I could have powered the camera directly from the inverter.

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After much swapping and battery charging I was able to carry on, experiment with camera settings, and make over 150 exposures, 90 capturing lightning.

For an hour the lightning flickered slowly off into the distance making it relatively easy to repeat 30 second exposures and catch something of the storm.

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Eventually it things became too diminished even by zooming in my 24-105mm zoom. Well, why not try the F2.8 70-200mm zoom lens? It was certainly fast enough. But it seemed insane to point such a narrow angle of view into a dark expanse in the hope the lightning being where it was last seen. But why not? Going by the rain radar the storm was about seventy miles away. Yes at that distance it was always where last seen. Also we could capture the entire expanse of cloud complete with its spider web tangles of lightning.

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Whoever was heading out to sea must have had a spectacular night. It was uncanny to see a fishing boat stitching its way across the horizon, silhouetted by strobing flashes. Sadly the camera could only pick up the wobbly trail of lights. This is a montage of four exposures as the craft passed by.

Finally I decided I got the best shots and we headed home. Also Rube and I had eaten all the sweets and nut bars

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This was this shot the Timaru Herald chose to put on their front page, prompting many visits to my Gallery. Visit here to see more of my images.

All photos were taken on a Canon 5D and L-series Lens. Raw images were proceed on RAWShooter and enhanced with Photoshop CS2.

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