What an exciting day this was, and disappointing as far as one of my
first night time lightning storms to try and photograph. (EDIT,
December 2011: Camera technology has improved since regarding noise
reduction, infact I don’t need to use it these days. This was written
from a 2004 perspective)
Low pressure systems were on either side of New Zealand so something interesting had to happen somewhere and something did. About 4pm I noticed some good Cu congestus out on the Canterbury Plains to the west beyond Christchurch city, I went onto the roof where I live at Southshore and took some photos. I had been hearing sferics on the radio earlier so I suspected something was up. The weird thing was that after about a minute and a half of being on the roof a big Cb in the distance just sort of came into vision! I honestly didn’t see at first and then thought, “What the heck!”. In the second picture below I’m sure it looks clearly obvious to were the Cb is but for some reason I just didn’t see it. Things were also beginning to look gloomy overhead but unfortunately things didn’t heat up right at this point in time.
After about an hour I went back onto the roof and had a look about, a nice big tower of Cu congestus had grown out on the Plains into an impressive looking structure which then slowly collapsed, it probably never become active but it was cool looking.
Things calmed down a little bit with not much happening. At about 6:30pm I then went down to the estuary near my place as I saw some dark cloud towards the alps on the plains, there was nothing photogenic to take anything of but I was hoping to use my video function on my digital camera to see if I could capture a lightning bolt or two. I saw about 4 or 5 bolts go off in a period of about an hour for which I was down there, for some reason the bolts just weren’t being recorded on the camera, I’m putting this down to the low frame rate at which digital cameras record at plus the lightning wasn’t very bright. I couldn’t try to photograph the lightning as it wasn’t dark enough yet and the flashes were so sparse. I then went home frustrated and grumbling to myself when at about 8:00pm I got a call from my friend saying “Aaron, there’s lots of lightning going off outside!!”, I was like “What! I just came form outside only half an hour ago and saw nothing!”. Sure enough I go onto the roof and a front is moving up the plains with nice frequent flashes of fork and sheet lightning going off, I quickly gathered my photography gear and I ran to the estuary where I had a front row seat to all this incredible action!! It was getting dark now so night time lightning photography was a definite possibility, this was probably my second shot at trying to get lightning on camera so I was excited as my attempt before hand was a failure. This was to become an infuriating experience and I still cringe at the fact I hardly got anything on camera. I set the camera up on the tripod and was ready to go. It went like this, some digital cameras have a thing called noise reduction that they have to go through after each photo is taken to get rid of “hot” pixels that burn onto the CCD in the camera since it’s open for a period of 30 milliseconds (my camera anyway) or more (in this case I was typically leaving the shutter open for about 15 seconds each time). I’m not a digital camera expert but I believe what I’ve described is what happens. Anyway, so each time you take a picture with the bulb setting the noise reduction comes on and takes the same amount of time as the picture you’ve just taken, so opening the shutter for 15 seconds than takes an additional 15 seconds until you can move onto the next shot. The amount of times that lightning went off during that noise reduction period was many and bl&%dy annoying!! Sometimes I also waited a little bit between strikes so I wouldn’t overexpose the next shot I would take, and would you know it the lightning would go off during that little waiting period almost every time! It was just such an unfortunate night for me but if anything it taught me a few things in terms of the amount of time to leave the shutter open for plus what f stops to use. Another thing though is that night time lightning storms don’t happen that often in Christchurch. I did manage to get two flashes in the end albeit not very good ones, they were only sheet lightning and one is hard to pick out but I’ll put them up.
Luckily some of us in the Christchurch area weren’t all having bad luck, Steven Graham out in Templeton (a small town just out of Christchurch to the west) got some cool looking shots from his window. He used a setup with his Nikon 5400 where it shot 16 individual frames at 8 seconds each continuously giving him in theory an open shutter time of about 2 minutes which worked well. The second shot from left to right is what some discussion on the NZ weather forum lead to believe it was (is) beaded lightning.
Ian Kelly took a fantastic shot from up on the Port Hills overlooking Christchurch. It appeared on the front page of The Press the following Monday.
After I had run out of battery power at the estuary it had begun to rain so it looked like it was time for me to go besides when rain is near and your in a storm lightning is very close by! I quickly ran home because there’s me in a very open area with lightning going off overhead and I have a tripod in my hand, I’m practically a lightning rod!! I probably wont be that stupid again though as lightning can kill and yes it has stuck and killed people before in Christchurch. Be very careful if trying to photograph lightning!! After I got home I tried with my film camera to get a few shots of lightning but by now it was sparse and things were petering out so that marked the end of that day. Probably the best storm we’ve had all season but a very annoying one to (for me anyway!!).