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28 September 2016:
Spectacular lightning at Cocoa, Florida

September 28, 2016: This was one of those spontaneous "gentlemen's chases" (or lady's chase) just a few minutes from home that resulted in one of the most spectacular lightning photos I've ever captured. A small, isolated storm was headed toward Cocoa, Florida, not far from my home. At first I thought I might try to intercept it along the water somewhere, but I realized this might be the chance to get lightning with the Cocoa water tower (I'd tried before). I stopped at one location but was frustrated by the trees, so I thought I'd take a chance and see if the storm would cooperate and drop lightning close enough to the tower that I could capture it if I was right across the street. For a while, it seemed the storm was dying, and then it pulsed up with stunning results. I posted the most insane of these lightning flashes on Facebook, and it went viral, with a few of the usual "this is Photoshopped" skeptics chiming in. The only "Photoshopping" on that photo was the kind of minimal adjustments to contrast and reduction of highlights that photographers do on all photos. It's cropped only slightly on the right. In fact, this is one of the more perfect lightning exposures I've ever achieved. Luck, experience, patience and perseverance all played a role. You can read about how the chase and photos evolved in the captions below, with settings. Share

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger image or start a slide show with captions.

    I started this chase just a few minutes from my home. I thought of going farther afield, but it seemed an isolated storm was headed right for Cocoa, Florida.
    I took the first shots from Florida Avenue, which affords a nice view of the water tower, but the trees blocked too much of the sky for my taste. Any other night, I would have been thrilled with these first couple of photos.
    I moved to a parking lot just across the street from the Cocoa water tower, adjusting my position once (forcing me to include the power lines) so I could get the lightning in the frame based on the flashes I'd seen so far. I stayed in my car for safety, using my window-clamp monopod to stabilize the camera. I used my 12-24mm lens at its widest angle. This shot was overexposed at f/9 (fixed later in editing), so I adjusted the settings on my camera to accommodate brighter bolts.
    Two minutes later, this fantastic bolt - ALL IN A SINGLE FLASH - ripped across the sky next to the water tower. The exposure was nearly perfect, so I made minimal adjustments later (bringing down the slight overexposure of the bright-white water tower) and trimmed a thin slice off the right edge to achieve 4x5 dimensions. Settings: ISO 100, f/11, 11 seconds. (Prints available))
    Amazingly, I got a couple of additional beautiful bolts. I'm showing both the original framing and the crop here. This is the original, shot at ISO 10, f/11, 10 seconds.
    Here's the same shot with a vertical crop. I like the crop on this one. (Prints available))
    And the storm delivered one more really beautiful bolt before the rain came. Here it is at a 4x5 crop - again, just a small slice taken off the right side of the image. ISO 100, f/11, 11 seconds.
    Here's a cropped version of the previous bolt. I'm not sure which I like better, as I like seeing all the tiny branches of the lightning. But this crop frames the water tower nicely.
    After the rain came in, I headed to Riverfront Park in Cocoa Village to shoot a little more lightning over the Indian River Lagoon.
    I like the way the lightning illuminated the boats.
    A lightning "tree" over the lagoon.
    Another nice bolt, though hard to compare with what came before!
    Cropped as a panorama, here's another shot from Cocoa Village of lightning over the lagoon and Merritt Island.


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