Wednesday, April 19, 2023 began as most Oklahoma spring days do, with a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms, and a marginal risk of severe thunderstorms.
As it happened, fellow photographer Robert Stinson was visiting from Tulsa to do some photographic negatives scanning and archiving. We took a dinner break, and when we stepped out of the restaurant we discovered that the evening sky was maturing into something photographable, so we sprang into action.
Our first stop was the Ada Regional Airport, so we could use the Beechcraft Bonanza on display at the entrance as a compositional element, and it worked out pretty well.
As we drove the rest of the way into Byng, we started to see lightning coming from the clouds some distance to the north. We wanted to photograph it, but the evening sky wasn’t really dark yet, so I walked my wolfhound, then thought about where I’d like to be to photograph lightning.
I put my dog in the back yard, then went inside to grab a hefty tripod and my Nikon D700 with one of my favorite lenses, the AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 on it. I set it up facing true north, but as you know, thunderstorms move, and this one was moving northeast.
If you’ve ever photographed lightning, you know how fickle it can be. By the time you get set up to shoot it, the last bolt could have faded, and you end up with images of dark blue sky.
Another factor is being sure you are safe. In Oklahoma, thunderstorms can get severe pretty quickly, and lightning itself is very dangerous.
Wednesday night’s storm, however, was an entire county to the north, and as I was photographing it, unknown to Robert and me, it was spawning a destructive tornado in Shawnee, about 50 miles away.
I turned my camera more to the northeast, as that seemed to be where the lightning was moving. I started making images with 10-second exposures at ISO 400 with an aperture of about f/8.
There were quite a few strikes, but since they were far away, they were small in the frame, so I started thinking about loading all the frames into Photoshop and blending them, which I have only done a few times.
Robert left to go back to Tulsa, so I loaded my images, more than 200 for the entire evening, into Adobe Bridge, where I selected only images that had visible lightning in them, 21 total, and opened them using Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. I then selected all the layers in the layers pallet, and selected the blending mode “Lighten.”
Wham. It was that easy. I admit to being surprised by the result. I’ll definitely use this technique again.