The Nikon D80 was my first real DSLR. New to photography at the time, I was trying everything I could to learn about the art of photography and the techniques of camera operations. Macro, painting with light, wildlife, street. I tried it all and capturing lightning was on that list. During an especially violent evening of summer thunderstorms I huddled in the basement with the family and pets as tornado sirens kept blaring. I was amazed at the light show going on outside and knew I had to try and capture some of that show. Ever since a young boy I was curious about lightning and the ensuing thunder claps. To this day I start counting seconds at the burst of a lightning to judge how far away it flashed.
Finally the sirens stopped and I took my camera with a wide angle 10-20 mm Sigma lens, tripod and flashlight to the cover of my garage. While lightning was still flashing all around I lucked out that a good show was going on in the direction of the garage opening. From what I had read and my own trial and error, I set my camera to Manual, ISO 100, Shutter Speed to 8 seconds (10 seconds was too long writing to the memory card between shots) and aperture at f8. I manually focused on a distant street light estimating the lightning would be fairly distant. These settings, especially the f8, gave me a completely dark image when there was no lightning during the 8 second exposure. My approach was simple, repeat the 8 second exposures over and over. After about 120 exposures the storm passed and I went to my Lightroom to see what I had captured. Seven frames had decent lightning images but one stood out. With only minor tweaking, which was about all I knew how to do with Lightroom back in the day, I created the image below, named it "Stormy Night," posted it on my Flickr account and went to sleep hopeful that a few of my Flickr friends would comment.
Later the next day I checked to see if anyone had looked at the photo and to my surprise many did, many commented and made it a favorite. Not just my friends but thousands of Flickr users because it was shown on the front page of Flickr and #2 in their Explore rating. I never expected this happening, it was like an award for the time and effort I had devoted to photography. Truth is, it was mostly luck. But maybe luck is not just being at the right place at the right time but also about knowing how to capture the opportunity. If I had stayed in the basement and did not try, I would never have captured it. Got to try in order to succeed.
What stood out, and at the time I did not realize it, was the top of the lighting had a heart shape from the cloud formations and indeed a larger heart shape can be seen in the cloud outlines around the lightning framed by the trees. To this day I think of it as my Heart Lightning photo and people still comment and fave it even 7 years later! Indeed, it was published, with my permission, in a scientific book on natural disasters by a scientist in India along with some other of my photos.
The unexpected successful experience with this one photo so many years ago when I first started with photography had a profound influence on me. First, it showed that even self-taught newbie photographers can make images that others like and most of all that I can make images other people like.. Second, it sort of made me a Manual Mode freak as I was pleased how I used Manual mode in this situation and actually understood what I was doing. To this day I always default to Manual mode. Overall Heart Lightning inspired me to keep on shooting, try new techniques,, read all I can, take some photography training even if it is only online at my own pace. Four cameras and tens of thousands of photos later I still look to Heart Lightning to motivate me to keep learning, keep shooting and share my images with others.
What images have you captured that motivates you to keep on shooting and develop your love of photography? Everyone has inspiration and certainly our personal accomplishments, both large and small can be the most powerful inspirations there are.