Morro Bay, CA
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon TS-E 24mm/f3.5L
“How many times in Morro Bay do the winter skies open up and streaks of bright white lightning fill the night sky? The answer: not very often. In fact, in the nine years we have lived in Morro Bay I can say this was the first. It was Saturday night on Highway 1 driving home from San Luis Obispo when a bright bolt of lightning pierced the night sky right in front of us. We screamed so loud I think we missed the thunder that usually follows. My foot went straight to the floor in excitement.
We made it home in record time, grabbed our gear and headed for the water. During our short trip home we had already discussed the location and had decided the best setup for the location so my wife was assembling the gear as I drove us to location. By the time we arrived at location she had loaded our Canon 5D Mark II with our TS-E 24mm Tilt-Shift lens and attached the Canon intervalometer. By the time I was out of the car she had the legs extended on our Really Right Stuff TVC-23 tripod and mounted the camera on the RRS BH-55 ballhead.
At the time I didn’t own a lightning trigger so I would need to expose for the ambient light to capture the scene. I first set the exposure intervals on my intervalometer to 1 second, the camera would initiate exposure every second. I knew I needed to expose for the lightning and balance that to the ambient light. I usually set my ISO to native 100, but in this situation I decided on 200 to ensure that I didn’t extend my exposure time to include multiple lightning strikes. I knew my f-stop would need to be either f/11 or f/16 to expose the lightning; I chose f/11 which gave me an exposure of 45 seconds and a good balance to my ambient. My first test exposure resulted in this first image, “Wowza!” I screamed. I chimped the shot, said “that looks great”, and the minute I started the intervalometer the second strike hit. Three minutes later and it was over. We had made it just in the nick-of-time. As photographers we are often quoted as saying “I’d rather be lucky than good”. Well, this experience needed both luck and good.”
- Kevin Cole