Tom Downey Describes How He Caught The Famous Lightning In The Scotts Bluff Photo Almost 40 Years Ago | Local
“If the storm is right on you, it’s really dangerous and it’s too windy,” he said. “… You can measure it – the lightning of the thunderstorm – by counting how long it takes for the sound (to come) when you see the lightning … but you don’t want to, if the thunderstorm is right above you, you I sure don’t want to do that, ”he said. “Sometimes you can do it safely if the storm is far enough away. “
Downey set up his 4 x 5 speed graphics camera on his “real rugged tripod” and started adjusting the settings. He set the focus to infinity and used a setting called bulbous, or exposure time, which allowed him to use a cable shutter release to keep the shutter open for as long as he wanted. He left it open for 20 minutes.
“You have to give him a chance (for) more than one shot to hit,” he said.
Downey said it helps that there is a lot of sheet lightning – that is, lightning bolts high in the clouds that “light up all the way” without exposing the bolts. It was that sheet lightning that helped fill in the foreground of the photo, he said.
“It was a really amazing night and I had the right place at the right time,” he said. “… If there is a gust of wind of any kind, even with a sturdy tripod, for 20 minutes it will cause your tripod to explode, move it enough so that your shot is out of focus.” So you need a fairly quiet (environment). That’s why it was a very good night. I was lucky.”