Long-Exposure of a Split-Second Event

July 15, 2010

I’ve posted a couple of bits about long and short exposures lately and this seems to fit in well with them. I started thinking about the power of photography to capture the world in ways new to the human experience in my post about some star trail photographs I took earlier this year. In that instance, a long exposure allowed me to track the movement of the stars across the sky in a single image, stretching out the points into arcs of light. This is a view as real as any other photograph but invisible to our unaided eyes because it occurs over a longer time-span than our senses operate at. I elaborated on that point a bit here.

This image is the same principle, but in reverse: it is also a view invisible to my eyes because it is too fast.

To my eyes, the event looked like sheet lightning: I couldn’t resolve a bolt at all. I saw the whole sky turn white and back to black almost before I knew what was happening and really expected the camera, who’s shutter was thankfully open for a twenty-second exposure, to register something similar. I was amazed when I first saw this image.

It’s the first time I’ve ever got a lightning photograph and I’m vastly excited about having managed one. It’s similar to another photograph I took a few years ago on Port Meadow in Oxford of a dusk rocket launch with friends, which is actually a series of images, so I dug them out. Crafthole is the one in the hat.


These were all 1/2 second exposures I seem to remember and the first time I had ever attempted anything like this. If I did it again I would use a much longer shutter speed: I was incredibly lucky to get that second picture. Still, I wanted to get the people in reasonably clearly, so maybe it was all for the best.

I was unbelievably happy when I saw the result. This is why I love photography!



4 Responses to “Long-Exposure of a Split-Second Event”

  1. Fantastic pictures, really evocative. That firework trail is beautiful.

  2. RTomsett said

    The lightning picture is fabulous. Is that the raw image?

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