A Perfect Touch of Lightning | Kevin Scott Banks

A Perfect Touch of Lightning

It’s been far too long since I took my camera out just for fun. No clients. No expectations. Just me and the scenery.

Tonight I had nothing planned. It’s Christmas break, and I’ve taken the week off from work, so there hasn’t been much going on all week. Earlier in the week, I made a list of some activities I’d enjoy with my free time. Near the top of that list was getting out for some landscape photography.

As soon as I stepped outside, I ran into a major snag. It was raining.

Ugh. I hate rain. It’s been ruining my outdoor plans since little league, 1994.

I checked the weather forecast, which turned out to be even more discouraging. 90% chance of rain, tapering off only slightly throughout the night. Eh, might as well take a risk and go out anyways. So I packed up my gear and drove out into the rainy night, heading towards Downtown Nashville.

As I drove around the Downtown loop, I noticed the Korean Veteran’s Bridge. It was shining out in brilliant red, white and blue, despite the dreary weather. Apparently they can change the color of the bridge lights whenever they want, and this particular version was really impressive.

I navigated my way to the base of the bridge, which happens to be in a quiet, dark area on the East side of the Cumberland River. It felt a little sketch…not gonna lie. To my pleasant surprise, the rain had subsided, at least for the moment. Thankfully I’d laced up my hiking boots, so I confidently strode out onto the muddy plateau in front of the bridge.

Right away, I knew there was a special image to be captured here. Sometimes you just get that good feeling when you’re approaching a scene like this one. As I was setting up my tripod, which is essential for nighttime photography, I looked around at the ominous sky, hoping the rain would continue to hold off. Being up close to the bridge necessitated a wide lens to capture the entire composition. So I snapped on my favorite lens, my ultra-wide Nikon.

I played around with a couple different compositions. At first, my thought was to capture both the bridge and the rest of the overpass. The yellow-ish lighting underneath the overpass had caught my eye, in addition to the red, white and blue of the bridge.

These shots were solid, but unspectacular. I kept searching for that magical shot I’d sensed earlier. As I walked closer to the bridge, I spotted a couple of puddles in the gravel ahead. A keen photographer knows that a random rain puddle can turn a mundane photo into a really cool reflection photo.

Sure enough, as I eyed the composition, I found an angle where I could catch a sweet reflection of both the bridge and the overpass. I excitedly set my tripod, still feeling grateful for reprieve from the rain. I’d learned from the previous shots that I needed a four second exposure to get the look I wanted. With the camera set for a super-steady shot (any vibration can cause a blurry image at long exposures), I pressed the shutter button and held my breath.

As I waited for the shutter to close, I was stunned by a sudden strike of lightning in the sky.

Wait a minute, did that happen while my shutter was open?!?!

In all my years as a photographer, I’ve never even tried to photograph lightning before. That’s probably because lightning is usually accompanied by rain and cold weather – not normally my ideal shooting conditions. I’ve admired many a fellow photographer’s surreal image of lightning strikes across the sky. But until now, it was only a dream to someday have my own.

And right then, totally unexpected, on this random rainy night in Nashville, I got my wish. I waited in suspense for the preview to pop up on the back of my camera. Sure enough, the burst of light had illuminated the entire sky above the bridge in my image. I let out a scream. Something like, “Aaaaaaaaah, God, yes, you did it!”

I mean, how lucky could I get? I’d wandered out of my house, into the city, onto this muddy plateau, and right up to these two hapless-looking puddles. It was going to be a great shot, don’t get me wrong. But the lightning strike was a delicious icing on the photographic cake.

It was only when I returned home later in the evening and pulled up the shot on my computer that I realized the best part: the actual lightning strikes showed up in the shot! When I’d looked at the small preview on my camera, I only saw the sky lit up, but couldn’t see the lightning. I screamed all over again when the image pulled up on my computer screen:

I’m thankful for the small voice that nudged me out into the rain with my camera tonight. It seems like I’m almost always rewarded for those moments when I push through my hesitation and go chasing after “the shot.” I believe that my lucky lightning strike was the Almighty adding his perfect touch to man’s magnificent cityscape.

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