MIND BLOWN: the lightning edition

Stop what you’re doing and watch this video. But watch it the right way: full screen, in a darkened room, and with a good sound system turned up.

This is 3:18 minutes of the best lightning footage I’ve ever seen, cut and edited into a jaw-dropping video with music that perfectly complements the drama. After watching it with me, my son said, “I never knew lightning moved that way.”

I said, “No one did until a few years ago. The technology didn’t exist to capture something that moved at the speed of light.”

For me, geek that I am, one of the coolest things about this video is that it exists. I remember when the first footage was made available from a scientific study of lightning that involved a concrete bunker (for sheltering the scientists), an electrical system designed to attract a lightning bolt, and what was then a state-of-the-art slow motion camera. The scientists shot unending amounts of film recording absolutely nothing when their system didn’t attract a bolt, but eventually managed to capture a few important seconds amongst all those hours and hours of footage. Their published article, with accompanying video, changed the body of thought on how lightning traveled.

That wasn’t very long ago — but technology has moved only a little slower than the speed of light.

Photographer Dustin Farrell spent the summer of 2017 chasing storms while toting a 4K camera rig that takes 1000 frames per second of raw, uncompressed footage. (For comparison: most movies are shot at 24 frames per second.) After driving 20,000 miles over a 30-day period, he had recorded 10 terabytes of data, which he then whittled down to 3:18 of spectacular video.

What enabled his success was not just the ultrafast frame rate of modern cameras, but also the recording technology in which a camera constantly records, writes to RAM, then overwrites, and overwrites again…until a button is pressed to save the RAM contents. This is the tech currently used in police body cameras. It’s why, when an officer activates a body cam, the recording actually starts 30 seconds earlier. It’s not that the camera is a time machine, it’s that it is saving the footage already recorded but not yet overwritten.

You can imagine how handy this is in taking video of lightning. Now, instead of “rolling film” for an hour-long storm and waiting for a bolt to happen, Farrell could simply press a button the moment he saw a bolt and voila, he caught it.

So…take a look at what he caught.

(Hat tip to Ally.)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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6 Responses to MIND BLOWN: the lightning edition

  1. Lisa Shaw says:

    Nature and photography and music at their finest.

  2. Alma says:

    Holy shit! Now this I’d like to see in IMAX! I’ve seen similiar frame-by-frame videos/gifs of lightning before, but this one beats them all. I love the speeding up of clouds and slowing down of bolts, and the paralax panning in some of the shots!

  3. Karien says:

    That was absolutely amazing to watch. Thunder and lightning is one of the things I miss most about SA. With the Southern Hemisphere’s summer rains, thunder/lightning is an almost daily occurrence. I once woke my partner up early for a sunrise (she’s *not* a morning person) in Durban, SA. But instead of sunrise, it was completely overcast. We sat a while on the beach, and then we got to see an electrical storm. It was the one and only time in my life I saw something like that in person (well, except for on a plane, and I was watching out of the emergency exit window, and when I noticed a guy approaching I said ‘check this!’ And showed him, turned out it was the pilot.). I can tell you, I wasn’t upset to miss the sunrise. One of those ‘expect one thing and got treated to another’ things. It was truly amazing.

    As for the recording to RAM, I didn’t even consider that they can do that with cameras also, I do that sometimes with my graphics card.

    • Those moments, when life hands us an unexpected gift, are some of the best of all — but only if we know how to appreciate them. You clearly do.

      The only time I ever saw an electrical storm was during a research trip out on the Gulf of Mexico. I was trying to count seconds between the lightning and the thunder to determine distance, but every time I got to “two one-thousand” there would be another flash, and then another, and I finally gave up. What a show that was!

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