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.)