Occasionally, I go out with my camera and tripod and capture cumulonimbus clouds from distance. Sometimes I am worried when I hear thunder that I could be hit by a lightning bolt. I have seen several "bolts out of a clear blue sky" and it reminds me of the danger (even though the probability is probably small).

enter image description here Photography by ©Jeff Miles

A nice example of lightning comming out of cumulonimbus anvil - I've heard that you can even be hit hundreds of kilometres away (but it's extremely unlikely).

Additionally, I know that during thunderstorms it is very dangerous just to stay in contact with metals or water. This is why I never go out (or open windows) when I take photos of lightning from my flat. But... I have seen several amazing captures of lightning by storm chasers. How is it that they are so close to lightning, but do not get struck? Is there any trick or are they simply risking their lives?

enter image description here

I've considered how lightning strikes, and drew this image. In this situation it seems that there are three possible targets. I drew a radius around each object because it my intuition suggests it would work like this. If so, then the building on top of the hill has the highest probability of being struck.

If the lightning bolt hits the object closest to its path, could we completely protect ourselves from being struck by staying RELATIVELY close to some much taller objects, so that they would cover the sky around us with their large radius?

I would like to stay in safe, but take some beautiful photos of lightning too. I know everyone says that "during lightning storms you should never stand under trees". But if located right, can you actually be protected from danger like this? Or what practices are truly the best way to stay safe while photographing lightning storms?

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question. what-if.xkcd.com/16 talks about your details on lightning shadow. But again doesn't discuss what possibility there is (if any) of the lightning bypassing the step to the more conductive option. It just says "likely". $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2017 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ In terms of how storm chasers escape without getting hit by lightning... well even if the most dangerous of situations, lightning affects a relatively small area (see earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/9620/…). $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2017 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ Some chasers do seek to take their photos from within cars, which is basically a small lightning shadow/cage. And adds protection from rogue rain/hail, yet clear views (with open windows). But often proves challenging to get the same stability you get on a true tripod. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2017 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ lightningsafety.noaa.gov/odds.shtml has important data, quite applicable to further details I'm about to give (none of which answer the specific question asked, but all of which provide direct background to the question/situation asked about) $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2017 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ But in my familiarity with the "community", I don't think chaser particularly do escape in the long run. There just aren't great safe spots on most chases in the Plains. I'd estimate probably almost as many number of chasers are hit by lightning as are hit by tornadoes. Maybe a few times a year overall. So maybe 1/5000 instead of 1/1000000 annual odds. Most true chasers just consider it another risk in an already dangerous pursuit. But I don't know of a chaser killed by lightning yet (but the 10% fatality result suggests it'll happen soon). $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2017 at 18:36

1 Answer 1


Yes, most storm chasers are risking their lives to take lightning photos. Your likelihood of being struck is obviously higher the closer you are to where lightning is originating from. However, lightning is highly unpredictable, and therefore, there is not much you can do to avoid all odds of being struck. One suggestion would be to take photos from inside your vehicle. You could shoot from the back door of a van or truck with a cap, or set your camera outside and operate it with a remote.

I would advise against being close to tall objects, as although lightning is more likely to strike it than you, you can still experience deadly charge that reaches you through the ground.


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