Lightning strikes and shutter clicks: the camera catches this week's storms

June 25, 2010


(photo by Chris Sweda/CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

The Big Newspaper in Town is reaching around to pat itself on the back for the above photo of twin bolts of lighting coming down from the heavens to simultaneously strike Willis and Trump towers.

Actually, Tribune photographer Chris Sweda has earned well-deserved kudos. And the piece by the paper's architecture critic Blair Kamin nicely discusses how Sweda got the shot. But for my money, I like the photograph of the same subject by Chicago Sun-Times photographer Tom Cruze. I wish it were bigger here, but the shot is so good it really doesn't have to be:


(photo by Tom Cruze/CHICAGO SUN-TIMES)

Um. Wow.

Cruze shows the two strikes from the source all the way down to the point of contact, while managing to bring in tons of context: the skyline, the Book of Revelation-angry clouds swirling above, and the soaked urbanscape in the foreground. His bolts are thin and scary--white-hot live wires descending from the sky. Cruze's photo shows us the strikes were not just a gee-whiz oddity, but part of one hell of a storm that socked the big city. You hardly need a story to accompany it.

Here's another photo I like: This shot of lightning touching the top of the Sears Tower alone, taken by Chicago photographer Michael J. Bracey:


(photo by Michael Bracey)

Bracey's photo was taken later in the storm when the skies were a lot clearer than the ones found by Cruze and Sweda, which makes the strike appear as if it were a literal bolt from the blue. Through the magic of Facebook, I tracked Bracey down to ask about the pic. The next sentences are for you shutterbugs--the rest of you might want to skip to the next paragraph. Bracey said he used a Nikon D-200, with a 28-70mm lens at F5.6 and ISO at 400. Shutter speed was 1/30 and 1/50 during the shoot and he used a tripod.

The photo was taken at Van Buren and Oakley around 8pm Wednesday and Bracey said it took him about a half-hour to get this shot and others.‚  "I saw lightning in the sky dancing. I wanted to dance with it," he said. Bracey has been making photographs since 1979 and, as a Kansas native, he said he knows the power of a storm and doesn't chase them. Before deciding to photograph this one, he took some precautions. Kind of.

"Before I got out the car, I took off my glasses and left my cellphone in the car," he said. " I made sure all metal was not on my person. But I was standing on a bridge out in the open holding an umbrella!"