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Thread: Tripods in lightning storms?

  1. #11
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Most LF lightning photography is done on a time exposure random luck basis. My luck has never been that good. A few years ago I was set up at a spot in the Ruby Mtns of Nevada where, all at the same time, there was a phenomenal sunset one direction, a gigantic thunderstorm beside that, actually below us above the valley, and behind us, the Perseid meteor shower. I bagged a couple of so-so sunset shots, but my friend videoed 3 hours of 180 degree view. The day before it was one of those incidents under a sunny blue sky when as soon as we poked our noses over the top of a pass, there was a gigantic wall of black coming at us at about 30 mph. No time to pull out any kind of camera. Just about 7 min retreating fast from the top lightning was hitting all around it, and by the time we got to the cover of a few trees a few hundred yards downhill to put on raingear, we were already drenched. That lightning storm went on about another 8 hrs.

  2. #12

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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Too many close calls with lightning on this end. When I was about 8, a friend and I were walking up our road to get home. Bolt struck the road in front of us. Never heard a rumble of thunder, only sensed that something had just happened. Have seen trees closer than 100 feet to me struck by lightning... The trees were no match for those bolts of lightning. One time I was rock climbing with a friend. As I was seconding the climb, A storm closed in within seconds and a bolt hit the ground beneath us. My partner told me that he had never seen me climb so fast up the cliff to finish the climb. When we both were at the top, we saw St Elmo's Fire. Threw our metal climbing gear onto the ground and ran for a ditch. Ironically not another bolt of lightning happened and the storm was over in about a minute. On a commercial party boat in Chesapeake Bay three of us were on the top deck when a thunderstorm blew in. Our hair stood on end and we nearly dove into the stairwell. I have photographed lightning before but the covered camera was on a tripod and I was in my car. Released the shutter with a wireless control. One time a bolt bounced off the back of the car. About 15 years ago saw first hand the bodies of 2 people who were struck and killed by lightning. The were part of a group of people sheltering under an opened sided shelter on a golf course. Rest of the group were completely unharmed. So it's been my experience that lightning is completely unpredictable. My way of having the camera on a tripod about 40 feet away from me sheltering in a car is the only way to go, but haven't done that in more than 20 years.

  3. #13
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    One trip into the Wind River Range, I encountered four guys all dazed and wild-eyed, leaning against a rock, with their hair sticking out. They had been climbing Pingora when a storm came in, so they started rappelling back down. But it was raining too, making their ropes a partial conductor. Well, given how climbing harnesses are worn, it doesn't take too much imagination to figure out where they got tingled.

  4. #14

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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    If the metal tripod has rubber caps on the legs, perhaps no difference. But it's all theoretical at this scale, I'd think. Just standing taller than your tripod could be the path of least resistance for mother nature.

  5. #15
    45er
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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Lightining is so unpredictable, it does not always strike the highest point and using "safe" non-conducting materials is not always a viable solution if there is a sudden downpour.

    If you are going to be loading and unloading film from a camera then I think a safer way is to have your camera and tripod set up in a vehicle that protects you as an improvised Faraday cage. Else set up your camera with a remote wireless trigger and control it from your vehicle.

  6. #16

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
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    280

    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Okay, I just checked my carbon fiber tripod with a continuity tester-yup, it's conductive! Think the OP needs to price wooden tripods...

  7. #17

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    Jan 2019
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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Lightning can do weird things, the potentials are so high that it will jump across objects that are insulators under "normal" voltages. (Rubber caps on tripod feet or rubber soled shoes are no protection against lightning.) However anything that's conductive provides a path for current to flow. We think of lightning as a cloud to ground strike, but during the strike, an upward leader propagates from points on the ground, and a conductive object may be a point for that to initiate.

    I heard a story of climbers high up hearing a buzzing or feeling a tingling from their ice axe when an electrical storm is imminent and tossing the axe away as they frantically descended.

    I would certainly not want to be standing next to a metal object connected to the ground, but it's not like a CF or wood tripod would be "safe," especially when wet. The safest gear would be something you can evacuate quickly, well before things get hairy, and get in the car.

  8. #18

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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    I know, I mean I knew, a guy who protected himself from a light rain by holding an aluminum clipboard over his head. Don't risk it.

  9. #19
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Getting in the car ain't so easy when it's a week walk away. The best strategy is not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Out on the plains might be one thing, but up in the mountains lightning does tend to behave predictably. In many western states, summer lightning storms are primarily afternoon events, and sometimes extend well into the night. Start early and plan summits and pass crossings well ahead of cloud buildup, because things can change remarkably fast after that. Avoid crossing long bare areas in a storm, especially if there are evident signs of past lightning activity there, like stunted burned trees; don't camp in those kinds of areas. Another common mistake is people taking shelter in natural caves or alcoves on mountain faces. Those are often related to big joints or fissure in the geology which tend to conduct electricity, or like the stone huts atop certain popular summits I described earlier, especially collect charged ions. They can become natural microwave ovens.
    When I was a kid, one summer I worked at a pack station, which was at 8000 ft. But its water tank was 2000 ft higher connected by galvanized pipe. The owner's wife was in the little kitchen washing dishes during a storm way up on the ridge. She momentarily stepped into the next room when a lightning bolt hit the water tank uphill, and the whole darn sink area exploded and destroyed the whole kitchen. Close call.
    Last edited by Drew Wiley; 12-Oct-2020 at 15:16.

  10. #20
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: Tripods in lightning storms?

    Kinda of the same thing happened to my ex-wife in Australia growing up. Probably close to the same length of pipe, just not as much elevation difference. Gave her and the cow she was milking a good shock. I was there in 1987 and was developing 4x5's in their old house. Had to take a break around mid-night...dang lightning was threatening to fog my film (open trays, minimal window covering normally needed that far out). Not hooked up to the water pipes. I used milk filters to filter out the larvae, etc from the rainwater tank.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

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