Wherein I go sprite chasing.

Wherein I go sprite chasing

Sprites or sprite lightning. Several red bursts, like small fireworks, appear in the night sky.


Sprites are a form of electrical discharge that happens above certain types of lightning. They were only discovered in the ‘90s when they were caught on high speed film. Now, modern super sensitive camera sensors make capturing them much easier. But it’s still tricky and despite my best efforts, I’d never been able to catch one.


So I found myself on a plane to Oklahoma City in July for a workshop with Paul Smith. We spent the next five days driving all over Texas and Oklahoma finding the right locations, staying up most of the night and checking into hotels before dawn in an attempt to get some sleep.


Paul seems genuinely enthusiastic about catching sprites and practically jumped up and down on our first night when we saw a couple of them. I don’t think it was a camp-counselor type act at all. He’s really into it. Definitely check out his work on his site.


If you look at my shots here or, better yet, the ones on Paul’s site, realize that you’d never see that level of detail in person. All you see is a faint, brief red flash. If you were unfamiliar with the phenomenon, you would likely blink a couple times and assume you were seeing things or there had been and explosion somewhere far away. Only with high-speed sensors can the amazing detail be made out.


After the first one, the next few nights were unproductive but I learned quite a lot in the process of chasing and finding the right set ups. On the last night, we caught a couple more small sprites, none of which I saw until I looked at the photos later. It would’ve been nice to come back with some serious trophy photos, but I didn’t go into it expecting that. I came out with a solid idea about how to pursue sprite photography on my own, which is exactly what I wanted. 

 

If you’re interested in sprites, I’d totally recommend Paul’s workshops. But you have to be fairly serious about it because they’re not cheap.

These photos are cropped-in fairly hard and the sky wasn’t super clear those nights, so there’s a lot of digital noise. I’m not going to print them and put them on my wall, but they’re still fun because they’re my first sprites. With any luck I’ll be getting more and better ones in the future.


Sprites or sprite lightning. A red burst, like small fireworks, appear in the night sky.
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