This is my masterpiece of 14 months shooting (and chasing storms) in the Philippines. This time lapse is more than a dream come true – it’s achieving a photography goal that I thought would be so hard to do, that I’d spend the rest of my life pursuing it. And even if I would find the right conditions and magically be in the right location, with my camera and tripod, I didn’t think it would be possible to capture, exposure-wise.

Shooting a photo of lightning is hard. Shooting a time lapse of a lightning storm is much harder. Capturing a multi-hour scene with the Milky Way in the background is the hardest thing I can think of. Top that with capturing it with red sprites (rare huge electrical discharges above the thunderstorm) and you have mission impossible. Here’s the proof that ‘impossible is nothing’!

If you’re into photography, you will understand the difficulty of it all. You can plan the Milky Way, but you can’t plan a lightning storm. Even if you manage to find both at the same time, you’ll need to be very lucky to be in the right location to frame both (especially being on an island where you can’t move around much), without the sky getting too cloudy as well. Above all that, you’re dealing with extreme difference in light: lightning being extremely bright and the Milky Way being extremely dark. The settings I usually use are far apart.

When I was working on my time lapse movie at Dedon Island Resort, I got lucky beyond my wildest dreams. Not only was I at the right place, at the right time, but I was even armed with 4 cameras and managed to capture 4 stunning time lapse scenes at roughly the same time of this rare occasion. And most amazing of all, this lightning storm stayed at the right distance, at the same location for nearly 5 hours. Thanks to this, I was able to capture both storm and Milky Way without the lightning frames getting too overexposed. What a lucky night! And if you look closely, you can see several red sprites, they are vague and only appear 1/24 of a second, but they’re there. To be honest, I didn’t even notice it myself, someone who spend years trying to capture it, pointed it out to me. Years ago I did say in an interview that capturing red sprites was my ultimate photography goal, but honestly, I never even dared to think that I would actually capture them. They are the rarest thing and it’s only been since a few years that some photographers have been able to capture it.

Shot with a Nikon D800 + 14-24/f2.8, D800 + 16-35/f4, D7000 + 17-7-/f2.8-4 and Sony RX100iv. Edited (RAW only) with Lightroom, Photoshop and LRTimelapse, composed in After Effects.

What’s interesting about the gear is that I used 3 classes of cameras. The D800 being a professional full-frame-camera, D7000 being an ‘amateur’ crop-camera and a tiny Sony compact camera. The question we photographers get asked most, above anything else, is what gear we use. People always tend to think it’s the gear that achieves the result. A bigger better camera does not make you a better photographer, any experienced photographer will tell you that. It is more important to know your camera (and post-processing) than it is to have a more expensive one. I’ve achieved amazing results with each 3 types of cameras. Can you even tell what camera I used for each shot?

So people, don’t let your gear ever stop you from creating whatever you want. It’s not about the gear, it’s about the photographer. Of all things that go into capturing something, your type of camera really is the least important.

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