One in a Million Double-Exposure Photo Caused by a Lightning Strike

Photographing a lightning strike from close-up is a difficult and dangerous task, but Toronto-based wedding photographer and weather buff Richard Gottardo managed to capture something even crazier: a double-exposure photograph caused by the bolt of lightning itself.

He captured the ridiculous image above while pointing his Canon 5D Mark II out of his driver-side window and snapping 30-second exposures while speeding down a road at around 45 miles per hour. The lightning bolt (coupled with his motion) caused the double exposure by illuminating the scene twice: first when it struck the tree, and next when it shot from the tree to the ground. There are plenty of multi-exposure photos online that were created by doing this with strobes, but with lightning? That’s cray-zee.

Gottardo tells us the story behind the shot:

July 25, 2012 saw just about every storm chaser in Southern Ontario pulling an all nighter. A front moving across from Michigan was set to hit almost all of Southern Ontario with some severe weather. The storms this night did not disappoint; they came about 2 hours later than expected, but when they did they came with a vengeance! I had parked myself in an open field right in the path of where I expected the strongest storm to form, and it roared in with continuous lightning, pea sized hail and very heavy rain.

While I was sitting in the field taking pictures, I did not realize that the core of the storm was slowing moving right over me, and before I knew it, I was caught inside with torrential rain and pea sized hail — I could hardly see anything! To top it off, lightning was striking all around me very frequently, blinding me for a few seconds each time (it was close to 3am at this point).

Of course, I wanted a photo, so I set my tripod up on across my lap, pointed out the drivers side window, and started taking 30-second exposures while trying to drive out of the core. The lightning was so frequent that I got one just about every shot but this one hit very close, just on the other side of a narrow dirt road, hitting a tree, right in the center of the frame — it was definitely a one in a million shot!

Although Gottardo has long been interested in severe weather, only over this past year did he begin diving headfirst into more serious storm photography; he has accumulated roughly 500 pages worth of notes on forecasting severe weather. He says he’s currently trying to raise funds for a photo expedition to Tornado Alley.

You can find more of his storm photography on his website here.

Image credits: Photographs by Richard Gottardo and used with permission

  • brian

    his change of position between each burst of light during the long exposure created this very cool effect.

  • Phil

    You just said “cray-zee.” How high are you, Michael?

  • Nedaa Al Rumaihi


  • Michael Zhang

    Right, edited the text to state this explicitly. Thanks :)

  • James

    How is this a double exposure?

  • Ashton Ward

    There was one lightning strike which illuminated the scene and hit a tree, then the car moved a bit and the lightning strike illuminated the scene again when it jumped out of the tree and to the ground.

  • Joyfay Delicate

    Nature’s miracle…

  • James

    Ok, that’s a double lightning strike, not a double exposure. There was a single exposure of 30 seconds.

  • Norm Cooper

    didn’t know lightning liked to pause in trees on the way to ground

  • Jared Monkman

    but it acts like a double exposure, because before and after the lightning is complete darkness

  • obbop

    Count the pixels and recall the many alterations you have peeked at in the past.

  • david c.

    center of the frame! What about the rule of thirds!!! For shame! ;) (of course i’m kidding hehe) great shot!

  • jake

    yes, but the shutter is only one time open not twice (my understanding of a double exposure). one picture two light sources; when im photographing a moving car for example, with 1/5sec using the avaiable light (first lightning) and add a flash (second lightning); i got a once exposured picture with a blurred car and also a frozen one – like above but no double exposure.

    other thing: what was he thinking shooting 30second exposures out of a moving car?;)

  • Rob Kennedy

    This is not a double exposure

    So if you fire your flash twice in one long exposure shot does that make it a double exposure? NO,
    would you take a long exposure of light trails on a road and three cars drive through and call it a triple exposure? nope

    A double exposure is when the shot is exposed twice (taking one picture on top of another) it was done a lot with film, some digital cameras can do it but not all of them

    this picture is one shot not a double exposure, I do a lot of light painting where there are various light sources coming on and off and could happen more than 50 times in one shot, still one exposure not 50

  • Sean

    It is a double exposure much like film. With the one shot being like one film shot. The exposure is alike to the lighting (EXPOSURE TO LIGHT iS AN EXPOSURE) so since there is a milisecond of lightning that exposed the open sensor to two lighting situations, double exposure. One exposure doesn’t mean one shot, it means two lighting situations/subjects captured in one shot. So this is a beautiful double exposure on a digital camera much akin to double exposures on film.

  • Jake

    Leave it to art snobs like these guys to worry about semantics of who to define the shot, rather than appreciating the shot itself. *shakes head*

  • ju.

    From what I know, this is just lightning acting as usual. It first comes from the sky and as it almost touches the ground, electricty shoots out from the ground and joins the first strike. So, no double exposure here.

  • slvrscoobie

    yea, but double exposure usually implies that it was an intended (or maybe unintended) effect of shooting the film twice. This was just 1 long exposure that ended up with 2 lightning bursts (from 1 strike, read up on how it works)

  • Elal Jane Lasola

    very cool!

  • Sindigo

    I know, right. Who cares?

  • Lolit Cabilis