Perfect Timing: Photog Captures Lightning Striking the Tallest Building on Earth


Michael Shainblum captured this perfectly timed (call it luck if you want, but luck favors the prepared, so we’re going with perfectly timed) shot of lightning striking the Burj Khalifa during a storm on Wednesday of last week.

Shainblum was in Dubai with friend and colleague Brian Hawkins (who, incidentally, captured this great time-lapse of the storm) shooting time-lapse footage in the rain with two cameras when the lightning strike happened. The downpour had soaked one of his cameras through, but he was able to pull this shot out of the other.

Here’s a closer crop:


According to Slate‘s Phil Plait, what you’re seeing in the image are mainly ‘upward streamers’ and not ‘lightning bolts’ as it were:

Lightning moves downward from a cloud through a series of “step leaders,” short strokes of ionized gas. When a leader nears the surface, the ground reacts by sending up a short streamer. If the two connect, BANG! Leaders and streamers are much weaker than the actual lightning stroke, so I suspect that’s what we’re seeing, especially since so many of the zig-zagged streamers are connected to the ground but not the cloud. Amazing.

To see more of Shainblum’s photos, be sure to follow him on his website, 500px, Facebook and/or Twitter. Also, if you haven’t seen Shainblum’s time-lapse work, click here before you do anything else — you’re in for a real treat.

(via Gizmodo)

Image credits: Photograph by Michael Shainblum and used with permission

  • Peter Neill

    “but luck favors the prepared” – Exactly :) Beautiful shot.

  • agour

    There’s another quote “50% of photography is just turning up” (or similar wording).

  • Cynical Bloke

    Impressive moment. Rubbish framing.

  • madmax

    Good picture. No wonder a lot of lightning strike that tower every year. It´s the highest point in hundreds of miles around.

  • Anthony

    Given the lighting in the photo forks on it’s way UP,
    I’d say that this was ground to cloud lightning,
    and the building was not “struck” by lightning.

  • Logan S.

    What do you think is the issue with the framing?

  • madmax

    Oh! thank you very much for the lesson, master, I didn´t know!

  • Banan Tarr

    Curious if they were using a Lightning Trigger or equivalent. I’ve always wanted to photograph lightning but living in Alaska makes that nigh impossible :) Love the photo!

  • Omar Salgado

    Or you can just try long exposure.

  • Gman

    jealousy is the issue apparently

  • Jordan Butters

    You sir, win response of the day.

  • Sky

    “perfectly timed” – there’s no “timing” or “luck” involved in shooting lightnings. You just set your camera to long exposure photos and shoot them for as long as lightnings are there. In the end you got 90% of boring photos and 10% of “ok” photos. Pick the best one, and there we go. You can clearly see that long exposure was used by the number of lightning strikes on a single photo – what is it, 6? 5? You want to tell me that guy “luckily” shot 6 lightnings striking a ground at the same time, when randomly shooting the tallest building in a world? Let’s be realists:

    Luck or timing got almost nothing to deal with shooting lightnings.

    Never the less – photograph is really good, nice framing, excellent lighting, very nice series of lightnings captured, well done!

  • Anthony

    His name is “Cynical Bloke.” It’s kinda expected.

  • Christopher Walker

    Confirmed; take a look at the 500px page: 8 seconds for the exposure. The guy’s got some pretty nice photos in his collection, it must be said.

  • Jackson Cheese

    He’s Petapixel’s most obnoxious troll. Ignore him. Nothing he says brings anything of value to the conversation.

  • Cynical Bloke

    The framing needs improving, they is good advice.

  • Cynical Bloke

    It’s not a balanced shot. Too little water at the bottom, If you choose to put an element in a shot it should be 5% of the image like you don’t want it there but have no choice. It should be used more creatively, otherwise all this image is a standard record of the event.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Yep I am super jealous of that bad framing.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Finally someone gets it.

  • Cynical Bloke

    He probably comped shots together.

  • Tim

    Yes and you’re made up different trolls stuck together with Sellotape

  • Jackson Cheese

    You’re not offering advice though, only criticism.
    Offering your suggestions on how to improve the composition would be welcome. Just dismissing it as “rubbish” is simple trolling.

  • Mantis

    If you’re going to troll, at least use the correct terminology.
    The word you’re looking for is “composition”. Framing is what we do to a printed photograph before hanging it on the wall.

  • Mantis

    The lighting is the key element in the photograph, not the water.

  • FFrame

    Umm if you go on his page you’ll see that this shot was captured from the timelapse frames he was doing.. the articles maybe wrongly expressed that properly

  • A.J.

    Sounds like somebody is still hung up on the “Rule of Thirds” that we all learned in our very first photography class.

  • Michael Shainblum

    Hey guys Michael here, thought I would chime in to clear some stuff up. First off thank you Peta Pixel for posting, and everyone for the nice words. Lightning let alone rain only happens a few times a year in Dubai. So you could only imagine my pure excitement of witnessing it while only staying there for 5 days.

    My main goal when heading out to shoot was this exact shot, did I think it would happen? No not at all. When I was out there shooting I set the camera to do a timelapse because I did not want to miss the strike (if it did happen, which I didn’t think it would). There was only 2 or 3 lightning strikes that night and only one hit the building, it was mainly me sitting there bored for 4 hours in the rain. It was not some crazy lighting storm with flashes going every minute or so. The flashes of bolts in this shot happened in less then a second. I had no intention of actually making a timelapse clip out of the photos. :)

    I think the timing was more me being out there and seeing it happen, it never storms in Dubai and I felt blessed to have been there. The experience was great despite getting soaked and almost losing my camera. (I guess thats what insurance is there for, right?)

  • Michael Shainblum

    The water was dark, non reflective and boring. It needed to be in the shot because I was not just going to stick the buildings on the bottom of the frame. If I would have included more water the lead in of the lightning would not have looked as impressive. Framing and composition is subjective, this is the composition I wanted for the shot, I have enough “rule of third shots” plus if you really look at the comp you will notice it follows that with the top of the buildings.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Framing is the correct term, composition is about element arrangement which is the term I would use if I felt it needed an additional element. Since I don’t think the image needs that I used the word framing which is perfectly fine. You can’t win against a troll.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Look below, there is my suggestion.

  • Cynical Bloke

    I didn’t say the water was a key element, however it is in the shot so should not be such a thin slither.

  • Cynical Bloke

    I guess you have never hear of the rule of space.

  • Guest

    It isn’t about the rule of thirds at all. I took the liberty of adding in more water and it is vastly improved. There is some subtle changes in the brightness of the water from the city which looks great and could be enhanced. Even then it is still off and probably needs to be a vertical shot.
    The buildings at the bottom of the frame also looks better than what you have now.

  • Cynical Bloke

    It isn’t about the rule of thirds. I took the liberty of adding in more water and it is vastly improved. There is some subtle changes in the brightness of the water from the city which looks great. It’s still not perfect though, maybe it needs to be vertical. Even with no water it looks better than what you have now. Have the water in shot like that for me is exactly the same as having branches of a tree coming in the top of a shot, it looks like you don’t want to see it in shot but had no choice.

  • Josh

    I took some liberties as well

  • Josh

    Awhh the picture didn’t load. It was the album cover for Brave New World by Iron Maiden

  • Michael Shainblum

    I have a great idea for you, why don’t you book a plane ticket to Dubai, wait for rain and lightning, then shoot the shot yourself if you are so enamored with it, I cant see any other reason you actually took the time to reprocess it.

    When all is said and done its my shot. I took it and like the way it looks. A decent amount of people agree with my creative choices. Photography is subjective and composition is subjective. If you do not like the shot it does not make it bad or wrong, all it means is that you do not like it, which is cool with me.

  • Cynical Bloke

    The day I can walk again I will. But I for sure wouldn’t sit around waiting for hours in the rain for the creative choice of framing like a webcam. It’s a great moment wasted. It didn’t take any time to fix your shot. All of 30 lonely seconds.