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This Photographer Hunts for Rare Red Sprites Above Thunderstorms


There are many storm-chasing photographers out there, but photographer Paul M Smith is more specialized than most in his pursuits: he hunts for rare red sprites that occur high above thunderstorm clouds.

The existence of sprites has been reported for over a century, but it wasn’t until 1989 that they were first caught on camera. The red jellyfish-like phenomenon is caused by large-scale electrical discharges high in the atmosphere.

“Sprites are sometimes inaccurately called upper-atmospheric lightning,” Wikipedia states. “However, sprites are cold plasma phenomena that lack the hot channel temperatures of tropospheric lightning, so they are more akin to fluorescent tube discharges than to lightning discharges.”

After getting a DSLR and jumping into photography in 2015, Smith has focused on night sky photography, shooting everything from the Milky Way to aurora to thunderstorms. But he’s particularly interested in sprites, and he has even begun offering workshops for other photographers who are interested in capturing sprites on camera.

While Smith prefers to keep his exact methods behind his sprite photos private for now, it seems that the sprite images you’ll find out there (including the first one captured back in 1989) are generally still frames extracted from video.

Smith also sets up multiple cameras during storms, sometimes catching the same sprite from different locations.

If you’d like to see what sprites look like on video, here’s one of Smith’s captures:

You can find more of Smith’s work on his website and Facebook.

(via Paul M Smith via Fstoppers)

Image credits: Photographs by Paul M Smith and used with permission