Photographer Captures Rare Red Sprites in the Night Sky Above Arizona


A photographer looking for storms to capture instead caught the sight of rare red lightning sprites in the night sky above Arizona.

Greg McCown was leading a storm photo tour on June 16 and on the day there were no storms. So, McCown took the group to Windy Point on top of Mount Lemmon.

“A large storm moved clear down in Mexico about 150 miles south of our position at Windy Point lining up perfectly with the Milky Way core,” explains McCown. “After some instruction on how to photograph sprites, most in our group were able to catch these elusive gems.”


What are Sprites?

Sprites, a phenomenon only discovered about 20 years ago, are upper atmospheric discharges from lightning. They occur some 50 miles above thunderstorms, appearing moments after a lightning strike.

The sudden red flash can take a range of shapes. A very rare form of Sprite is an ELVE, which is also the largest as well as the rarest and you must be very far away from the thunderstorm it is generated from to see one. Photographer Valter Binotto captured one in Italy back in March.

“I’ve photographed them about five times before,” McCown tells PetaPixel. “As soon as we saw the big storm down in Mexico on radar we knew we had a good chance.”

McCown used a Nikon Z6 and a 50mm lens to capture the Sprites from the top of Mount Lemmon while most of the participants in his tour used their various cameras to capture the phenomena.

“The city lights you do see are the far east side of Tucson. Dark nights and clear skies with a distant storm are the best conditions to see/photograph them,” explains McCown.

McCown operates Storm Photo Tours along with John Sirlin and does all types of photography workshops although their specialty is storms.

In May and June, their workshops are out in the plains while in July and August it’s monsoon season.

More of McCown’s work can be found on his Instagram and website.

Image credits: All photos by Greg McCown.