Well I’ve just decided to take part in a photo challenge on WordPress for the first time, so here goes. The post setting the challenge is here: A Word in Your Ear blog.

Here in the UK we experience some quite varied weather. As some of you may know, we are in the midst of utter chaos caused by 3-4 inches of quite widespread snow, and a few areas with 12 inches or more. Not really a lot by many standards, but the country just does not have the facilities and equipment to cope with it.

Lightning is something I haven’t seen for quite some time. Last time I saw it though, here is what I got:

Lightning fork near Lyme Regis

Lightning fork near Lyme Regis

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Storm on Chesil Bank

Storm on Chesil Bank

This week I was sorting out some old files for deletion to clear some space in my laptop, and I discovered a whole batch of photos that I hadn’t loaded into my photo catalogue, of a storm in November 2009. I took a trip over to Portland Bill to see what the sea was like. Here are a few of the photos. Note the size of the breaking waves compared to the people on the beach in the sixth image.

Cloud Front over Lyme Bay

What is it with this weather? Am I the only person noticing significant changes in the British weather pattern? I’ve done some research on monthly rainfall figures; but there’s no real trend to show that it’s getting much wetter, and, as shown on the chart below, the trendline for annual rainfall over the last 100 years shows only about a 2.5% increase over the period, which isn’t significant, and the recordings don’t go back far enough historically to identify whether there is actually any trend at all. The other issue is that these recordings can only be either averages for a very large geographical area, or recordings for one specific place. The reality is that conditions vary dramatically, even over short distances.

The Met Office has reported that some parts of the UK has already had 250% of its average July rainfall in the first 10 days of the month, but this in no way says either way whether it will stop raining now for the rest of the month or whether it will continue with more extremes. In fact, a trend line plotted over the July rainfall totals since 1948  shows that July rainfall has actually gone down by 25%. Additionally, data since 1948 shows that the rainfall trend for May, June, July, August, September and November has actually gone down since 1948.

It feels as though the country doesn’t get a summer any more. Perhaps it doesn’t, or not in the traditional sense that we perceive Summer as between Spring and Autumn, and coinciding with schools’ Summer Holidays.  The weather conditions we get depend on the Jet Stream, a stream of air that moves above the Atlantic, west to east, at between 11 and 17 kilometres above sea level, travelling at around 160kph. The direction of the Jet Stream shifts, sometimes it flows north of the UK, sometimes south of it, and sometimes over the top of it. At the moment, it is passing to the south of us and is allowing the unsettled conditions to its north to spread over our country. It’s not really understood why the shift happens, but it really a significant impact on our country’s weather.

The extreme weather we are getting, then, isn’t so much the large volumes of rain overall, but the intensity of the rainstorms that we appear to be getting. I think the Met Office has had warnings for heavy rain in place over some part of the UK nearly every day for several weeks, and the sight of locally torrential downpours appears, at least to me, to be something that we will see more of in the future.

Your comments would be appreciated.

UK Rainfall Chart

Annual UK Rainfall Totals since 1910

[For more information on the Jet Stream, this BBC article provides an excellent explanation: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18783422].

Lightning

Lightning in Lyme Regis ©Laurence Madill

I’ve been a keen photographer for many years, but until recently I had never had any success in photographing lightning. I also very rarely see lightning storms, so I hadn’t had much opportunity. Recently though, a storm was floating around Lyme Bay that I managed to capture. I thought I might share a few tips with you to help you capture some lightning for yourself.

There are a number of different types of lightning, but fork lightning is the most impressive to photograph. Sheet lightning will light up your whole surroundings but in a photo it is likely to just look like a stormy day, even in  the middle of the night.

The first, and probably key tip is to use a tripod. It will not be possible to capture fork lightning without a tripod because everything will blur. Generally, the slower the shutter speed you can use the better, because the longer the shutter is open, the more chance you have of capturing that split second in an image, but without the tripod you will not be able to avoid camera shake.

The next job is to compose the image. To ensure the best chance of getting lightning in the composition, use a wide angle lens, ideally include a landmark or some land in the image to add interest to the composition. Make sure that the camera is pointing in the most likely direction to see some lightning, and ensure there is plenty of sky visible in the viewfinder too.

Next, you need to work out the exposure and aperture settings. You can either use manual mode, or try using the Tv setting. Make sure also that the camera is capturing in RAW format, as this gives you the flexibility to tweak the exposure retrospectively on the computer. At this stage, we need to fire a few test shots. By using a slower shutter speed you can ensure there’s more chance of capturing the lightning. The image I’ve included in this post was 13 seconds at ƒ3.5. I captured images in succession; as soon as one shot was taken, I released the shutter again, using a remote release to prevent movement in the camera.

It is time consuming, and efforts can be fruitless, but with patience, a few good thunderstorms and these tips you should be able to capture some lightning on camera.