Panama City, Panama
7-22 June 2023
Over the span of a few weeks in Panama City, I found myself captivated by the electric dance of nature. From my perch on the 25th floor, the city sprawled beneath me, a vast expanse of lights and shadows. But on several nights, it wasn’t just the city lights that held my gaze. The sky was alive, each thunderstorm telling its own unique story. The bolts of lightning seemed to dance between the towering structures of Panama City skyscrapers, making the buildings, despite their imposing stature, seem almost meek beneath the raw power of the storm.
Using the technique of long exposure, I was able to capture this dance in all its glory on multiple occasions. Lightning streaks painted the sky, their electric paths contrasting with the dense, moving clouds. The city below, bathed in an ethereal under-lighting, revealed shades of purple and violet, standing in stark contrast to the dark silhouettes of the buildings.
Thunderstorms in Panama City
Panama City is no stranger to the drama of thunderstorms. Nestled between the lush expanse of tropical rainforest and the vast Pacific Ocean, the city is a melting pot of urban life and raw, untamed nature. The tropical climate, characterized by high humidity and frequent rains, ensures that thunderstorms are a regular spectacle, especially during the wet season.
These storms are a display of nature’s raw power, with lightning strikes painting the night sky in hues of white, purple, and blue. The city’s skyscrapers, standing tall and proud, often attract these electric arcs, creating a visual symphony of man-made marvels and nature’s fury.
Such storms, while disruptive at times, are a blessing for photographers like me. Powerful flashes of lightning transform the city, casting it in a different, more dramatic light. Every flash, every thunderclap tells a story of a city that stands resilient, even when nature unleashes its full force.
The Art and Challenge of Capturing Lightning
Photographing lightning is as much about patience and anticipation as it is about technique. At its core, the process requires a long shutter speed to capture the fleeting brilliance of a lightning bolt. A sturdy tripod is non-negotiable; it ensures that your shot remains steady, especially during those extended exposures. Lens choice can vary based on the situation. While a wide-angle lens is perfect for capturing vast landscapes illuminated by the storm, a zoom lens becomes invaluable when the storm is distant or for achieving specific compositions.
Safety, of course, is paramount. While the thrill of capturing the perfect bolt is unmatched, it’s essential to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk. Equally crucial is the protection of the gear. Rain might be a constant companion during these shoots, and water droplets on the lens can easily mar an otherwise perfect shot.
Capturing lightning is like trying to hold a fleeting moment in your hands;
it’s elusive, powerful, and breathtakingly beautiful!
Shooting from the 25th floor presented its own set of challenges. When the rain was pouring, I had to shoot through the windows. This meant dealing with potential glare, reflections, and the occasional smudge on the glass. However, when the storm moved further away, I could open the window, eliminating these barriers and capturing the storm in all its raw beauty.
Wind is another factor to consider. It can sway your tripod, introduce a camera shake, or bring rain into your shooting space. And then there’s the unpredictability of the storm itself. Lightning doesn’t take cues; it strikes where it pleases. This means a lot of hit and miss, numerous wasted shots, but with patience and a keen eye, you can sometimes anticipate its next move, leading to that perfect capture.
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