How I Got That Shot - Jeff Diener's Lightning in the Tetons

Conceiving and capturing powerful and soulful moments has been the driving force for Jeff Diener's photography (http://www.jeffdiener.com) and provides the fuel for new work. Jeff has been producing award winning, iconic landscape and active lifestyle imagery for the past 15 years.  He travels extensively and works with fine art as well as commercial clients including Columbia Sportswear, London Fog, Title Nine, Gore-Tex, Backpacker Magazine, and Outside. His new website (http://www.jacksonholegallery.com) hosts a large selection of images for purchase as fine art prints and stock photography. 

Jeff: "I had never seen a truly iconic image of lightning hitting the high peaks of the Tetons and had envisioned this photo for a few years.  Of course, there’s a reason the shot hadn’t been captured and that’s because it’s nearly impossible to have a lightning storm without clouds & rain shrouding the 12,000 & 13,000 ft. peaks.  With patience and a little luck, the perfect storm finally pushed into the mountains, and I watched the intense clouds brew for hours before deciding I had a chance of making the shot.  Thankfully for me, the front had stalled on the west side of the narrow Teton range which kept the heavy rains in Idaho and the dramatic lightning in Wyoming.

"It was 2 a.m. and I was the only one around…driving through Grand Teton National Park to get into position for this photo was both exhilarating and daunting.  Heading towards my location near the base of the mountains, all I could see was a wall of blackness to the west.  Only occasional flashes would hint at the eastern progress of this awesome storm as it loomed over the Teton range heading toward me.

"I knew I only had a few minutes to capture the scene before the peaks would be swarmed by clouds and rain so I set up quickly.  Did I say it was dark?  The headlamp came out, and I set up my Nikon F5 (yes, "F" for film!), tripod &  remote shutter release to make a handful of long exposures, mostly between 30 seconds and one minute.  My only reference for precise focusing was the quick flashes from remote strikes, so I adjusted focus in stages, whenever I had light.  I also opted to compose horizontally as it would give me more room to capture random bolts across the skyline.  With focus dialed in and exposure set manually, I simply worked the shutter release timing by feel, ending each exposure only once I felt I’d gotten enough light from several strikes.

"There was just enough time for five or six exposures, and the massive clouds engulfed the mountains down to the valley floor.  I jumped in the car for a modicum of safety just as the heavy artillery of lightning strikes started hitting nearby trees.  My heart was racing with the experience of nature’s power and with the knowledge that I’d just caught a timeless, beautiful and truly primeval moment on film."

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