On December 12th we released the latest Obliq Recordings record. This was the inaugural 7″ in a series of four celebrating the Earth’s wobble by my latest project, Chillout Enforcement Crew. We have been wanting to release a flexible record or lathe cut for a while, and so this idea hit me. Why not do another floppy diskette release?
For those not in the know, back in 2000 my other project Multicast released Sympathen, a limited edition of 300 7″ records in a retro floppy diskette–the single from our forthcoming LP Rural Sessions. That time was the height of electronic music distribution, and the unique packaging sold this release out immediately; mostly to Europe. We really had fun with the design of that release, so I decided to research to see if we could pull that off again, this time in a very limited run.
I looked around for the contact information from the manufacturer of the 8″ floppy diskettes (they were new from a firm still making them for mainframes, but they were trash from being tested for Quality Assurance, so I worked a discount!), but I couldn’t get a hold of that firm anymore. I ended up finding a vintage computer collector on Etsy that had some for sale. Luckily he was cool as I told him about our project and he sent me four different manufacturers in quantity of 25 each! Perfect for our “Earth’s Wobble” four seasons theme. They also came with cool original blank sleeves so I could print upon them!
For the design, I downloaded some free fonts with an arcade style vibe. I ordered some small labels and laser printed the design on them. I used one label for the diskette label (like old-school diskettes had) and then another for the back of the picture disk record. I used a rubber stamp that we made for the original floppy release so we could have some consistency between the 17 years between releases on our label. I decided to stamp on the sleeve and also on the back of the record. Finally I found a nice gold outlined sticker tab at a local craft shop for the write protection, which will seal the record inside the floppy and retain the 80s vibe I was looking for.
Looking forward to the next three releases, all earmarked for 2018!
Construction begins. Cutting out the download code coupons.
Started assembling, but haven’t stamped the sleeves.
There were many rumors that Gem-o-rama was done after the 75th year, but seeing a flyer for year #76 got my hopes up for attending in 2017 again with Kirk. But, the work schedule wasn’t looking like it was going to cooperate so I had written off going this year.
The week before Kirk calls me and says he still wants to go, but on a compressed schedule. I was able to take a day off of work last minute and we were locked in for another road trip and gem collecting extravaganza. I’ll detail the road trip in other blog posts (it was a lot of driving–thank you Kirk–and a ton of fun). But this article will talk about the event itself.
We learned a lot at last year’s field trips and so we had a strategy going into this year. For the mud trip, I was focused on Hanksite complete crystals and/or clusters. I ended up leaving a lot of crystals that I found, many were probably nice, but it was nice having mostly great ones to clean this year instead of a bunch of so-so ones–the strategy paid off!
Cleaning these does take some effort. This year we bought a couple more liters of brine from the store for cleaning which was needed. We both brought dental picks and a variety of firmness and size of brushes which also sped up the cleaning process. We brought newspaper to wrap the crystals in, and zip-lock baggies to seal in the moisture for the drive back home. I brought paper towels which was a mistake as it stuck to the crystals if they fully dried, so newspaper next time for sure. For cleaning, a bucket is too big except if you find a monster cluster, so we brought hard plastic throw-away containers from the grocery store which conserved brine and make it easier to access.
This is the El Grande Hanksite cluster I found. Notice the white residue all over it, that has to be scraped off with a dental pick. Each facet will require a full cleaning. It sits like this in the cabinet waiting for a more ambitious weekend (which it will take, probably 15-20 hours)!
The medium Hanksite cluster from the mud dig. Every face had to be scraped which took about 4 hours, and really sore hands and wrists. It was worth it!
Instead of spending a bunch of time cleaning at the site of the mud dig, we just did a quick scrub, especially on the clusters, which left more time for digging. Note there were more people this year than before, and it took longer to drive to the mud site, so less time actually searching for crystals. After the mud field trip we got back in line in Trona, ate lunch, and then a much deeper cleaning of the crystals. The goal is to get most of the mud off of the crystals. We then wrapped them while they were wet and sealed them in zip-lock containers. This helps considerably to have them still moist after the road trip home for the final cleanup. If the crystals dry up, then you’ll need to scrape every face to get the top layer of dried hanksite off, which is more effort.
The second field trip on Saturday was the blow-hole trip. We learned last year that the hanksite crystals were neat from this dig as there were basically three types we want, all double-terminated. Barrels with flat ends, one side flat and the other side pointed, and both sides pointed. But, the hanksites from this dig are not as big or cool typically as the mud dig. My focus was to find Sulfohalites, interesting Borax, Halite cubes and clusters; also potentially hanksites if they were awesome.
Watching the demo of blowing crystals out of the ground was cool; but this year I decided to just focus on collecting as much as possible. Again, even though we were in what we thought was a good place in line, we ended up going out of the way to the blow hole spot and it ate some time out of our collecting–but what are you gonna do? We dug in an area that was about 3-5 inches deep of crystals that had piled up. Once sitting in the right direction to get the best sun reflections off the crystals (and out of the shade of the body and hat) we were able to make quick work of sifting through the crystals. I had a small 2-gallon bucket and just tossed the crystals in there; except for the small ones I put in individual 3×3 inch baggies that I brought. This was to ensure the little crystals, or nice ones, didn’t get damaged in the bucket.
This was the last field trip for the day so I didn’t spend any time cleaning crystals at the field trip site. After dinner, we drank a beer, chatted and cleaned into the night. I wrapped the wet crystals in wet paper towels and put them in zip-lock baggies once cleaned. Some that were fully cleaned I applied mineral oil to with a brush. Eventually all crystals except the Halite plates would get mineral oil since we live in a very dry climate.
Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!
Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!
Sulfohalite octahedron cluster
Sulfohalite octahedron cluster
Variety of sulfohalites
Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal
Borax crystal with hanksite
Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation
Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together
The final field trip was on the salt lakes on Sunday morning. We learned last year that the crystals grown on shelves, typically where there is running brine or on the edge of brine pools. Right away we were finding larger plates but with small crystals. I was digging in the pools and Kirk found a spot (right where everyone was walking by to get further out into the lakes) digging in the ditch at the edge of the lake. This ended up being the best spot and I joined him after a while. We pulled out so many cool plates of medium sized pink halite clusters from this area. We just feel along the edge of the ditch and you could feel the cube crystals with your fingers, then carefully extract the plates by either pulling up, or using a pick and breaking the plate in the size you want. The one problem was, we didn’t have enough space in the car to bring a ton of plates home, so we ended up giving many away to passers by–which in itself was a lot of fun!
For the trip home, I discovered last year that if you pack them in your salty clothes (you get pretty wet digging) they make the trip well. I packed them in a 5 gallon bucket on top of my zip-lock baggies of other crystals from the previous digs. I also brought a couple of beach towels this year to wrap the plates in. The dealers there utilize either produce boxes or hard plastic storage boxes you get at the hardware store. These come out clean, so just a rinse in the ditch and leave them out to dry is all that is needed before you wrap them in cloth. I only had a couple break apart on the way home, having them secured in the bucket was safe. I do not use mineral oil on the halite plates but do use it for the other crystals.
Again, a wonderful trip filled with fun! This time Kirk’s boys got to join us. Hopefully there will be many more Gem-o-rama trips in the future!
Originally published in the Iron Feather Journal 2016 by Dave Alexander.
If you are a Millennial then you are at least two generations too old to remember most of these toys, but for those born in the 1950’s through 1980’s you will probably remember many of these toys during your formative years. What you may not realize is that these toys made their sounds, unlike today via computer chips, through a mechanical means using built in records and phonographs!
The phonograph-based toy started in the late 1950’s when the fastest growing toy company, Mattel, started to produce dolls that interact with their owners. Barbie was a huge seller for Mattel but it lacked interaction which left a lot to the girl’s imagination. The Chatty series of dolls solved this problem and started a new era of dolls. In 1959 the idea of pulling a string on your doll would and having her speak one of 11 phrases at random to you was ingenious! Later models towards the mid-1960s would speak 18 different phrases. This was accomplished by dropping a needle on a small 3 inch record in random locations—the player was installed in the doll’s abdomen and was a wonder of engineering at the time. These dolls was an instant success and their underlying phonograph technology was used over and over in many toys by Mattel and other companies through the 1980s.
In 1963, after many successful years with the various Chatty dolls, Mattel introduced Charmin’ Chatty. This doll was a bit different than the others because the records were interchangeable through a slot on the doll’s side. The 3 inch records were double-sided, so you had twice as many phrases per record. Records and clothing were sold as accessories, including the ultra-collectable “Let’s Talk ‘n Travel in Foreign Lands” which included a cute “travel” outfit accompanied by 4 records speaking in 7 different languages—instantly giving the doll and her owner world culture! Since the phonograph played random tracks when the string was pulled, Mattel released the “Chatty Games” accessories. Each box included two games; with 4 total games where a random move was spoken by Charmin’ Chatty, kids could play up to 8 different games with their dolls. In 1965 Mattel discontinued production of these dolls, but continued to innovate with their phonograph-based interactive toys.
Chatty Games, this one includes “At The Fair” and “Skate N Slide”
This Chatty Games includes “Animal Roundup” and “Animal Friends” board games
Here is Chatty at the Fair game. The reverse side has the Skate N Slide game. Each game set comes with records to insert into the doll, all board game pieces and reversible board.
From the brochure, with instructions on how to change records, and details all the different fun you can have with Chatty including what needs come out of the piggy bank.
After the success with the Chatty dolls, in 1965 Mattel created the See‘N Say toys line of toys providing similar interaction with the toy, but this time the child had control over which audio track would play using a dial. The kid would point the arrow at a picture and pull the string, and the phonograph player would have its needle dropped on the specific track based on the slot the dial was placed. It was the same mechanism inside the toy as the previous Chatty dolls, but with a user chosen groove instead of a random groove on the record. The initial toys were the Bee Says toy that spoke the alphabet and the Farmer Says toy that spoke farm/animal sounds. After the success of these, new variations were produced, the only difference was the sticker on the toy showing the available choices, and the phonograph record within; a clever way to sell new variations in the brand using the same manufacturing line! These toys continued popularity into the 90s where the phonographs were replaced by digital sound reproduction.
Of course, all this success didn’t go unnoticed, and other toy manufacturers joined in the dream of huge profits with their own mechanical phonograph-based toys. In 1964 General Electric joined in with a toy television with a record player on top. Inserted filmstrips were backlit to project 16mm images onto the toy television screen while the record provided audio. Picturesound programs were sold individually including a filmstrip with 15 films and a 4 minute record. At fixed intervals on the record the filmstrip would mechanically be moved to provide the next image in the story.
Meanwhile, Mattel was not done with their line of dolls and in 1971 Cynthia My Best Friend was built based on the Charmin’ Chatty technology except the doll was much smaller. She played 2 inch interchangeable records that were inserted in her side. To repeat their successful business model, Cynthia fashion kits were sold each with a new record full of phrases.
In addition to dolls, Mattel produced two different interactive phone toys. Alongside the See’N Say toys, 1965 saw the Mattel-o-Phone with interchangeable 4 inch records. Kids could have conversations with their dolls (or just by themselves) with this phone, which sported many popular cartoon characters and dolls of the day that would talk to you. Later, their 1971 Fun Phone Alphabet Phone toy was aimed at education, teaching kids using sporting colorful 2 ½ inch picture discs with the alphabet and other important things for young kids to learn over the phone. By this time, Mattel had the mechanical phonograph dialed in and they were using it in all sorts of ways to add interactive speech long before computer chips would take over!
In 1970 Ohio Art produced the “World’s Smallest Record Player” called the Mighty Tiny. This small coffin looking player opened up and the kid would insert a 2 inch plastic record. Upon closing the toy the needle on the top of the player would track on the record and would reproduce its sound through the small internal speaker powered by AA batteries. Records came in 4-packs grouped by music styles, which included “Foreign”, “Rock’n Roll”, “Country and Western”, “Novelty”, etc. Of course they encouraged people to “collect them all”.
Mattel continued the interactive experience with Live Drive in 1970. This toy has a steering wheel and gear shifter and was aimed to allow the driver to imagine driving. To help that imagination, there are cardboard backdrops attached to the “windshield” area for the visuals and records for the audio. The experiences include Racecar, Submarine, Spaceship, Airplane, Fire Engine, and Speedboat. “You can drive ‘em all!!” The battery operated interchangeable record player is very similar to the Instant Replay player mentioned below; probably the same one given they were released the same year.
In 1977 Mattel released the ABC Monday Night Football game. The game came with a football field and some plastic accessories to aid in gameplay; the main component was a record player with 2.5 inch discs, some single sided, some grooved on both sides. These discs had different offensive, defensive and penalty called plays that were recorded by the original ABC Monday Night Football commentators. Using the random needle dropping technology, the records were perfect for a football game!
Disney got in the action and produced the Mickey Mouse World Series Baseball Game in 1984. They used a special “Trick-Track” process that dropped the needle on one of 15 tracks of a 6 inch flexi-disc record. Each track played about 15 seconds of commentators that called the gameplay. The sleeve’s gatefold was used as the diamond, and small punch-out discs were used by each player to mark their progress and score. You’d play for 9 innings, or however long it would keep your attention!
Sports trading cards have been popular for a long time, and Mattel decided to use their phonograph toy technology to make sports cards interactive. In 1971 they released the Instant Reply toy, which played small 2.5 inch records that had different players talking to you. Most records were single sided with a sticker of the athlete on the front side, but there are highly collectible double-sided cardboard picture discs available as well. The proprietary record player was battery powered with a built-in speaker and used a switch for turning the player on and off. Discs were sold in either 4-packs based on sport, or 8-packs folders with small informational booklets. It was said the basketball series was the most popular, and the double-sided basketball stars can fetch hundreds of dollars in collector’s circles!
In 1989, Topps cards produced the Sports Talk player and cards. Topps released 164 talking baseball cards for that year’s popular major league athletes, and also included cards for all-time favorite players and important historical baseball events. The cards were full color with a picture of the athlete on the cover and statistics on the back, just as you’d expect; but additionally there was an embossed plastic record on the back. Once inserted and closed into the proprietary phonograph player’s transparent plastic window, the record would play and you’d hear the athlete tell you something funny or cool about their career while you looked the front of the card, or re-live important baseball history!
Fisher Price and Yes! companies realized there was a market for read-to-me style books for kids just learnings to read. They took popular books like Bernstein Bears and television shows like Sesame Street and added embossed 3 inch records to each page. Their record players would lay on top of the page, registered to the center of the record, then when pressing play, if properly aligned, the needle would drop and the story would be narrated. The players and books were interchangeable, no clue if this was intentional.
Perhaps the most serious attempt at a record-based educational toy was Mattel’s Teach & Learn Computer in 1981. The computer was battery powered and contained a slot for the 5 inch record and a generic touch panel. Overlays and records were purchased separately and the record and touch panel were programmed to work together interacting with the child and hopefully teaching a thing or two in the process.
Finally, my personal favorite was the Cosmic Clash arcade game released in 1982 by Tomy. This entirely mechanical game provided mechanical visuals based on back-lit cellophane film strips for aliens that you’d shoot, and the rotating back-lit cellophane cylinder laser beam you’d fire, and the op-art style explosions. The audio was played on the record where the needle was dropped in certain locations based on the sound effects that needed played. This game was a wonderfully engineered toy providing a home arcade alternative before video games entered the home.
The mechanical phonograph record used in toys lasted for well over three decades when they were finally replaced by electronics. The creative use of phonograph records allowed for interactive toys that were state of the art for the time; captivating children’s hearts and piling up wish lists at the North Pole that were mailed to Santa each year!
My dad gave me my grandfathers coin bag–all the coins he collected while touring in the United States Air Force before he retired. There are some amazing coins in there, so I decided to take some photos. I love the designs on these coins!
Crystal digging time has been limited this summer, however I was able to make it out several times this fall having several successful days! This day in late September I was able to find a fun smokey quartz and light amazonite pocket. There was an antler my dog found that he enjoyed all day long; the cool part is where he found it! Investigating the area he led me to showed some promising signs on the surface. I dug a few test holes and eventually found a crystal pocket! I feel it thus is appropriate that I named the pocket after him (his name is Boogie)!
Boogie chawing on a an antler near my test hole, which ended up in a couple small pockets
At the point of the antler, there was a few quartz and feldspar chunks laying on the ground. Digging a test hole there, I found a couple of pieces of float pegmatite within the first 5 inches so I followed the float peg up the hill. Its always a good sign when you can follow a path of float rocks up a hill, especially if there are euhedral sides, which in this case there were not any flats. A short while (maybe 5 feet) later uphill the peg stopped showing up at the float level. Often this sudden stoppage of float material means that whatever was producing the float is back downhill.
Going back down the hill a few feet, I dug deeper and found more peg! Following that led me to the host peg which started maybe 8 inches below the surface. It looks like I found the source!!! Now, hopefully the peg chunks will start having flat faces and become more crystallized ending in a seam or a pocket!
In this hole, digging down, I was able to hit the bottom of the peg seam where it turned into crumbles of granite gravel. Going up hill I ended back into gravel, so I feel I found the girth of this pegmatite seam. That said, nothing interesting was presenting itself, yet…
Next, I followed the peg from side-to-side. Within about 30 minutes I found a few nice terminated quartz crystals and a few smaller pieces. This is documented in the first few minutes in the video, below. The quartz ended as soon as it started, however, and I ended up on a fruitless dig in that direction for about an hour longer…that is typical of me, when I find crystals I go in that direction for an extra long time just to be sure; someday I’ll figure out when to stop earlier…or not.
Next step was to take a break and eat lunch. After looking at what I had dug and the size of the pegmatite from different perspectives I figured there was only one choice, to stay on this peg which had produced quartz crystals and dig the other way. Soon after digging that way I was pulling out some quartz and microcline with sides, and finally some microcline crystals. This is where the video continues.
The pocket contained a lot of chunks of microcline/light blue amazonite but none were fully euhedral, until the very end which contains a big 5″ crystal in three pieces. Many of the crystals were good size and had many faces. All were heavily coated in iron oxide. I did find some quartz too, especially in the center and lower parts of the pocket. The quartz had interesting staining, all having a secondary coating of grey/white quartz on their tips, and then on 3 of the faces horizontal lines of the same secondary coating while on the other three faces heavily iron oxide stained. They all had similar coatings and stain patterns which I found interesting!
The find of the day was a smokey quartz and cleavelandite combo, a 4-5 inch smokey quartz with excellent patterns in the secondary coatings and staining, and a 5″ wide light amazonite crystal at the bottom of the pocket.
Cleavelandite and Smokey Quartz combo with mica sprinkled around it. The quartz has a secondary coating of quartz.
Almost all the quartz had a secondary coating of milky quartz on top and the amazonites and microclines were heavily coated with iron oxide. There was a very large 5″ amazonite at the bottom of the pocket which was in three pieces, but they fit back together nicely. All have been in the cleaning bath for a while and have yet to clean up to my liking, except a few in which the staining adds to the color and character! I’m working on abrasive methods and hopefully will have cleaner pictures to show soon.
Large amazonite (light blue) found at the bottom of the pocket in 3 pieces. Undergoing a lengthy super iron out bath.
Light amazonite with mica still heavily stained after many weeks in a SIO bath. From the video.
Cool pair of smokey quartz showing the parallel growth and quartz caps
A couple of the smokey quartz showing the overgrowth of quartz on the points.
Largest smokey quartz from the pocket. I’m done cleaning it as I really like the lines and their parallelism to the crystal faces. This is shown in the video.
Been playing with a new lens and decided to photo the bumble bees in our blooming sage garden. Was able to get some interesting close ups, but in a couple the wings did some interesting things. Haven’t quite figured that out yet as I was at 1/8000 second. Are their little wings really that fast?
We have had a doe hanging out in the yard for the last week or so, she was definitely very pregnant. Last week Erin saw a tiny fawn in our yard so I have been keeping my eyes on the search for the baby deer the oaks. This morning on my to work, I noticed a some activity in the oaks and I turned around to get my camera. I was able to see the doe give birth to a fawn which was an amazing treat!
Little did I know, however, she had already given birth to another fawn, so the Sageport twins were born. I watched her and the fawns for about 25 minutes and was able to grab some video and still image footage. Now I’ll be keeping an eye out to watch these little creatures grow!
The NWS Storm Prediction Center has issued a
* Tornado Watch for portions of
Western Nebraska Panhandle
* Effective this Monday afternoon and evening from 110 PM until
800 PM MDT.
...THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION...
* Primary threats include...
Several tornadoes and a few intense tornadoes likely
Widespread large hail expected with scattered very large hail
events to 4 inches in diameter likely
Isolated significant damaging wind gusts to 75 mph possible
SUMMARY...Isolated intense supercell thunderstorms are expected to
develop across the watch area this afternoon. Giant hail and strong
tornadoes will be possible in the most intense storms.
I have not seen wording like this for Colorado in a long time, if ever…”Giant hail and strong tornadoes…”, and “scattered very large hail events up to 4 inches likely“. Wow!
I drove Highway 85 north from Aurora. By the time I was in Brighton they were saying baseball hail had fallen in Pierce from the southern storm. The most southern cell wasn’t big but did look like it had fantastic storm structure. Unfortunately I was too far north to see the structure clearly. I was tempted to drive SW towards Loveland and check it out, but seeing the supercell in front of me kept me on it!
Photo viewing is recommended in higher resolution, just click on the photos.
The barber pole structure on this supercell was very tempting to spot from a better location, but I wanted to stay on the stronger storm!
The first tornado warning (radar indicated) appeared while I was east of Ault on the supercell I was on. There definitely was a defined wall cloud and everything looked “right” with the storm, it was just a matter of time.
Lowering wall cloud on the southern side of the supercell. It was tornado warned at this time just north of Briggsdale.
You can see the rotating wall cloud and funnel .
This is taken outside of Grover looking northwest, the tornado was down near Hereford.
The tornado was on the ground for 16 minutes and did some structural damage (one road was closed due to debris/powerlines in the road). It was rated EF-2 with 111-135 mph winds.
Tornado showing mesocyclone.
The ropeout phase was pretty amazing, look how long and needle thin the tornado vortex was!
I stopped just east of Hereford as the hail looked pretty amazing laying everywhere. Hail didn’t pile up on the ground like some storms, but it was everywhere and the smallest size was around quarter sized! Then there were stones up to softball size laying around! I am fascinated by large hail and spent some time just checking out these amazing ice crystals!
I found a good article that explains white versus clear ice.
Example of how the hail was lying around everywhere! Not covering the ground, but big stones!
On radar the storm still had an intense velocity couplet after the tornado!
Driving towards Bushnell out of Pine Bluffs I saw another tornado touchdown but only for a minute. As I headed east of Bushnell, I saw a tornado NE of town; but there were no easy spots to pull off so I just watched it as I drove. When I finally found a pull-out from the road, a train went by blocking my view for about 5 minutes. After the train, I caught the rope out. Looking back to the NW, I saw another tornado but was never able to get a good picture of it!
Rope out NE of Bushnell, NE.
I ended up calling it a day near Chimney Rock as I watched the amazing mothership sail off into the distance!
I have been wanting to visit the St. Peter’s Dome fluorite locale for a while as I heard the fluorite was beautiful and plentiful. Friends Matt, David and I visited the location and it didn’t disappoint.
The location is accessible by a normal vehicle along the Old Stage Road where it meets Gold Camp Road coming out of Colorado Springs. If one is unsure of the last road to the mine, they can park at the St. Peter’s Dome parking area and walk the 200 yards to the mine dumps.
View of St. Peter’s Dome, Colorado Springs and the Palmer Divide from the mine.
Fluorite is everywhere.
Purple, green and white fluorite litter the ground.
There is a bunch of fluorite laying everywhere, mostly in small chunks. You can take a sledge and chisel and work some of the larger pieces if you so chose, but I just walked around and picked up a dozen or two smaller stones that looked like they had interesting color or marbling.
I have a flat lap so I took these stones and polished with a 150 lap. They look really nice all polished up (wet in this case), so I will continue to shape and then polish the stones.
Lightning is one of the things I look forward to most during Spring and Summer months! I love photography and have been able to get some nice lightning strikes normally with my digital SLR camera. Lightning on a cell phone isn’t that difficult, however, assuming you have some know-how and a more advanced camera app on your phone. There is certainly luck involved, but a little technical knowledge and a cell phone with advanced options can allow you to catch Mother Nature’s natural fireworks!
Firstly, safety is most important. Being on a porch or anywhere outdoors is unsafe. Being under a tree is unsafe. Being next to a fence is unsafe. Being close to metal underground piping is unsafe. I think you get the point! The safest place to photograph lightning is inside of a house (through the window) or in a vehicle with the windows up. You don’t get wet that way either!
Lightning photography is dangerous and lightning isn’t very forgiving (i.e. is deadly), so please be safe!
The key to capturing lightning, given you can’t predict when it will occur, is to open the exposure on the camera so you can capture several seconds at a time. Only certain phones allow for this, but newer Android phones seem to be leading the way–it is called “Pro Mode”. Different phones have different options in Pro Mode:
Being able to open the exposure for several seconds is helpful
Lowering the ISO and/or aperture (f-stop) to let less light in is usually helpful, especially if it is still dusk
Because the camera is taking in light for a longer period of time, there is no way a human can hold the camera still, so you will need to place it on a window ledge, the ground, or something else to keep it absolutely still
Focus for lightning needs to be exact. Usually your subject is (better be) far enough away that you can choose manual focus and set to infinity.
My Samsung Note 5 camera allows for control of the focus, ISO and Exposure, so I lowered the ISO to the lowest setting (not Auto), changed to manual focus and set to infinity, and chose 4 second exposures. I then positioned the camera on the ground and/or window pane so it would be absolutely still and repeatably pushed the trigger. If you have a rapid fire mode, this could work instead of the longer exposure as well.
Arrows (from left to right) show Pro Mode ISO, Exposure and Focus setting options.
ISO at its lowest setting; tells the “film” to absorb the least amount of light (and noise) which is needed because the lightning is so bright. If you’re finding that the lightning isn’t showing up, increase this setting to allow more light to be captured.
Focus is set to infinity. Mountains is infinity and flower is macro–or up close. Most lightning is (better be) far enough away to be considered “infinity” distance.
Exposure can go up to 10 seconds on this camera, or as quick as 1/24000th of a second. Since lightning is so quick, all this setting is for is to make it easier to capture the lightning by having the exposure open for longer periods of time in between when you have to fire the shutter. Great since you have no idea when it will happen.
TIP! Lightning tends to occur (rule of thumb, definitely not scientific) at regular intervals, so i often count the amount of seconds between each bolt. Once I get within 1-2 seconds of when it “should” occur, I open the shutter. I also just continuously trigger the shutter so it is open most of the time.
So now that the setup is out of the way, here are some examples of lightning I caught and some tips and tricks.
Here I had the camera placed on a light post. Notice the focus of the foreground is not tight, this is because there is too much movement in the camera over the 4 seconds the shutter is open.
Again, too blurry of a picture due to the unsteady placement of the phone.
So I switched to the sidewalk which was much more sturdy. I also used my shoe to give something to lean against to make it more sturdy. Now the foreground is in better focus. Lightning is still far enough away to be outside, and to not be too bright to photograph.
Lightning still far enough away (about 10 seconds between bolt and thunder) to not completely blow out the amount of light the bolts produce. Cloud to Ground bolts will most always be brighter, as in the case with the left both that found its ground.
This anvil crawler didn’t strike ground and wasn’t too bright to be captured.
Okay, these are getting too close, not only is it dangerous but you don’t get good pictures. With the ISO setting at its lowest it is allowing the least amount of light to be captured, but still it is too much. If you had an f-stop aperture setting you’d want to close the shutter letting less light in (closing the aperture is increasing the f-stop number, by the way)…but this is a limit of my cell phone’s camera.
This one is a good capture, although it is getting a little too close for comfort, time to head inside!
Luckily the window was tinted a bit, or this would have been way too much light. This was just a few blocks away. The window pane and window allowed for very sturdy aids to keep the camera steady. Although in cases like this, the only light captured by the phone is coming from the lightning, so at that instant in time is the only time there was light, so sturdiness isn’t as important because I don’t have any other light sources in the field of view.
Since I was focused on infinity, the rain on the window didn’t really obscure the subject of the photo. You an see the raindrops as hexagon white blobs in the upper/center part of the photo.