September 2017 – Just before I left on a whirlwind trip to Paris — the City of Light — we experienced one of the most dramatic light shows we have ever seen anywhere. It was put on by Mother Nature and staged in the valley north of Las Vegas, Nevada.
She used the city lights as a backdrop and spotlights mounted on a building in front of us as footlights!
We were camped at the Clark County Shooting Complex RV park, a nice little RV park that sits up on a hill north of Las Vegas. We were there because we needed air conditioning in the 95 degree late summer heat during our stay.
The high vantage point of the park gives RVers fabulous views of the city lights at night from every campsite. In the mornings we were woken by folks enjoying target practice.
As we stood outside, marveling at the majestic colors of sunset and watching thick and dark storm clouds swirl across the valley from the mountains on the distant horizon, we suddenly heard the wind pick up and felt some raindrops on our cheeks.
Then we saw bolts of lightning flashing in the distance. Wow!!
For the next half hour we stood and watched the most incredible lightning show either of us has ever seen. Huge bolts of lightning burst out of the sky and struck the ground in rapid fire succession.
At first, as we stood there, we kept saying to each other, “We really should get out our cameras and try to capture this!” But lightning is hard to pin down in a photo, and we didn’t think the lightning show would go on much longer.
We have a fancy lightning trigger that attaches to a camera and automatically clicks the shutter button every time it senses lightning, and it works pretty well. But we had bought it for our old cameras and hadn’t upgraded its cable to match our new cameras.
So we stood there with our mouths gaping open and our feet rooted to the ground as massive lightning bolts flashed across the valley in front of us. To our amazement, the show kept going and going and going.
Suddenly, Mark said something about how you could leave the camera shutter open for long periods and just let whatever lightning bolts fell stockpile themselves onto the image. That was all the hint I needed! I flew into the rig to grab my camera and tripod. As I dashed back out I bumped into Mark in the doorway. He was hot on my heels going to get his gear too!
We set up our tripods and left the shutters open for 30 seconds at a whack with the aperture stopped way down, at f/22, and base ISO.
We took our first shots and let out whoops and hollers of excitement when we saw the images on the backs of our cameras.
The only hard part was guessing where the lightning would strike next, because it was all over the sky and all over the valley.
But we could see we were getting awesome images, and we just kept clicking the shutter buttons every thirty seconds for the next 10 or 15 minutes, jumping up and down and shrieking with excitement between shots.
Miraculously, after the first few drops of rain fell, Mother Nature pulled the curtain of dripping clouds away from the stage. We were able to stand in warm dry air — and blustery winds — and witness the stunning power of earth’s beautiful forces without getting wet.
What a night this was — a night we’ll never forget! And thank goodness we grabbed our cameras when we did, because there wasn’t a single flash of lightning in Las Vegas for the remaining 16 days we kept our buggy there!!
Lots of people come to Las Vegas to experience the bright lights of the big city. But these bright lights, thrown from God’s hand across the valley surrounding Las Vegas, dwarfed any light show that might have been happening downtown!!
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Other blog posts about photography and capturing the night sky on camera:
Photography – Our gear and the resources we have used to learn to take great pics
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- Spring in Sarasota FL + Bryce Canyon’s Night Skies – in Trailer Life
- Grand Canyon’s North Rim – Magnificent & Intimate by Day or Night!
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- Canyonlands National Park UT – Island in the Sky (and Night Skies!)
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Incredible – no wonder you were jumping up and down with excitement when your “open shutter” was so successful !!! Makes the sparkling Tour Eiffel in “The City of Light” look insignificant !!!
I don’t think any light show could make the sparkling Eiffel Tour look insignificant, but I do count myself as immeasurably fortunate to have witnessed both spectacles in the space of a week! It’s those jumping up and down moments of excitement that make life a joy to live!
Incredible shots! Love your photography and you’re right, God put on quite a show. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you, Mike. We were in the right place at the right time with a perfect view of the show and nothing but time on our hands. So often we catch gorgeous sunsets and lightning storms between buildings and trees while our attention is totally focused on doing something else. This was very special!
Boy, Em & M, your pics are nothing short of magnificent!
And you gave us another place to stay in Las Vegas, too, while Mark was eyeballing new bikes. Love your words and photos!
Take care, and enjoy the Southwest for the next 6 months….from Bette & Glen
Thank you, Bette & Glen!! We are loving being back in the southwest where the sun is warm these days and the air is beautifully clear. Enjoy the Clark County Shooting Range RV Park when you get there. It’s a good place to stay if you want to be near the city but not right on the strip!
Those shots are awesome! I’ve set my camera to Bulb and gotten a couple of partial strikes but your location really helps you out in these amazing photos!! I can only imagine the excitement in the air from you and Mark!! 🙂
I’ve seen these kinds of photos before and always wondered how they ever got them. Now I know, but I suspect it’s a bit of a once in a lifetime experience. I’ve never seen a lightning storm like this one before, and I’ve seen a lot of lightning storms over the years!!