This is, as I look back at my first 50 years as a photographer, the best photograph I have ever made. That lightning bolt still explodes in my mind’s eye nearly a quarter-century after it lit up the night on September 19, 1997. At least once more in my lifetime I would like the privilege of photographing a moment as power-packed as this one. I was as charged as the air about me as an enormous storm cloud fired lightning bolts faster than a giant Gatling gun and swept across Lake Michigan toward my vantage point on the Ludington shoreline. I had a crow’s nest view looking west toward Lake Michigan from my Officer of the Day berthing room on the second deck of Coast Guard Station Ludington. An hour earlier, I had been readying to get my boat crew underway for nighttime training aboard Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat 44345 when I spotted what at first glance looked like miniature lightning bolts barely visible dancing across the entire western horizon. We were seeing a thunderstorm hitting Wisconsin and heading our way. We secured the boat for heavy weather with extra lines and secured the station. With our work day done, I retreated to my room and set up my 300-millimeter lens on my tripod, awaiting the advancing tempest. I maintained my visualized composition, never changing the narrow aim of the Nikon N90 camera at the Ludington lighthouse. I had never seen so many lightning bolts in the sky at once. I decided that the odds of capturing one large bolt lighting up the Ludington lighthouse could not be better than now. As the stormfront raced across Lake Michigan at 45 knots, I began taking 30-second time exposures when it was still 30 miles away. The closer the storm came to the Ludington shoreline, the louder, larger and brighter the lightning became. Many bolts were going off during every time exposure shot, but often north or south of the narrow angle of view of my large telephoto lens. I began doubting my decision not to use a wider angle. The super cell of the thunderstorm was less than a half-mile away now. The lightning was revealing a massive thunderhead cloud steamrolling end-over-end right at me. Boom! I jumped for the first time from the concussion. The light was blinding. My camera was recording it. But what did the camera see? And even if there was a big bolt recorded on the Fuji Velvia slide film, was it going to be in a good position relative to the lighthouse? Only time would tell—a lot of time. There was no instant feedback with film. I would have to wait until I was off duty to send the film in and then wait several days more for it to come back. I remember like it was yesterday pulling slide after slide out of the plastic storage box they came back in from the processor and looking at them one by one on my light table with an eight-power loupe. The first slides I reviewed, which were the first shots taken when the storm was further away, quickly turned my excitement into disappointment. The images were not living up to the experience. But the further I dug into the box, the bigger the bolts were, and the more they lit up and colored the sky. Finally, upon pulling out the next to last slide in the box, I saw the image I had visualized making, except far better than I could have ever imagined making of my own accord. I believe God was my guide in capturing this Heaven-sent moment. I named the image “God’s Light.” Post note: Without my knowledge, my wife, Debbie, entered the original “God’s Light” 35-millimeter slide in the 1998 Nikon International Contest. It won third place.

God's Light

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