Here’s How to Photograph a Lightning Bolt

Lightning travels at speeds of up to 200 million miles per hour. It comes, quite literally, in a flash, and often disappears before you can reach for your camera.

That makes it hard to photograph unless you’re a pro like Jason Weingart. He’s mastered the art of shooting lightning while tailing storms in more than a dozen states from Texas to Wyoming. “If it’s flashing, I’m on it,” he says.

Weingart fell in love with bad weather in the third grade, when a meteorologist played tornado footage for his class in Salem, Ohio. After that, he’d always stand outside to watch storms tear through. It’s what he was doing at Daytona Beach, in 2009, when he snapped his first lightning photo. He hadn’t planned it—the lightning bolt just shot into the frame—but he was hooked. “I became addicted and put everything else to the side,” he says.

Thousands of storms later, he’s nailed down his technique. He and his partner in chasing and life, Savannah Weingart, hit the road from their home in Austin every spring to shoot, using the app Radarscope and forecast models like North American Mesoscale, High-Resolution Rapid Refresh, and Global Forecast System, to pinpoint where storms will occur. Usually by the time the couple arrives, lightning is already cracking across the sky. They try to keep about a mile’s distance for safety—though lightning can technically strike anywhere thunder can be heard. “I’ve had my hair stand on end on a couple of occasions,” Weingart says. “It means you’re standing in a charged area, which is the first step to having a lightning strike initiate.”

He mounts his Canon 6D on a tripod, shooting as the storm rolls towards him. When it’s broad daylight, he hooks his camera up to a lightning trigger that trips the shutter when it senses a flash. In lower light, he relies on an intervalometer that activates a sequence of photos. Weingart takes long exposures, sometimes keeping the shutter open more than 10 seconds to capture a lightning bolt’s entire zigzagging trajectory. Later in Photoshop, he tweaks the images, stacking up as many as 200 from the same location to show multiple lightning flashes over time.

Weingart can’t really explain why he does it, but his photographs do the talking. They’re awesome in the truest sense of the word, capturing the dangerous power and beauty of lightning so you don’t have to.

Space Photos of the Week: Light a Candle for Hubble, Still Gazing Strong

This isn’t just any Hubble photo of the Lagoon Nebula; this is a special birthday photo celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope’s 28 years in orbit. The Lagoon Nebula, seen here in dazzling color, is 4,000 light years away and is gargantuan as star nurseries go: 20 light years high and 55 light years wide.

This is a gorgeous photo and one you might not recognize of a famous astral body, called the Lagoon Nebula. The Hubble Space Telescope took this photo in infrared light, which reveals different elements of the nebula not seen in the visible spectrum. The bright star in the center is called Herschel 36 and is only 1 million years old—a fledgling in stellar terms.

Mars is covered in craters and while typically thought to be a “dead” planet, it’s actually quite active. Earth’s red neighbor has wind, although not strong enough to kill The Martian’s Mark Watney. This impact crater (a relatively new one by Mars standards) is called Bonestell crater, located in the plain known as Acidalia Planitia. The streaks in the image are caused by winds blowing down into the crater.

This photo of the Sun was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory some weeks ago. The dark regions are called coronal holes—openings in the Sun’s magnetic field—and when open, they spit highly charged particles into space. When these particles run into Earth’s magnetic field, they create spectacular displays of aurora near our northern and southern poles.

Hello deep space! This galaxy cluster has a name that is rather difficult to remember—PLCK G308.3-20.2, but it’s way cool. Galaxy clusters like this contain thousands of galaxies, some just like our own. They’re held together by gravity, making them one of the largest known structures in space affected by this invisible force.

Ready to shoot the moon? The new administration in Washington is setting its sights on some lunar adventures. Among the various reasons why people want to head back to the moon: There’s a decent amount of water frozen around our cratered satellite, and also the views from there aren’t too shabby.

These Surreal Portraits Are Like Mathematical Puzzles

Long before iPads, DVD players, or even Game Boys came along, kids killed time on long car trips playing with things like slide puzzles. The jumbled grids had square tiles, each containing part of an image, that had to be moved around into the right order to form, say, a cat or a dinosaur or maybe a happy face.

The photo collages in Kensuke Koike’s ongoing series “No More, No Less” are sort of like that. Except rather than restoring order to chaos, they do the reverse, rearranging ordinary faces into something completely bizarre. “I like to use the elements of real life to create something unreal,” says Koike.

Koike is a Japanese collage artist living in Venice, Italy. He started working with found imagery in 2012 after buying a handful of old photographs from an antique shop in Milan. His collection now contains nearly 20,000 snapshots, postcards, and other nostalgic ephemera that he cuts up using scissors, scalpels, and even a pasta maker, turning everyday life into the stuff of dreams. The head of a smiling boy becomes a planetary system; an ape’s eye sockets dispense balls like candy; President Trump’s face erodes into a canyon.

“Art isn’t just something in a museum,” Koike says. “It’s all around, and it depends on you to decide what is normal and what is strange, what is art and what is not.”

He began “No More, No Less” two years ago as a collaboration with photo curator Thomas Sauvin. Sauvin became obsessed with old photographs in 2009, when he started buying discarded negatives in bulk from a recycling plant near Beijing. Mesmerized by Koike’s work, he invited him to browse his archive of more than a million photos for source material. “I’m interested not only in what [images] can tell us about our past, but also about what they can become,” Sauvin says.

Koike chose a curious photo album made in the early 1980s by a photography student at Shanghai University that Sauvin purchased for a few dollars from a flea market in Beijing. It contained 5 x 8-inch lighting tests of portrait subjects, all taken from the same angle, plus the original negatives, silver prints, and comments from an anonymous professor. Koike loved its banality. “If the picture is already funny, there’s nothing left to do,” he says.

He challenged himself to alter the portraits without adding or removing anything—only rearranging the parts. First he’d scan the photo and print out a few copies to play with, making random cuts and tears to see where they led. Once he had an idea, he created a mock-up of the composition in Photoshop, then practiced cutting the final version on more paper copies before slicing into the original, physical photograph.

In Koike’s collages, a middle-aged man gets a cyclops eye, a woman’s hair becomes a beard, and all sorts of other silliness abounds. It’s sheer fun—definitely more so than those slide puzzles ever were.

A Glimpse of Life Along China’s Border With North Korea

When Elijah Hurwitz checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Dandong, China, he knew his room would have an extraordinary view: The hotel sits near the banks of the Yalu River overlooking North Korea. Out the window, a caravan of trucks with North Korean license plates rumbled down a bridge over the border, carrying supplies into Kim Jong-un’s country.

Hurwitz was in Dandong to shoot “Along the Yalu.” The photographs capture life along the icy river—which forms a natural 491-mile-long boundary between China and North Korea—amid heightened tensions between the two countries. “I wanted to understand how these tensions and expanded UN sanctions might be impacting tourism, trade, and everyday life,” Hurwitz says.

China is Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, meeting most of its food and energy needs, and much of that trade goes through Dandong. But this decades-old alliance has been strained by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Following UN sanctions last year, China stopped buying certain products, like coal and iron, and it ordered North Korean businesses operating within its borders to close. It was also said to be constructing refugee camps along its border, and one state-owned newspaper even advised locals on how to act following a nuclear explosion.

Hurwitz had been closely following the situation and was curious to see things up close. Since the US banned Americans from traveling to North Korea, he decided to visit the border region instead. In December, he flew to Beijing then took a seven-hour bullet train south. He spent the next three weeks exploring Dandong and a handful of other towns in Liaoning and Jilin provinces, photographing with Sony a7R II and Fuji X-T2 cameras.

He wasn’t the only one eager for a closer look. Chinese and South Korean tourists cruised down the Yalu near Dandong in big boats operated by travel companies. Hurwitz hired his own private speedboat for about $40 from a dock 20 minutes north of the city. His guide took him so close to shore that he could see the tiny plumes of breath exhaled by soldiers chanting and marching in formation.

But he didn’t have to look across the river to glimpse North Korea. A few shops in Dandong still sold North Korean dresses, art galleries hawked idealized North Korean landscapes, and restaurants served up turtle soup and other delicacies. At a North Korean hotel, performers serenaded dinner guests with traditional songs, along with a karaoke rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” just for Hurwitz. “It was kind of surreal,” he says.

Still, in many ways, life along the border was like life anywhere else. The elderly practiced tai chi in the park, dog enthusiasts walked their pups, and a group of swimmers took daily, invigorating dips in the river. It was a lesson in normalization.

“People who live here obviously can’t walk around worrying all day,” Hurwitz says. “But at the same time, someone told me how scary it was last year when their building shook from an earthquake allegedly triggered by underground nuclear testing a couple hundred miles away in a North Korean mountain range.”

That sense of normalcy rubbed off on him, too. Weeks after arriving in Dandong, the view outside his hotel window seemed almost ordinary. “It was like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s the bridge,'” he says. “‘There go the trucks again.'”

These Celebrity Portraits Are Fake. Sort of

This photograph appears to be a portrait of Britney Spears, but it’s actually a picture of her Madame Tussauds wax model.

Photographer Peter Lusztyk shot his celebrity “portraits,” like this one of Pierce Brosnan, at the Madame Tussauds locations in Las Vegas and Washington, DC.

The Madame Tussauds in Washington, DC debuted this wax model of President Trump last year.

Lusztyk built a portable studio inside Madame Tussauds to capture images such as this wax model of Snoop Dogg.

Lusztyk placed a white backdrop behind each wax model, like this one of wrestling star Stone Cold Steve Austin, to make them appear to have been shot in a studio.

The camera was positioned directly in the line of sight of each wax model, like this one of Bruce Willis, so they appear to be looking directly at the viewer.

Photographing wax models such as this Justin Bieber doppelgänger has the paradoxical effect of making them seem more lifelike.

Lusztyk is fascinated by the fact people can recognize celebrities like Mike Tyson without ever having met them.

This photograph of Zach Galifianakis’ wax model was prominently displayed in Lusztyk’s hometown of Toronto, where most people assumed it was the genuine article.

The title of the series, “The Uncanny Valley Portraits,” is a reference to the idea that human simulations that are too realistic—like this wax model of Sandra Bullock—make viewers uneasy.

Lusztyk shot his Madame Tussauds photographs, such as this image of Larry King’s wax model, in the morning before the museum opened to the public.

Lusztyk learned that every morning at Madame Tussauds, makeup artists give each of the wax models a touch-up, including this simulacrum of Evel Knievel.

Madame Tussauds designers went to Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central studio in 2012 to take measurements for this wax effigy.

The Madame Tussauds in Washington, DC focuses on political figures such as Nancy Reagan.

Many viewers believe they’re looking at the real person rather than a wax model like this one of Fidel Castro, Lusztyk says. “Once people realize what they’re looking at, there is this sort of revulsion.”

Space Photos of the Week: Morning Light Hits the Southern Lights

Astronaut Ricky Arnold was lucky enough to witness the sun rising over an aurora as the International Space Station passed over the Southern Hemisphere. Space station residents witness a sunrise every 90 minutes; aurora are less common, and when they overlap, it’s like the cookies and cream of celestial events.

Just when you thought Jupiter couldn’t get any trippier. This image was taken by NASA’s Juno Spacecraft at an altitude of about 8,000 miles during Juno’s twelfth orbit of the planet. The high altitude clouds—seen in white, towards the bottom of the frame—pop while the slate-and-dove colored whorls and wavy clouds of Jupiter zig-zag around each other down below.

Scientists were on the hunt for a hidden neutron star when they took this photo using the Hubble Space Telescope. In the center of the image are the blue wispy filaments of a supernova remnant called 1E 0102.2-7219—gas left over from the violent death of a star. The green and pink at the bottom right indicates an active star forming region.

This galaxy cluster called SDSS J0146-0929 is seen here warped by the fabric of space-time. That round feature is called an Einstein ring and it is caused by the mass of the object physically bending the light around it. That distortion bends the light of the objects behind it, and in this case the strips of light are dozens of galaxies.

This is a baby star called IM Lupi. Its formation is complete, but the disc of dust and gas that surround young stars like this one lingers on, material that will eventually form planets. As small particles of ice and rock impact and fuse, they slowly get bigger and bigger, until, over millions of years, the clumps form planets like those in our own solar system.

This Martian crater called Ismenia Patera is one of many mysterious spots on the red planet. There are two plausible events that could have created it—a volcano might have imploded on itself, leaving behind this massive scar. Or the planet could have been struck by a large meteorite.

Photographing the Lights of America’s Prisons—and the Lives Inside

Light is a symbol for life, as any night traveler knows. A warm glow up ahead means there’s a town full of people, with a gas station or possibly a McDonald’s where you can stretch your legs, use the john, maybe buy a Coke.

The lights in Stephen Tourlentes’ Of Lengths and Measures also represent life. Though here, there’s no friendly pit stop. Instead they beam from correctional facilities, the prisoners hidden from view behind miles of razor wire, cinder blocks, and electric fencing. It’s life many would prefer not think about.

“The prison system makes people invisible,” Tourlentes says. “It takes them, relocates them, makes them go away from the rest of us. But this light always spills back out onto the landscape.”

More than 1.5 million people are incarcerated in 1,800 prisons in the United States. That’s roughly 700 times the number of prisoners as in 1970. Harsh sentencing laws in the 1980s helped fuel this growth, leading to the construction of hundreds of correctional facilities and the establishment of the private-prison industry—often an economic boon to the struggling towns that received them.

That was certainly the case with Galesburg, the Illinois town where Tourlentes grew up. It had largely opposed the construction of the Hill Correctional Center until the mid-’80s, when two major sources of employment—a boat engine factory and the Galesburg State Research Hospital, which Tourlentes’ father directed—shut down. “We needed those 400 jobs,” then-mayor Fred Kimble told a reporter.

Tourlentes photographed the Hill Correctional Center while visiting his hometown in 1996. “The light given off by the prison had changed the landscape I had been familiar with,” he says. He hadn’t planned on documenting other prisons, but something about that first image haunted him. He started reading up on mass incarceration and the racial and social inequities it exposes. “It kept coming back to me, bothering me, sort of saying, ‘Pay attention to this,'” he says. “I became obsessed.”

That obsession fueled an extended, ongoing road trip. For two decades, Tourlentes traveled thousands of miles across 48 states by rental car with nothing but a marked-up atlas and the crackle of college radio for company. He’s visited more than 100 prisons—including notorious facilities like San Quentin State Prison in California, the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and Sing Sing Prison in New York—always arriving at night to gawk at the glow.

Tourlentes doesn’t step foot inside the prisons—other photographers have already covered that ground. Instead, he keeps his distance, shooting long exposures—anywhere from three to 20 minutes—with a large format camera from nearby roads, fields, and cul-de-sacs. His camera has a way of rousing suspicion and, though he’s rarely on government land, police still occasionally ask him to leave. “When I see them coming, if I can at least get the exposure started, I can sometimes stall them and explain what I’m doing while the picture is being made,” he says.

The perspective is powerful because it draws attention to the space prisons occupy on the peripheries of society. The bright wash of security lights amplifies their presence, bearing witness to the life locked away inside.

This Photographer Recreates ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Back to the Future’ in Miniature

Growing up, Felix Hernandez spent countless hours alone in his room, staging scenes with his extensive toy collection. Today, the Cancún-based photographer makes a living doing much the same thing, building elaborate miniature sets in his studio to shoot images for brands like Audi, Nickelodeon, and Mattel.

“I’m kind of nerdy,” Hernandez admits. “Since I was little, I preferred to be in my room playing with my toys, creating my own stories, instead of going outside and playing with the other kids. I think I’m still the same way.”

When he isn’t shooting commercial photography, Hernandez works on personal projects, often inspired by movies like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars. He builds each set from scratch on a large tabletop in his darkened studio, which is equipped with every conceivable model and part he might need. “I go there and I can stay one or two days, working 24 hours a day,” he says. “It’s my favorite place in the world.” (Not surprisingly, it’s also his six-year-old son’s favorite place.)

For his automotive photography, Hernandez starts with a standard-issue model car set, which he assembles, modifies, and paints to his exact specifications, including artificial weathering to make the car look like it’s been driven. He then builds the set, rigs up his lighting, and shoots the scene from multiple angles, trying to create as much of the image as possible “in camera” rather than adding it later with Photoshop.

Depending on the scene’s complexity, building the set and staging the scene can take Hernandez, who always works alone, between a week and a month. It’s that long, painstaking work that he finds most satisfying, even though all viewers will see are the resulting images. Losing himself in creating new worlds takes him back to his childhood, he says, to those long hours alone playing with his toys.

“The final result isn’t the most important thing to me,” he says. “It’s the process of getting to that final shot.”

Enter the Intense World of Competitive Yo-Yoing

Thousands of competitive yo-yoers participate in contests in the United States each year.

This particular event, the 2018 Pacific North West Regional Yo-Yo Contest, took place in Seattle in February and determined which regional competitors would advance on to the national contest in June.

In the 26 years since the founding of the National Yo-Yo League—the organization that puts on many US contests—the yo-yo community has grown exponentially.

The infrequent and audience-less competitions of the organization’s earlier years have transformed into flashier events, with divisions for the five styles of yo-yo play that have since come en vogue.

Yo-yos have also evolved dramatically. “[Yo-yos] started out as a toy, and the makers of them were making toys. Now they’re engineers making sporting equipment,” says National Yo-Yo League founder Bob Malowney. “These are definitely different than your grandfather’s yo-yo.”

Technological developments in yo-yo production led to the various styles of yo-yo play that fill the competitive landscape today.

“In the old days, it was more of a test of coordination,” says Malowney. “Nowadays, it’s a creative art, much like dancing or performance.”

At these contests, a panel of judges scores various aspects of a competitor’s routine, from the number of skills performed to the smoothness of their movements.

“People perceive yo-yoing as this wholesome American pastime,” says photographer Chona Kasinger. But shooting these kids as they practiced their for competition definitely elevated the activity in her mind.

“Just walking around, I felt like I might get smacked by a yo-yo at any point,” says Kasinger.

The makeup of the competitors skews young and male; the lack of age diversity can be attributed to the amount of time and dedication that it requires to reach a high competitive level, but Malowney is still unsure why more girls and young women don’t get involved.

Kasinger seeks out subcultures like the competitive yo-yo world in order to balance her more conventional commissioned work. “I say ‘yes’ a lot,” she says. “Jell-O wrestling to CEOs, I kind of shoot it all.”

Relying on her flash in the crowded, poorly lit convention center, Kasinger’s photos highlight only the yo-yo and its player, mirroring the way each competitor’s nervous energy translated into a “very outward display of focus,” she says.

The United States is one of 33 countries which hold national yo-yo contests. Other countries include the Czech Republic, Finland, and Singapore.

“The thing about photography is that, on a human level, you’re the outsider,” says Kasinger. “Being a photographer is being a professional outsider.”

“When these kids were yo-yoing, it seemed like nothing else in the world existed except for them and the yo-yo, despite the fact that the practice area was teeming with competitors, vendors, siblings, parents, and more,” Kasinger says.

Since shooting this event, Kasinger has sought out other yo-yo contests, including the Florida State Yo-Yo Contest in St. Petersburg. She also plans to photograph the National Yo-Yo Contest this summer in Chicago.

Space Photos of the Week: The Case of the Missing Dark Matter

We see a lot of space photos each week and they are always beautiful and unique. But some images make you stop and ponder how stunning and strange the universe really is. Last week brought news of an odd galaxy called NGC 1052-DF2 that is 65 million light years from Earth. It’s not your usual galaxy. It’s not shaped like one, really—just a nebulous faint blob of darkness with some visible stars. Yet this one is remarkable for other reasons too. Its clusters of stars are twice as large as usually seen in galaxies, which is weird. There’s one more thing: Galaxy NGC 1052-DF2 is missing most, if not all, of its dark matter, and scientists have no idea why.

Dark matter is a big deal: While scientists are still unsure of what the stuff is—weakly interacting particles, or something else entirely—it accounts for nearly 80 percent of the total matter in the entire universe, so finding a galaxy without any is nothing short of bizarre. And astronomers can’t figure out how this galaxy could have formed without the missing matter. Modeling and calculations suggest that galaxy formation relies heavily on dark matter; as the matter clumps together over time, it grows larger, eventually attracting other material to it.

Want to keep lurking around deep space? Get lost in Wired’s cosmic collection here.