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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

How Mike Eliason's Storm Photos Went Global

Mike Eliason shot images of Tuesday night’s violent and spectacular storm for 90 minutes, standing in the open at the end of Stearns Wharf, before deciding it was time to pack it in.

“At one point there was lightning flashing on all four sides and spider webby ones above me,” he recalled. “I thought, ehh, I probably got enough.”

Eliason, once again merging his official duties as Public Information Officer for SB County Fire with his matchless skills as a news photographer, produced a series of stunning and iconic photos that swiftly went around the world, displayed by news organizations in print, video and online, from Mexico City to Mumbai.

A year ago, Mike gave Newsmakers the scoop about his extraordinary photos and videos of the Thomas Fire and Montecito disaster. On Thursday, we caught up with him to get the backstory on his latest tour de force.

On duty, along with most other emergency responders, he kept an eye on the storm with a weather radar smart phone app and he saw the big thunderstorm cells moving in.

“I’m just fascinated by lightning – we just don’t have it here, except maybe a little bit in August,” he said. “I didn’t want to go up into the hills -- I didn’t want to be high up - and cloud cover might have obscured” his view.

So he headed for the Wharf.

“Standing on a wooden wharf, with a metal tripod, out in the open – what could go wrong,” he laughed.

As the storm tracked north, Mike set up with his Nikon D750 and 24-70 mm lens, shooting frames of between 15 and 75 seconds, “to record as many bolts on one frame as possible” then tweeted out images via the camera’s wireless capability.

As the first cell went through, there was a lot of lightning but not a lot of rain. As the second cell approached it brought more rain.

“You know how you’re taught to count (the interval between lightning and thunder) when you’re a kid,” he said. “This was ‘flash and boom’ at the same time.”

At that point, the Falstaffian Eliason decided the better of part of valor is discretion and headed back to his rig.

Check out Mike’s Instagram feed, eliasonphotos, for more.

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