Judged by size, it’s an accent; judged on content, it’s the picture. Can an accent become the leading actor? Absolutely. For this reason, I’m cautious when I approach a technique like rendering lightning.
I’m amazed at how a tiny portion of an image can become the dominant element. The lightning bolt in Induction i comprises less than 1% of the total area of the image. Yet, it dominates the composition.
Certainly, the central placement of the lightning increases the amount of attention drawn to it. I planned to create an imbalanced composition with the effect tucked away in a corner, expecting it to draw the eye with a great deal of force, no matter where it was placed. I tried many variations of this image. Having weighed them all, the central placement felt right. I noticed during this phase of creation that the bolt drew even more attention than I expected at any point along the horizon line. I’d expect that in a quiet image or a minimalist composition, but the ability of this device to draw the eye is surprising even among dramatic or busy compositions like this.
I can’t seem to introduce this element, lightning, without it becoming the focus of an image, or at the very least without it setting up a powerful dialogue with its environment. It either steals the show or it becomes the center of a conversation it strikes up with other elements in the image.
Perhaps this thin white line is seen as a visible confirmation of the power sensed in the sky. These boiling mammatus clouds are signs of severe weather, precursors to flash floods and twisters. We pay close attention to signs of danger. If timed properly, if lightning strikes or thunder rolls, we’ve been conditioned by superstition to feel as if a higher power has spoken. In many insurance policies, lightning strikes are exempt from coverage as they are considered “acts of God.”
While we pay attention to signs of danger and power, we also pay a great deal of attention to short-lived phenomena. We’ll wait hours to watch the Northern Lights. We’ll brave the dark and the cold to see a shower of meteors. We’ll chase around sharp corners or over high ridges to catch a glimpse of a rainbow. Often these events last a few moments, sometimes less. Lightning lasts the shortest amount of time of all these dramatic effects.
A great deal of the attraction of images made of short-lived phenomena is that they hold these things still, allowing us to consider them many times and at great length. Through images like this, we can relive a moment over and over again and we can see the world in a new way.