Fact Check

Is This Image a Long-Exposure Photograph of a Lightning Bolt Hitting a Tree?

A spectacular lightning photograph is actually an artistic creation formed from two different images.

Published Feb. 2, 2015

Photograph shows a long-exposure shot of lightning striking a tree.

Some of the most spectacular images of natural phenomena in the annals of photography are long-exposure shots of lightning, such as this example reportedly captured by art photographer Amery Carlson during a lightning storm off the coast of Ventura, California:

A similar eye-catching image has been widely reposted on the Internet with captions identifying it as a "Long Exposure Picture of a Lightning Bolt Hitting a Tree," supposedly a sensational capturing of lightning striking a tree and producing an amazingly colorful result:

However, this image is actually an artistic work (a form of light painting) created from a composite of two different photographs, as the creator of this image, Darren Pearson of dariustwin.com, told us:

The original photo was posted to flickr on March 20th, 2010. It is not real, it's a composite of two photographs: One is mine (a photo of a tree taken at the Presidio in San Diego, CA) and the other is from the NOAA webpage:

My image is a long exposure, 619 seconds, taken at night. During this time, I used 'el wire' to create the blue smoke-looking effect, and a color-gelled spotlight to give the tree a pink glow.

The lightning bolt was an idea that my roommate Joey (also a photographer/filmmaker) had while I was processing the photo. He mentioned, "You know what would be incredible? A lightning bolt striking the tree!" I was amused by this idea, and added in the lightning, which I thought looked awesome!

I never intended it to be taken for a real photo of lightning striking a tree. It was meant to be an artistic expression, but turned into an internet misinformation fiasco.