Bolts from the blue – and the grey: The amazing pictures captured by a storm chaser who will travel 300 miles for lightning
A flash of lightning, its fierce tendrils joining for a split-second the heavens and the Earth, is one of the purest distillations of the awesome power of Mother Nature. So it's no wonder that ancient cultures from Greece to West Africa to the Middle East to the Indus Valley have identified the ferocious thunder bolt with their most-powerful gods.
And its capacity to capture our imagination has waned little with the passage of time. Even in our era of scientific certainty, when a flash of lightning streaks across the sky, its magnificent power and attendant rumble is enough to arouse a primal dread in even the boldest. It's that fearsome majesty which spurs Australian photographer Craig Eccles to travel up to 300 miles in anticipation of a major storm - just so he can catch it on camera.
'I have seen bolts stretch for miles across the sky,' says the photography teacher from Perth, Western Australia. Though, he adds: 'For me, it's not all about the lightning bolt - sometimes it's being in pitch black and in a split second, it appears as day.
'Every storm is a spectacle in itself and you never know where it is going to hit. For me it's a rush. I love it and can't get enough. Being caught in the moment and capturing it all to share is amazing.'
WHAT CAUSES LIGHTNING?
Across the atmosphere of Earth, lightning flashes about 50 times per second, 4.3 million times a day and roughly 1.5 billion times a year.
But remarkably, despite its frequency, the mechanisms that govern its appearance are not well understood.
What is known is that lightning consists of a massive electrostatic discharge between electrically charged regions within clouds, or between a cloud and the surface of the Earth.
A typical cloud to ground lightning flash culminates in the formation of an electrically conducting plasma channel through the air that is usually in excess of 3 miles tall, from within the cloud to the ground's surface.
Lightning primarily occurs when warm air is mixed with colder air masses, resulting in atmospheric disturbances necessary for polarising the atmosphere.
However, it can also occur during dust storms, forest fires, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and even in the cold of winter, where the lightning is known as thundersnow.
On Earth, the place where lightning occurs most often is near the small village of Kifuka in the mountains of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On average, this region receives 158 lightning strikes per square kilometre per year.
Other lightning hotspots include Catatumbo in Venezuela, Singapore, Teresina in northern Brazil, and 'Lightning Alley' in Central Florida.
Oddly enough, Australia is relatively quiet on the lightning front.