July - lightning You are here: Home About the photographer


My name is Harald Edens and I photograph lightning, clouds, atmospheric optical phenomena, astronomy, and everything else related to weather and science. I shoot about one or two 36-frame rolls of film per week on the average (or about 80 per year), and my photography takes up a lot of my spare time and money.

I first became interested in weather when I was 12 or 13 years old, and from that point my interest in it has been steadily growing. I don't want to miss any kind of interesting weather, if at all possible, and so I need to check the sky often. My weather photography passion consists mostly of observing, reading books, taking photographs and showing my work and obsession to the public, by having this site. This site helps me a lot to keep interested in the hobby, because of all the feedback I get.

Many people complain about the weather... well, at least in Holland they do! It is either too hot, too cold, it's raining, it's a grey day and such. I don't complain! I am very happy to appreciate every kind of weather. I have always something

Kansas, USA, June 2000
cloud to ground lightning

to look for, in whichever type of weather. Besides, the weather is not much predictable for long-term periods, so I may be in for a surprise anytime.

Where my passion comes from: first, lightning!

What exactly started my weather photography hobby, I still do not know. I think it was triggered by lightning, if you'll excuse the pun. I remember being terrified during thunder and lightning when I was a little boy. When I grew older, my parents one day forced me and my sister to view a lightning show, watching it from the house at second-floor. "There's nothing to be afraid of when you're inside the house..."

...FLAAAAASH!

My sister said she saw a very nice lightning discharge, like a flower, and that it seemed to visually advance from ground to cloud. I did not see anything, just a bright flash. I should also have seen that one, why would she and I not? Moreover, why was it going from ground to cloud rather than from the cloud down? This was begging for investigation. So I decided some day to go watch a storm myself, to also get to see the actual lightning discharge channels. Brrr! When a new storm did come, weeks later, I had little

Sun mirage as seen
over Lake Markermeer,
The Netherlands

faith in the theory that it is fairly safe indoors. I was really suffering keraunophobia - fear of lightning! But I managed to force myself to go watch the storm, all by myself. I believe I did see a nice lightning discharge, and I was stunned... I found it so beautiful that I forgot my fears and wondered whether this could be photographed also.

Then clouds, sunsets...

Well it could, but it was not easy so I tried many times to get a good picture of lightning, and then I started to get interested in other weather phenomena as well. First clouds, because I was flying sailplane at that time (I was around 15 or 16, then) and I needed to know some meteorology.

I think sunsets have always fascinated me, because of their beauty. When I really started photographing them there was, I think, volcanic activity somewhere around Earth (the ash and other aerosols a volcanic eruption dumps in the atmosphere intensifies sunrise and sunset colors).

Halo display, 11 June 1994
featuring rare Wegener arc

Atmospheric optics...

In 1994, I was 16 at that time, I got to witness a truly amazing and rare halo display right at my living place Wijdenes. My father called me and said there was a strange aircraft contrail or other strange cloud in the east. I looked, and without knowing exactly what it was I came into action. I did realize it was some optical halo effect, but I did not know it was the parhelic circle - at about maximal brightness it gets! I had never seen that before and didn't even know about it. I grabbed a compact camera and ran outdoors to the street. I was very excited to see all sorts of arcs crossing others, all unknown to me (it where the very rare colored Wegener arcs crossing the parhelic circle opposite the sun). There was also a bright white paranthelion (the 120-degree parhelion) with what I remember being an arc running through it. Not knowing what was rare and what was not, I photographed mostly the most spectacular halo - the parhelic circle.

Halo display, 26 May 1999
featuring odd-radius halos

When I looked to the sun, I saw more halos that were unknown to me. There was no 22-degree halo, one of the most common halos, but other strange shapes (it may have been Lowitz arcs above and below the left parhelion, or maybe the tangent arc above the sun was very impressive - I don't remember). I had the photos for a long time, and by 1997 they were online on my former simple web-page about weather photography for some time, until two experienced halo observers from Germany came across one of the photos and noticed the Wegener arcs. I didn't know they were rare. That made me interested in the matter, so I started reading books about it and other phenomena, to see how rare they were and what other phenomena were possible. Well, by then also my obsession to atmospheric optics started; it was April 1999. In May 1999, barely a month later and by pure chance, I got to see another extremely rare halo display involving halos from pyramidal ice crystals, and by then my obsession for atmospheric optics was definitely a fact! It is great to be so obsessed with a hobby that you don't care running to the street and taking pictures of the sky while the crowd is staring at you!

About my living place

Solar eclipse, 11 August 1999
viewed from Bulgaria

Before I temporarily moved to the USA for PhD studies, I lived in a town called Wijdenes (pronounced Waay-duh-ness), in The Netherlands. This small town is right next to the major lake in The Netherlands, called the Markermeer. Because of this lake, Wijdenes is not the most optimal place to be for a lightning photographer - which may have helped me get interested in many other weather phenomena. The weather in The Netherlands and in western Europe in general is very diverse. All the weather photography as well as all the specialized photography I'm interested in (lightning, clouds, aurora, sun's green flash, snowflakes, to name but a few) is possible in The Netherlands.

Mud crust on soil
(result of a storm-chase
without storms)

In August 2002 I moved to the USA for doctoral research in atmospheric physics. I now live in a small town in New Mexico, and although I don't get to see as much atmospheric optics as in The Netherlands, the night skies here are truly amazing. Central New Mexico has one of the very few locations in the continental USA that are completely free of light pollution. When the nights are clear here, and they usually are, the opposition light (Gegenschein) is readily visible, and with some practice the whole zodiacal light bridge can be seen faintly glowing along the ecliptic. Also, the summer monsoon season brings spectacular lightning that can be photographed relatively easily.

Other hobbies

Aurora Borealis
Wijdenes, NL, April 2001

Besides watching and photographing weather I used to design and build electrostatic loudspeaker systems, experimented a bit with electronics and high voltage, constructed model kits of aircraft, designed and construct radio controlled model aircraft, and made oil-paint paintings and drawings. All these activities are somewhat on hold now that I need a lot of time for my studies, and because all of the stuff is at my parents' house anyway.

I also like to build and experiment with science projects, like a tornado machine to simulate and study tornadoes. My first project, a 4 ft. tall tornado machine, is actually online on this site as a project for everyone. My latest project, which I finished in January 2000, was a 8 ft. tall machine, where I myself could walk into. The machine did not work well, and I thought I knew how to solve the problems, but I had no time, space or money to fix it. I will rebuild the machine sometime in the future, and put the design online as well.

Rime on car window wiper
(growing ice crystals was
one of the few things
my car could do reliably)

Photo processing

I process my films myself, originally in my father's darkroom that he built in the house. Now that I am out in the middle of nowhere in a rental home, I have to do with a kitchen sink and a dark storage cabinet. But it works! Processing your own films bears many advantages over processing by a shop or lab, especially concerning weather and lightning photography. There's so many ways a lab can ruin your photos, such as scratching the film, putting fingerprints on the frames, cutting the film strips through frames, or even completely wasting your photos by processing errors or switching with someone else's order. In my opinion, processing films yourself is cheaper, usually faster and certainly safer than bringing film to a lab. But all this will be history at some point anyway, when everyone starts using digital cameras - something I recommend for some weather photography but certainly not everything just yet.

Current and future plans

In 2000, I went to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT) in New Mexico, USA for 6 months to do an internship about thunderstorms. Since this was an option with my physics studies at the University of Amsterdam (UVA), I decided to take that step. After having lived with my parents for all my life, I went to the USA alone and did that research. That internship at NMIMT was a time and money well spent, since I decided later (in May 2001) that I would like to go back there after finishing my studies at the UVA.

The early years at the UVA were hard for me. I was bored with classes and was almost always a step behind the other students in my class. My grades were average to poor and even though I enjoyed a lot being out in nature and taking weather pictures and thinking about physics processes in the atmosphere, the real physics seemed like a spaghetti of formulas and theories to me. I was clearly missing the basis of it, and dexterity in mathematics (required to do physics). All this was partly because most physics courses were taught in a boring way, and because I had no idea what to do with it later anyway. How can you ever study physics and dump the formulae in your head without first being explained things in nature that you observe - a rainbow, waves on the water, or the stream discontinuity that you see in the sink when the water from the faucet spreads out on the bottom? Freshman physics should start with Minnaert's excellent books and not with linear algebra, complex analysis and quantum mechanics. Those subjects are interesting and useful also, but only after you excite someone's interest with real-world phenomena that you have been wondering about as a child. That's what physics really is (to me, anyway). It was such a shame that I only found that out after studying for 6 years. No wonder almost no-one wants to study physics!

My performance improved drastically after the summer of 2001, when I had made the decision to do PhD studies in atmospheric physics at NMIMT. Finally I had a strong motivation to study physics! I applied, and the verdict from NMIMT came sometime in February 2002 - my application was accepted. I barely succeeded in finishing all my remaining courses before August 2002, when I would move to New Mexico to study at NMIMT.

The courses that I had to complete at NMIMT were very different from those taught at the UVA. I was much more motivated, and enjoyed it. My grades reflected that, and I proved for myself that physics is not too hard for me to study. At the time of this writing, I've been here for four and a half years, finished my coursework a long time ago, and am analyzing data for my dissertation work. I hope to receive my PhD degree by the end of 2009. I am not sure what I will do after my studies. I like New Mexico a lot, so I am not particularly in a rush to get my PhD. I have the time of my life here: highly interesting research, and living in a nice area for weather photography and my other hobbies.

Several years ago I wanted to become a professional weather photographer (i.e. photography for a living), but I changed my mind about that after realizing that this would not be a good life for me - besides it being hard to impossible anyway. The reason is that I would not enjoy photography so much if I would do it for a living. I prefer to keep my photography a hobby.

I plan to keep this site online indefinitely, and I want to keep expanding it with more photos and information such as photography techniques. I want my site to be scientific and informative in nature, so it is most helpful to others with the same hobby or interest. I'd like to eventually have techniques for all kinds of weather photography online as well as providing an educational source about the weather in general. I don't know if it will ever get to this state, but it gives me a goal to try to reach. I hope this site will be a valuable source of information for you!

Harald Edens

Updated 15 January 2007