Weathering the Storm With “The Lightning Man”

James Insogna, aka “The Lightning Man,” has been chasing the perfect shot for more than three decades. Insogna’s collection on Imagekind is full of spectacular views, amazing shots of lightning, and woodsy dreamlands. Learn more about The Lightning Man got into the profession and how much work he puts into every single photo.


 

Surround Yourself: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into photography?

 

James Insogna: I started back in the day with my parents’ old box Brownie—you would hold it at your waist to take a photo. Next I had a 110 Instamatic camera. You would put a dead flash on it to slow down the shutter, and things kind of progressed from there.
 

I was a musician in high School and when I realized I would never make it as a rock star, photography became my creative outlet. I studied with The New York Institute of Photography. Next I opened a studio in Boulder in the early 80’s. In 1987 when the economy got bad in Colorado, I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and became staff photographer for Phoenician Arabian Magazine photographing champion horses.
 

It was in 1987 when I shot my first photo of lightning and was hooked from then on. “The Lightning Man” was born.
 

After being in Arizona for 20 years, I decided to move back to Colorado since I was missing the seasons and mountains. I grew up in Pittsburgh and the Allegheny National Forest around it. I love Colorado because it reminds me of home in a way but the weather, including the winters, are so much nicer here. Lot of sunshine out west. Great photo opportunities, too. So everything is meant to be.
 
At first I thought I would have to go back to Arizona for storms but it turns out Colorado season is much longer and crazier, like tornados. I have not really been into that—only lightning, but there may be a tornado in my future. We’ll see… and hope not to see any flying cows.
 

 01 Longs Peak Lightning in Black and White

 

SY: Nature plays a huge role in your collection, from garden vegetables to landscapes to storms. How did you discover that you had a knack for that particular subject?
 

JI: As I said In 1987 I started shooting lightning thunderstorms in Arizona. It was very exciting to shoot film and wait for it to be developed, then come back and see some incredible images of a storm. When you see it in person, it’s gone in a flash. But when you get it on camera, the storms stops in time and there is beauty everywhere.
 

I have a friend that said to me one day… “You know, not everyone likes lightning.” That always stuck with me and I wanted to be a very versatile photographer while still having my style and fame for storms. A lot has changed over the years and tons more people are shooting them now, the power of the internet.
 

This next season in the spring will be my 30th year chasing lightning. When the storm season rolls around it really takes over my life. This next one may be my last, but I have a feeling I will just pick my storms and shoot a couple over the season. I love going out on a hunt to create art, looking for that gem in the rough. Living in Colorado makes it easy. There is beauty everywhere. But then again, I can find beauty anywhere.
 

 02 Colorado Eastern Plains Sunset Sky

 
SY: It seems you’ve traveled quite a bit. Tell us about your most memorable location or experience taking photos.
 

JI: Well there is nothing like being in the high elevation of the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the middle of the night or in the middle of nowhere in Utah. Lots of magic happens. In one of my astrophotography shoots, there was a herd of moose bedded behind us.
 

The other would be the Praying Monk Lightning shoot. It took three years for it to happen. It was exciting and scary at the same time to get the shot, as this storm with lightning bolts hitting this giant rock all over the place… circled the Camelback Mountain and the Praying Monk. I got the shot and the rest was history.

 

03 Praying Monk Camelback Mountain Paradise Valley Li

 

SY: When you’re not behind the camera, what do you enjoy doing?
 

JI: Great food, good wine, cooking, and hanging out with friends and family. Of course a good walk in the woods never hurts.
 

SY: What might surprise people to know about being a professional photographer?
 

JI: How hard it can be at times and what we go through with dedication, travel, time, weather, really strange hours, and all the money spent to get these shots of creativity. You always have to upgrade equipment, too.

 

04 Arizona August Evening Monsoons


 

SY: Your storm photography photographs are beautiful. Does your process vary for taking storm photographs versus others in your collection?
 

JI: Yes, taking storm images and weather photography is very different than all the rest. There are danger and safety elements that you always have to be aware of, then you have the challenges of rain, wind, and damage to your equipment.
 

You have to be prepared cause you never know where you will end up or how long you might be gone once you get into it. It can be very exciting at times but also scary. Safety is always number one, and you really have to be careful not to get into a bad area with flash floods or stuck somewhere and become part of the problem.
 

Weather photography can also be very helpful in storm warning. I am a registered Skywarn/Spotter. This next season with be my 30th, and may be my last. Storm season takes over my life and it is really hard to plan anything. You need to be out there every night. But it IS in my blood so I will probably just pick my storms and not dedicate myself as much to the whole season. Time will tell on that one. When thunder roars… I am out the door.
 

05 Camping Under Nighttime Milky Way Stars

 

SY: Is there a particular shot or piece in your collection that you’re most proud of?

 

JI: Rollins Pass Sunrise. It is amazing to be above 10,500 feet and look out to the plains. The colors of the early sunlight and city lights made for a colorful print.
 

I also enjoy Perseid Meteor Shower and Chapel on the Rock, photos from Brainard Lake, and the Boulder Canyon Series including Boulder Canyon Dreamin’.

 

It is always hard for me to pick favorites because my favorite is what I am shooting right now or just got done shooting. I have never been good at knowing what will be the best sellers. Autumn is the best time of year in Colorado, much like July and August are for lightning in Arizona. Since I do lightning and Colorado nature landscapes, if I had to pick from my Colorado Lightning Gallery, it would be Lightning At Horse World in black and white. This took a couple years to catch, and this was back before digital and Photoshop while I was shooting on film. Also the Lightning and the Praying Monk series is a favorite. The series took three years to catch and was a crazy scary shoot.
 

The shots of lightning in front of Longs Peak with reflections are popular. From nature landscapes, it would be some of the big colors of sunsets and sunrise. A few things that are big factors in my work: moving light, cars, planes, stars, reflections, sunrises, sunsets, timed stacked, weather, and astrophotography. Oh what was the question? One piece? LOL….

 

06 Lightning at Horse World

 

SY: Photography is a tough business. What keeps you going on those days where you’re not feeling creative or when you can’t seem to get the perfect shot?
 

JI: I feel very lucky that I don’t get into many slumps. The one thing that always has worked for me is a keep a running shoot list. Images that I want to work on and it IS a long list. So when I get into a dry area for ideas I go to the list.
 

SY: What do you surround yourself with?
 

JI: Positive thoughts, good karma and positive people that have a great sense of humor. I cannot stand negativity and drama. As soon I sense any of it I run the other way, so a walk in the woods is always great for the mind, heart and soul.
 

07 Winter Forest Golden Light


 

Shop the full collection by The Lightning Man James Insogna at Imagekind!