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Photo Release: “The Hand of Zeus” by Dan Piech

The highest definition VAST photo of a lightning bolt strike from a thunderstorm over the Hudson River and Tribeca Pointe in the Battery Park City neighborhood of New York City; created by Dan Piech

A 5,449-megapixel VAST photo

New York City
At 5:11pm on July 25, 2016, New York City witnessed one of the most impressive lightning strikes ever photographed. An enormous bolt rocked Downtown Manhattan and Jersey City, completely spanning the Hudson River – and I had my camera set up to capture it.

It was a sweltering day at the height of summer and a thunderstorm was quickly approaching from the west, spreading an oil-slick of darkness in front of it. I’ve photographed countless storms, but as this particular one roared in from a distance, I knew it was going to be special. A beautiful wall cloud was quickly advancing in front of the rain curtain, electrifying the sky with cloud-to-ground lightning.

Brimming with excitement, I perched myself high up on a building in downtown Manhattan. The air, still thick with the smell of a sunny summer afternoon, was eerily calm as I set up my gear and began exposing images, hoping to capture one of these strikes branching out in front of the rain. Being exposed and elevated hundreds of feet outside with my camera wasn’t the safest idea, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

Suddenly, an enormous bolt pierced the sky with a sound so deafening that my ears were ringing despite the hearing protection I had on. An incredible number of stepped leaders raced toward the ground, one of them connecting with a large metasequoia tree in Battery Park City, instantly exploding all 80 feet of it into thousands of pieces. Another one of the leaders crossed to the New Jersey side of the river and connected with a luxury high-rise not too dissimilar to the one that I was on.

For an instant, New York and New Jersey were joined by one of the most powerful forces in nature. It was a beautiful and humbling moment of sheer power.

I’ve spent over a decade chasing thunderstorms, exposing tens of thousands of images along the way, and coming closer than I’d like to being struck more times than I’d like to admit. Almost always, these occasions fail to yield any photographs worthy enough to show for the effort. The public is never privy to these empty harvests and the toll they take. However, as an obsessive photographer, I’ve continued to head out into storms time after time, undeterred, all in the hope of eventually having the good fortune to be granted an awe-inspiring moment like this.

Note: I spent hundreds of hours meticulously transforming the original 40-megapixel single-exposure photo into this 5,449-megapixel VAST photo that identically mimics the original. Learn how I did it.  

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