For Yoshiki Nakamura, the mechanics of capturing an image aren’t the most challenging aspect of photography — it’s being present when something important happens.
Nakamura captured a memorable moment in Seattle on Sept. 7, 2019, when an unusual lightning storm rolled through, delaying a UW football game, closing the Washington State Fair in Puyallup early and sending people outside to watch the storm unfold.
About 2,200 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes hit between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. that night, and Nakamura was there with his camera. His striking image and execution of this moment is why, for the second time, he has won the grand prize as The Seattle Times Reader Photo of the Year for 2019.
Ironically, in his winning image of the storm, Nakamura had been watching the weather for a completely different reason.
“I’d been monitoring the weather from the morning to prepare to capture the northern lights in Seattle,” Nakamura said in a recent interview.
The forecast indicated a chance to see the northern lights that day, but with clouds and thunder moving in, Nakamura switched gears. He rushed to Kerry Park and was surprised to see so many people already there. He decided to include the people in the scene as a part of the final image.
Nakamura says there are two practical ways to capture lightning. One is to use a shutter-trigger device to detect lightning and activate the camera’s shutter. The other way is to set time intervals and expose the scene for as long as possible.
“I tried to use the trigger device, but I [didn’t] have high confidence it will trigger properly,” he said in an email. “I decide[d] to use time interval method considering it [was] already dark enough to set longer exposure time.”
In order to have the shutter open for a long time and not overexpose the city lights, Nakamura set the exposure time to eight seconds and shutter interval to 10 seconds, ISO at 100 and f stop to f/10.
The only obstacle? It was very windy, with heavy rain.
“I had to cover the camera the whole time and hold my umbrella to protect the lens from getting wet,” the photographer said.
Nakamura said he took about 400 images over the course of an hour. Out of those 400? Only two images were usable, Nakamura said. He felt very fortunate an image worked out.
In his interview with the Times in 2017, Nakamura said his goal was to become the best photographer in Seattle. By winning the Reader’s Lens grand prize for the second time, he feels he is getting closer to achieving his goal.
But his joy from photography doesn’t come from winning awards; it’s about achieving and capturing the image he set out to make. Sometimes — specifically with this photo — they turn out better than he expects.
This year’s contest was judged by several members of The Seattle Times photography staff.