Storm chasing - A timelapse of a stormy Kuala Lumpur

For a good number of years now, I have been very fascinated by photographs of lightning and dynamic weather phenomena. The sheer exhilaration one must feel while shooting such a scene is unimaginable to me. Not to mention the thrill, excitement and euphoria afterwards when, after reviewing the shots taken, one finds out that at least a shot made it all worth it.

Needless to say, it has been one of the items in my bucket list, as an enthusiast photographer. Viewing it as a rite of passage kind of thing, I reckoned that it'd take me to a whole new level when I get the chance to finally capture that highly-elusive lightning shot. Ironically, even though inspired, I haven't really taken concrete steps to realize such a dream.

Until now.

In the past few weeks, I've had several opportunities for accomplishing such a shot. For anyone who doesn't know, the city of Kuala Lumpur has a very dynamic weather system especially during the last months of the year. A day can start off with clear blue skies above brilliantly sunlit-buildings, becomes cloudy and gloomy in the middle of the day, and ends with a thunderous, torrential and stormy evening which sometimes causes flooding in certain parts of the city. This type of weather pattern can be expected in almost a daily basis, it's insane not to bring an umbrella or other protective rain gear when going out and about in the city, whether for work or leisure.

In my new place in the city, I have access to a public balcony that offers an amazing vantage point, offering a view of almost the whole of Kuala Lumpur and its beautiful skyline. I have scouted this location several times, getting to know the time of day it is accessible by tenants, which area is optimal when setting up for a shot, the right field of view for the job as well as the correct camera settings to dial in once the moment arises. No doubt, I have to include the KL skyline in the shot for it to have meaningful impact.

A view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline during sunset
Kuala Lumpur skyline on a clear afternoon

One late afternoon, such a chance presented itself. Earlier that same day, from my apartment window, I could see that outside, the skies were becoming dark and gloomy. A signal that there was an oncoming storm. When I went to the balcony and checked, I saw that a storm system was forming in and around the vicinity of the Petronas Twin Towers. I thought to myself ,

This might be the day!

Quickly, I went back to my apartment and started grabbing my gear: the trust but old Sony A7 camera, CZ 55 f/1.8 lens, timelapse remote and my little gorillapod. So that there were no surprises, I always made sure that this setup is ready to go at a moments notice: batteries on both the camera and remote are fully charged, memory cards are empty and the lens clean.

Setting up by the ledge, I made sure that the gorillapod legs are wrapped up tightly around the steel railings so it's stable enough for what I was about to do. I have decided to shoot a timelapse instead of just manually firing shots. With the setup done and camera settings checked, I triggered the timelapse remote and it started taking the shots. However, I realized, on time thankfully, that the storm was creeping up towards my condominium. In a matter of minutes, the place where I was at was slowly getting droplets of rain and later intensifying into a downpour. I hesitated for a little bit, thinking of just leaving the camera there. However, logic prevailed and I tore down the setup which I carefully positioned a few moments ago and went back to my apartment, ready to accept defeat for the day.

An hour went by and things outside started to clear a little bit. I decided to take look out on the balcony again, by the area where I previously set up my camera (which was quite drenched with rain at this time) to see what can be salvaged off of the situation. I saw that the storm clouds have receded back towards the Petronas Twin Towers area but it was still "active", meaning, lightning and thunder, and presumably rain, were still going on there. Hurriedly, I went back to grab my gear and did the whole setup once more. After verifying that every settings were in order, I clicked start on the remote.  

Shot after shot were taken, while on the horizon, a spectacular show was unfolding before my very eyes. I could see that I've gotten some very nice shots when I occasionally glanced at the camera screen, but I had no idea yet if those were great or not. After an hour or so, I adjusted my camera composition to include more of the sky which was being lit up by the lightning every so often. By the time I was done, nautical twilight has passed and I had taken more than 500 shots.

Upon reviewing my "haul" for the day, I was very ecstatic to see that not only did I get several awesome shots of lightning but I that I've also gotten one of my best shots ever!

Using the shot above as inspiration, I soldiered on and developed an epic timelapse that I am joyfully sharing to you now, my dear readers.

I hope you enjoy watching it. If you like, you can follow me on Instagram and/or Youtube for more of these in the future. See you around!

Lhar Gil
Kuala Lumpur