Lightning really does strike twice

A flash of lighting is seen over St Peter's Basilica Image copyright Alessandro Di Meo

As the world reeled with the news that Pope Benedict XVI was to resign, another bolt from the blue was to hit the Vatican within hours. This time quite literally.

A bolt of lightning - surely not a message from above - was photographed striking the lightning rod on the top St Peter's Basilica, not by one, but two photographers. Or, indeed, maybe more?

One of those was photographer Alessandro Di Meo, who was in the area following the breaking news of the resignation. When the first bolt struck, he immediately moved to a position where he would be able to record another strike. It was, he says, a race against time but also against misfortune.

"While I was cleaning the lens from raindrops a first lightning bolt hit the dome and I could not help but watch," he says.

"Bad luck. However it was not enough to discourage me, so I went on to persevere in an attempt to try to make the picture as well as I had imagined. I tried again several times until a bolt of lightning struck the cupola just as I was taking the shot."

For those not aware, to take a photograph of lightning you must open the shutter and hope - or perhaps pray. You can't wait until you see a flash and press the shutter release, as you will, of course, have missed the event.

The trick is to frame the shot and set the camera for a long exposure, then any bolts that appear in the frame will be captured in all their glory.

Di Meo's camera was in fact balanced on a fence to ensure it did not move during the long exposure, though no doubt a tripod would have been used had one been available. He set his camera for an exposure time of eight seconds, at f/9 aperture and 50 ISO.

"Of course, the camera was set to manual and I mounted a wide angle lens that allowed me to include the whole church in the frame," he says.


Inevitably there were discussions around the authenticity of the picture, but as long as you know what you are doing, and have some luck, then lightning pictures are not too tricky. Saying that, I can gladly own up to having missed a few in my time.

The skill, as demonstrated here, is good framing and ensuring the result is dramatic.

"I understand that the picture may be incredible," says Di Meo. "Photos of lightning have always been done, but the only difference, in this case, is that it is the right place and at the right time."

AFP photographer Filippo Monteforte was also in the right place at the right time. He captured the same scene having also found a good vantage point sheltering in the columns around St Peter's Square. He shot on a 50mm lens and waited for two hours. He told AFP, "The first bolt was huge and lit up the sky, but unfortunately I missed it. I had better luck the second time, and was able to snap a couple of images of the dome illuminated by the bolt."

And of course who can forget the picture of lightning seeming to strike the Eiffel Tower or bolts striking the Bay Bridge in San Francisco by Phil McGrew.

If anyone reading this also recorded the moment do get in touch and send your picture to Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you.