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William Jennings, Pioneer Work in Photography of Lightning, 1930

Zig-Zag Patterns

Jennings' success in photographing lightning paved the way for further research on the structure of lightning. Viewing his slides, scientists could discern distinct and varying patterns of electric discharge which result in the bolts of lightning that electrify the sky during thunderstorms. By all accounts, Jennings was inspired to attempt to photograph lightning after witnessing artistic renderings of lightning. He found that most artists depicted lightning as having a zig-zag shape, and set out to discover whether or not lightning did, in reality, have a zig-zag form. He determined that it did not, but on the way to this conclusion he discovered many of the forms it does take. The Franklin Institute Awards Committee assembled a report outlining the different varieties of lightning Jennings photographed, accompanying each form with its corresponding photograph.

Jennings first photographed lightning on the evening of September 2, 1882. You can view this initial success by clicking on the thumbnail at right.