When Lightning Strikes / by 3.1

On the evening of Wednesday 27th of April, I was settling down to watch Supervet on Channel 4 with some leftover stew from the night before when I'd noticed the weather had started to turn with the clouds looming. Nothing out of the ordinary – the rowing clubs out on the Thames didn't really seem all that bothered, and I guess it was just a sign of heavy rain. This all changed however when lightning struck over Kew, and as the thunder quickly rolled over, the rowers started to turn back rather rapidly. I live under the Heathrow flight path, and I looked out across towards the treeline of Kew Gardens where I can normally see the landing lights come on. It was then that another flash came through, but this time I'd noticed it had hit a plane.

Curious, and with little experience of photographing lightning, I set up a camera on a tripod in the bedroom and pointed it towards the skies, doubtful I would get a shot of another lightning bolt striking a plane. Only I did get the shot – albeit poorly executed. But when I cropped the image I could just about see that the lightning bolt had struck the aircraft.

I didn't really think much of the photo, so I posted the cropped image and the original to Twitter (and to my friends on Facebook). As you do. Because aeroplanes get hit by lightning all the time, right?

It didn't take long for it to go a bit mental and have the likes of three Evening Standard journalists on my case. I completely despise the likes of Mark Chandler, but when I said I didn't want him using my images in the Evening Standard or on their website, they just embedded the tweet anyway. It turns out that some journalists don't like taking, "No," for an answer. (Later on, I decided to just delete the Tweet anyway just to spite them.)

Turds. At least the Evening Standard attempted to ask me about using the images before embedding the tweet. The Daily Express just went on ahead and cited "Twitter" as being a source, which lead to some Australian news channel getting the image off them. The irony is the fact that the Express went through all the effort to find out where the picture was taken, but couldn't be arsed to drop me a line.

I can sort of understand why professional press photographers who make a living out of going from news story to news story absolutely hate social media in a way. You're having to compete with other people in the game to earn your keep, only to have unknown users on Twitter or Facebook willing to have their name plastered on an online article for a few days before it drops away into the darkness of the website archives. Only I wasn't prepared to have my name plastered so that some newspaper that earns loads of money could use the image for free, because I don't understand why massive firms like these think it's OK to post something because they feel credit to you is payment enough. What? It just devalues everyone else's work. I'm lenient with not-for-profit sites (there were a few weather enthusiast sites that approached me) because that's a completely different game.

The picture ended up on some news channel in the US.

The crop ended as a background for some of the tweets they showed on the BBC London News at 6pm on the Thursday evening. 

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By Friday, the image ended up on the front page of the BBC's website linking to the article.

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Forget Friday for now. On the Thursday, my phone was pretty much unusable. Ever wondered what happens if you have notifications turned on for something like Twitter when one of your tweets gets retweeted or liked, but many times over? Your battery dies within hours, but before that, you're phone just crashes all the time. In the end, I had to restart my phone, quickly turn on Airplane Mode, clear all the notifications I had, and then turn notifications off. Thankfully, I have two phones, so I could at least stay connected to emails without having the phone crash on me halfway through typing one.

By this point, two news agencies got in touch with me to offer some help with managing the image, as well as getting it out to the press in a controlled fashion. This also meant being properly reimbursed for the use by the likes of the Daily Mail (I know) and other tabloids.

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Now I've just got to wait for these people to cough up, but thankfully now I am working with a news agency it means someone else is doing the chasing for me. I've been able to submit further work to them too (I recently covered the Canalway Cavalcade in Little Venice over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend), so I guess something good came out of having my phone bricked for a day.

I don't think I'd enjoy the same thing happening again anytime soon though – so the lesson is to go to a news agency first. I think.