A lightning bolt touches down near the border between Ecuador and Colombia. Santiago Borja
As a professional pilot, Santiago Borja flies through all kinds of hair-raising weather. Most of it makes for great photos, too. But nothing tops the lightning bolt he photographed while cruising at 40,000 feet over the Amazon rainforest last month. “It was a very impressive display of light and power,” he says.
Borja lives in Quito, Ecuador and spends 800 hours a year flying passengers all over the world in a Boeing 767 (the airline won’t allow him to identify who he works for). He got the gig five years ago and got into photography a short time later, posting his favorite images to Instagram. If a photo-snapping pilot sounds alarming, don’t worry. He indulges in his hobby only while off-duty. “Since I fly long haul, I always have a lot of rest time airborne, so it’s easy to take a couple of minutes to take some photos out the window,” he says. Broja started with sunsets, but quickly realized storms are far more dramatic. His shot of a raging cumulonimbus over the Pacific earned him third place in the National Geographic‘s Nature Photographer of the Year competition last year.
He made this photo during an evening flight to Madrid on February 17. With a six-hour break ahead of him, Borja settled into a jump seat. An hour after takeoff, as the plane crossed the border into Colombian airspace, a massive storm cloud rolled into view. Borja grabbed his Nikon D750, peered out the window to his left, and fired off several frames. He wasn’t sure of just what he had until he reviewed the images later. “It happens so fast the eye isn’t able to appreciate the lightning,” he says.
It’s a beautiful photo and an amazing scene, but probably not the sort of thing you’d want to see so close while flying at 40,000 feet.