In one of my on-line courses at Betterphoto.com, a student asked me if the images of lightning I use in my composites are real or if I drew them somehow. I assured her that the lightning photographs are, indeed, real. I explained, however, that a few years before I had lightning images in my photo library I tried many things to simulate it. Nothing ever worked. It's impossible in my opinion to create artificial lightning and make it look real.
I did try one experiment for which I had high hopes. I passed electric current through a piece of 4x5 inch color film in the darkroom and then developed it normally in E6 chemistry. Unfortunately it never produced the kind of bolts that we see in real lightning pictures. The image I got was pretty interesting, though, and you can see it here. I've used this as a background for some of my composite work, and I've attached one such example. This is one of the techniques I demonstrate in my home Photoshop courses (click here for more information on this). Putting images together is a way to create visually compelling photographs, and I've been doing this from the beginning of my involvement in photography.
When I joined my first stock agency in 1987, the owner of the company told me they needed lightning shots. Since I had always wanted to capture lightning, I was excited to do it. I lived in Southern California at the time, and there is virtually no lightning at all in that part of the country. Therefore, I drove about 5000 miles over a two year period throughout Arizona, Utah, and Nevada looking for storms in the monsoon season which is July and August. In that time, I got seven marketable pictures that still sell for me more than 20 years later.