The Full Guide on Capturing Lightning on Camera

Lightning is scary and yet a gorgeous part of the natural beauty. We find watching lightening mesmerizing and we have all enjoyed photos of lightning, so many bolts captured with just one photo sometimes does not seem possible. But as you read on you will see that it is possible. Not only is it possible, it is also possible for you to do with a little practice and patience.

Catching lightning in a photo is difficult due to its unpredictability and trying to capture the split second on film. What we can do is let the lightning do the work for us. We do not need to catch every bolt of lightning, and using the proper techniques we will capture something beautifully unique. It just takes some practice and technical know how to get the results that you are looking for while taking lightning photographs.

By using a film at slow speed, or an ISO for digital cameras, long exposure time, and small aperture we can capture the lightning by using it as a source of light. You can set the exposure from many seconds to as little as 1 second; it all depends on the lightning and whether we are working in the dark or in the daylight.  The lighting conditions are still diminished during a storm in the daylight hours by at least 7 stops and sometimes more than sunny conditions.

The best thing is to have our spot all picked out before the storm happens. It can be any type of subject matter we desire… A good idea is to choose a spot before a storm so you already have plans on where to go and get set up. Finding the right spot to shoot is just as important as the subject you choose to shoot. Shooting lightning gives you a variety of choices and it is fun to try to shoot different subjects during a storm.

If you are setting up your camera outdoors it is best to use your tripod with something extra to help hold it in place in the instance there is high winds that we can’t control. You will want a cover for your camera that is also waterproof to protect it from the elements. You should employ the use of an air bulb release for the camera because there is no metal in the tubing; this will protect you in case of a lightning strike to the camera, you must always think of your own safety when setting up for this type of photo. Set your camera at f/16 and the (B) setting for the shutter. Set your lens to infinity or a focal point off in the distance. Now that the camera is set up you should take cover in a place where you plan on tripping the shutter to shoot your photos.

Camera: Sony DSLR-A200 Exposure: 10 sec (10) Aperture: f/4 Focal Length: 20 mm ISO Speed: 100 Exposure Bias: 0/10 EV. Photo by stevoarnold, Flickr

If you do not choose to set up outside you can use the assistance of a window-pod and attach it to your car window or even take the pictures from an indoor location. If you choose to take a picture from indoors, you will want to make sure all of your interior lights are off. If your taking the photo from inside your car, be sure to keep the windows up so the camera is protected at all times from the elements.

Taking the photo is merely keeping the shutter open long enough to catch a few bolts of lightning. To manage this the right way, we should be taking several shots because we can’t measure the exposure caused by lightning. This will easily take a full roll of film, but if you are in luck and have a digital camera you are ahead of the game. You will find that you have many great pictures and some awesome effects from the lightning. We can not finish a section about filming lightning without mentioning that it is very dangerous. There are thousands of volts in a single bolt that would make our electric companies green with envy. Even those that are electrocuted as a form of punishment do not receive the same voltage as 1 bolt of lightning.

You should always protect yourself when out in a storm and you should seek the shelter of a building or inside your vehicle. The task is to be sure you are grounded and not touching the ground yourself. The lightning is attracted to tall objects and it is not always safe to stand under a tree. You may want to take a great picture, but safety comes first.

A precursor to the eminent strike of lightning is if you suddenly feel the hair on your neck stand up on ends. Get away from that area immediately if you begin to feel this and you are outdoors. Always wear protective clothes like rubber boots, coat and hat, it is not a guarantee to your safety but it does help.  Always stay away from tall objects outdoors as they are a conduit to the electrical charge and you can be zapped just for being near the object, not to forget, you do not need a tree falling on top of you!

  • Selecting a camera – with lightning photography it is recommended you use a digital camera to cut the cost of film, but any camera that has a bulb will do fine. The digital camera will save you money in the long run because you can expect to have many photos on a roll that you will see are not useable.
  • Selecting the Lens – Usually the wide angle lens is a better choice when catching lightning. You can get much more sky into the photo and that offers a better chance of catching lightning. The lens choice depends on what you’re shooting so be prepared.
  • Tripod – You should get a tripod that can stand up to the weather conditions. It is a good investment if you plan on doing this type of photography. It does not have to be the most expensive on the market, just a good tripod that can stand up to the conditions is enough.
  • Noise reduction – If you are the owner of a Canon EOS 400D or the EOS 30D you should keep the noise reduction turned off. If you leave it on and you increased the exposure time, you will have to wait longer to take the next picture and that could mean a loss of great photo ops.
  • Settings of ISO – You should set to the lowest speed. This will give you a clear picture and you are using the tripod anyhow.
  • Timer and Mirror Lockup – You should enable the timer on your camera if you’re using the cable release. If you want to minimize movement you should enable your mirror lockup.
  • RAW – Use this setting because the editing is much easier so you can develop your photo with different balances of white. Capturing the different balances of white can really change the look of your photos.
  • Aperture – You should keep the aperture value between f/5.6 and f/8 this will allow you to capture more than one bolt at a time due to the longer exposure time of your camera. An aperture that is faster than f/5.6 may be over done and an aperture of f/11 or smaller might not get you the result you’re looking for.
  • Exposure – If shooting during the daylight hours let the cameras inner light meter fix the right exposure, if at night use the tips to find the right exposure.

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  1. April 17, 2010

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