Author Topic: Taking lightning pictures  (Read 10707 times)

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Offline Clive

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Taking lightning pictures
« on: July 29, 2009, 03:54:15 AM »
How to take lightning pictures

Prologue. On July 25, 2009 I was fortunate to witness an intense and long lightning storm. The sample shots below are from that event. I've taken numerous lighting storms before...this was the best one ever. I had lots of chances to try different things. I started based on past experience and made adjustments as I went. You can see from the EXIF data provided that there is a range of shutter speeds...sort of depends on frequency and intensity of flashes. Amazingly two of the sample images were just one-second exposures, meaning the shutter was opened, there was a flash, and the shutter was closed. Sort of tells you how many flashes there were that night. No matter what you do, some will be poor and some will be great. Here is a slide show with many about twenty pictures taken that night.
http://clives.shawwebspace.ca/photos/view/lightning_show_/
 
Technical  stuff and how it is done …

1) A tripod is necessary. The camera must be stabilized as exposures range from a few to 30 seconds—or way more. Any lights in the scene (a bad thing anyway) will appear blurred if there is any camera shake.
 
2) ISO 100 allows longer exposures and also finer grained images.
 
3) A mid-range aperture of about f6.3 to f8 has worked for me. F11 or F16 could be used if you want were lots of flashes in a single picture. At f11 or so the clouds tend to be too dark of you want just one flash in a picture. One of the samples was taken at F10.
 
4) It is desirable to have either an electronic cable shutter release or a wireless shutter release. 
 
5) A wide angle lens set at “wide angle” broadens the view for catching flashes. The samples here are almost all taken at 16 mm. You can use a longer focal length if the lightning is in a narrow range and farther away. Try various focal lengths.
 
6) Get set up with the camera pointing where it should be—or you think it should be.
 
7) Set camera on manual focus and focus on infinity.
 
8 ) Set camera shutter speed to B, then when you click the release, the shutter opens and stays open until you click it again.  (May vary with camera models.)
 
9) WB can be set on AWB or daylight. I preferred the "daylight" setting. No color manips have been done in the sample images. As I recall, the WB was set at daylight on the bottom two images and AWB on the top two. Try either and see which you prefer.

10) Click. Wait. Pray. There is a flash. You click again to close the shutter. If there are no flashes you can close the shutter at about 20 seconds or so. However, if it is dark and you want several flashes on one “frame” leave the shutter open for several flash event. This may be two or three minutes.
 
11) Repeat ... one hundred times if necessary and possible.
 
Non tech stuff ...
 
A) Need an area where there are few lights and clutter such as power lines and buildings—unless you specifically want a cityscape with lightning—your choice.
B) Darkness is good so you can take long exposures thus enhancing chance of catching a strike. If the evening sky is still quite light, the length of time the shutter can be held open is reduced and it is just more difficult to catch a lightning flash.
C) An intense lightning storm makes the task easier and gives a higher probability of success. 
D) A healthy dose of luck helps.
 
Suggestions, comments and questions are welcome.

Thanks.

Clive

Samples
All taken at ISO 100 and a focal length of 16 mm. Exposures were quite short because this specific storm was quite intense. Many of the flashes were behind clouds to the actual lightning was not visible in many images.

F6.3    1 second


F6.3    1 second


F10     6 seconds


F8       10 seconds




« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 03:55:49 AM by Clive »
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Offline Tom F

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2009, 04:21:30 AM »
Thanks for the tips. I hope to give it a try soon.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 03:55:02 PM by Tom F »
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Offline chappo1

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2009, 05:40:01 AM »
Thanks for the tips Clive.  I took a look at your slides and they are terrific.  You should put into something like Proshow gold with some crash and thunder music...john
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Offline Frank [aka Wires]

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2009, 05:57:47 PM »
Thanks for taking the time to write and post this Clive. EXTREMELY interesting... not sure when/if I'll get a chance to try it out but your shots are certainly inspiring :)
Frank (aka Wires)
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Offline groovyone

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2009, 07:04:11 PM »
Ironically, or just bad timing, I had just shot a couple on Monday.  I wish I had read this first.

The whole sky was lighting up, so I just picked an area to aim, 20-30 seconds on a tripod:





there was a lot of heat or ball lightning lighting up the clouds between the vertical strikes, so it oddly lit some spots.

Offline peterf

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2009, 07:34:10 PM »
Great Stuff, Clive. Thank you for sharing. We are just into our summer storm season so I hope to have an oppurtunity to try this out. Great job on your images.
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Offline Clive

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2009, 07:38:05 PM »
Thanks groovyone. Your pictures look good. You can see that foreground lights can interfere.

BTW...I can only see your pix by viewing copying the URL (as a mod I can go inside your post) and pasting it to a URL window ... then viewing. Smugmug might prevent viewing inside message boards...I dunno.

EDIT: Peter posted and NOW they show up. Weird pooter stuff.

Cheers!

Clive

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Offline groovyone

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2009, 07:39:17 PM »
Thanks groovyone. Your pictures look good. You can see that foreground lights can interfere.

BTW...I can only see your pix by viewing copying the URL (as a mod I can go inside your post) and pasting it to a URL window ... then viewing. Smugmug might prevent viewing inside message boards...I dunno.

Cheers!

Clive



Yeah, they did interfere.  I had accidentally had the External Links setting wrong on those galleries.  It should work now....I hope.

Offline Rob aka [minolta mad]

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2009, 05:38:26 PM »
Great guide Clive, very useful.
Just need some lightening now.


Rob

Offline Clive

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2009, 01:33:03 AM »
One week to the hour we had another intense storm last night. The rain started so I had to quit during the best strikes.

Not quite as sharp as last weeks ... far away ... cropped hard ...

f7.1, ISO 100 and shutter open for 47 seconds. This picture shows two or three separate strikes in the same zone.



You can see here the left strike..there is a fuzzy burst at the base where it hit the side of the mountain. The strike as ~ 25 km away. (Checked on Google Earth..fairly close estimate.)



« Last Edit: August 03, 2009, 01:35:09 AM by Clive »
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Offline Numpty

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2009, 10:26:07 PM »
Wow really amazing shots I tried some recently but it was too cloudy without much fork lightning and in a very well lit area before dark so they are rubbish.
Inspiring stuff clive.
Also I stuck a ND4 and polariser on to allow me longer shutter speeds while it was light.
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Offline Stef.

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2009, 10:48:52 PM »
Thanks Clive for this very good article. Could we make sure it is stickied?
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Offline Dragonflys

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2009, 10:25:57 AM »
Clive

Im using a Sony 200a  i was wondering how to take lighing shots i dont have the B thing on m  ine i have P,A,S and M i dont have b i was wondering how to do it. your advise would be great

Offline Faldrax

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2009, 12:12:17 PM »
Clive

Im using a Sony 200a  i was wondering how to take lighing shots i dont have the B thing on m  ine i have P,A,S and M i dont have b i was wondering how to do it. your advise would be great

Hi, welcome to Dynax :-)

To get the shutter to 'B' you need to set the mode dial to 'M' (manual).
Then simply decrease the shutter speed (IE Open the Shutter for longer) and eventually it will turn to 'B'.
This stands for 'Bulb' (a historical reference to the way early remote shutter switches worked), which means the shutter will stay open as long as you have the shutter button pressed.
Although a remote shutter release is highly recommended for this, it certainly does not need to be a genuine Sony one.
There are several companies which make their own versions - provided it has the correct Sony / Minolta style connector on the end it will work. These 'copies' cost from about £10 upwards.
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Offline Clive

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Re: Taking lightning pictures
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2009, 03:10:13 PM »
Dragonflys .. sorry I missed this. Faldrax covered it well. Just go to M and adjust speed until you reach B.

I sort of "lied' ... :-[  :-[ :-[ :-[ :-[

You SHOULD use a tripod and electronic release. The three large pictures in the sample set (in the first post) were all hand held. :-[ :-[  (Okay, the camera was held firmly against a solid object.) BUT it was completely dark with no lights at all and the only light came from lightning flashes..so the hills were reasonably sharp because the lightning acted as a flash. So I got away with it, but it is not recommended.

Cheers!

Clive

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