How to take lightning picturesPrologue.
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.
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