Last week I featured some of my first successful lightning photography images. Today I wanted to take that concept a bit further and show you how I was able to capture them and my thoughts on the experience. If you’re curious about the process I took to capture the photos as well as how I edited them be sure to check out my latest Let’s Edit video which takes you through the processing of one of the lightning bolt photos I captured.
What I Did And Why I Did It
Being my first attempt at lightning photography these captures were probably luck than anything else, but it does help that I did some research as the storm was approaching and was able to make some educated guesses as far as settings go. So if you’re hear you’re probably in my shoes wondering how to set up and capture bolts of lightning safely.
The Camera Set Up
For this first attempt I really didn’t want to be out in a storm. While it’s not something that’s absolutely terrifying to me, I wanted to be in a place I could focus and learn, rather than risk getting drenched and have other things to worry about. So I found a window with a good view of the sky and pointed my camera out of it. As you can see in the photo below I set the camera up well before the storm arrived (it’s quite bright and sunny here) this allowed me to easily set a focus point and take some test shots before the storm was upon me.
I used a piece of cardboard and duct-tape to seal the window. You can’t photograph lightning through a closed window or you’ll end up with all sorts of unwanted reflections and photographing through a screen could cause problems as well, however, an open window allows for the inside of your house to become filled with mosquitoes and when the storm comes, it’ll probably get soaked. The best results will be captured if there’s nothing between your lens and the lightning strikes.
Camera Settings For Lightning Photography
My choice for settings was to use my Nikon D7000 and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. For this set of photos I ended up shooting at 13mm, f/9.0, ISO 100 with a 20 second exposure. Let’s now break it down a bit and talk about why I chose the settings I did.
- Focal Length – Being as unpredictable as lightning is I knew I wanted as wide of view of the sky as possible so I choose my wide angle lens and composed the shot to include as much of the sky as I could (FYI I thought I was at 11mm until I ended up looking at the EXIF data I probably tapped the lens or something while doing final adjustments of the cardboard).
- Aperture – I wanted a relatively small aperture so that I could keep the image sharp as well as allow for longer shutter speeds.
- Shutter Speed – At a 20 second shutter I was still slightly under-exposing the image (see the SOOC frame from a non-lightning strike below), but I wanted to do this as I knew when the lighting strike occurred there would be more light available. This longer shutter speed also allows for more chance that a flash will occur when the shutter is open and even has the possibility of catching two or more flashes in a single exposure (This did not happen for me).
- ISO 100 – Again this helps to keep the shutter speed slow and of course results in nice noise free images.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
Now this set up is all fine and dandy, but it’d suck to simply sit there for the length of the storm hitting the shutter button every 20 or so seconds, so I set up the built in intervolometer to take care of this for me (most newer Nikon DSLRs have this feature I’m not sure about other manufacturers though).
Alternative Method of Photographing Lightning
For those who want a bit of an extra hand in capturing their first lightning photograph there are more precise options than simply setting your camera up and hoping for the best. Lightning triggers attach to your camera and take the guess work out of the process of photographing lightning, however, they aren’t cheap, or well the good ones aren’t.
Some of them work by sensing the flash of the lightning strike the moment it occurs and then triggering your camera’s shutter to catch subsequent flashes as lightning often will flash more than one time per strike.
If you’re interested in this route you can check out the current prices of lightning triggers on Amazon today.
- Be Safe – Lightning is dangerous and while rare it is possible to be struck if you’re not taking precautions.
- Tripod! – I didn’t mention it above, but don’t forget your tripod. You’ll need it!
- Cross your Fingers – Photographing lighting is much like fishing. You can do everything right and still walk away with nothing so set up to the best of your ability and hope for the best.
- Have fun – Always remember to have fun when take photos, the worst thing you can do is become frustrated or annoyed with a storm. This of course goes with any shoot – no one likes a grumpy photographer.
That’s about all I can tell you about my first experience capturing my first lightning bolt photos I hope you learned something from this post – if you did – please consider sharing it so others can find it as well.