Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to Take Photos of Lightning

It took me a very long time to be successful at even capturing a single lightning strike, but with a lot of patience and a little bit of knowledge you can capture some of the most incredible sights that nature affords us.  Lightning can be captured both during the day and at night.  I will discuss how to do it in both lighting conditions. What is most important to know about photographing lightning is that it is dangerous under any circumstance.  Follow all possible safety precautions.

Lightning at Night
This is obviously the easier time to photograph lightning.  Darkness allows you to capture the entire strike and as well as in cloud lightning that illuminates the storm.  Its also the safer time to photograph lightning because you can be further away while still being able to see strikes both in the cloud and from the cloud to the ground.
  1. Get AHEAD of the storm.  The best lightning is viewed from in front of the storm before it begins raining.  You can't shoot lightning in the rain. 
  2. Find a large open spot with a clear view of the storm.  Ponds/bodies of water are exceptionally great for this.
  3. Use a tripod and a shutter release cable/remote.  You must be able to keep your camera perfectly still for a very long period of time.
  4. Manually focus your camera.  Auto focus will not work in the dark!  To ensure your lightning is in focus either use a far off point of light  near where the lightning is that you can clearly see and focus it in or simply set your lens to infinity (where the total field of vision is in focus).
  5. Put your camera in manual mode.  
  6. Set your ISO setting for as low as possible.  You don't want noise in your photo! 
  7. Set your shutter speed for a very long time.  Consider even using the bulb setting!  Finding a shutter speed that works is difficult and depends on the amount of ambient light in your scene.  You may have to do some trial and error to get it correct.
  8. I haven't found a preference for aperture at night yet....  But I am leaning towards a moderate to higher setting so if the landscape lights up it is also more in focus with the lightning.
  9. Keep track of the storm!  Don't let it sneak up on you.  Know where it is going and what to expect from it.  
  10. Don't risk your safety!  

    Lightning During the Day
    It is much trickier to try and capture lightning during the day!  Not only do you have to be close to a storm because its much more difficult to see lightning, but you can't leave you shutter open for more than a fraction of a second!  Lightning photos during a daytime storm are all about fast reactions.  
    1. Get AHEAD of the storm, but out of the rain.  You will have to be closer to visual the lightning, usually uncomfortably close... within a couple of miles or less.   To get this close and not get rained on you may have to find cover.  
    2. Use a tripod and a shutter release cable/remote.  Even though you won't be using the extremely long shutter speeds you would at night the shutter will be long enough to require a tripod. 
    3. Manually focus your camera on the point where you are intending to shoot.  This is easily done because its light outside and you can easily see everything.
    4. Put your camera in manual mode.
    5. Make your ISO setting as low as possible.  This will allow for the longest possible shutter speeds and increase your likelihood of catching a lightning bolt. 
    6. Increase your aperture setting so its as high as possible.  This will not only allow for the entire landscape to be in focus, but also for the longest shutter speeds possible without over exposing your photo.
    7. Set your shutter speed for as long as possible where the image won't be over exposed.
    8. Take a couple of test photos to make sure the exposure is desirable.
    9. This is the most important part... Hold the shutter release cable/remote in your hand and have the button ready.
    10. Push the shutter button on your cable/remote as soon as you see lightning.  You need quick reflexes for this!  Or you could continually take photos, but at 1/10th of a second it won't take long to fill up your memory card.
    11. Again... DON'T RISK YOUR SAFETY!

    Don't be discouraged if you are unsuccessful the first several times you try this technique.  It is not an easy one, but a very intense and fulfilling one once you achieve it!  If you have the ability to track a storm on a mobile device I suggest doing so.  I use a radar application on my iPhone that pinpoints my location and shows me continuous up to the minute radar so I constantly know not only where I am, but what the storm is doing. 
    Best of Luck for a safe and happy storm shooting!

    If you are successful in capturing a lightning shot please share the link below!  And if you have any other questions on how I take lightning photos or what else you could/should do when trying to photograph lightning please don't hesitate to ask. 


      1. Fabulous instructions! Thanks for sharing.

      2. Thanks for the tips! I tried to take lightning photos just last was a spectacular show, but I wasn't ready with the tripod, etc. and had to pull out my camera quickly. I did get one decent one, but most were way too dark or my reaction was too slow...or both! Try, try again when we have the next big thunderstorm...

      3. Thanks for your ABC's on lightning! I think it's awesome you are such a storm chaser! I'm usually hiding inside listening and watching from inside!


      I love and appreciate all comments! If you have a question please ask away and I will certainly reply.