How do I photograph lightning?

I cant show you a better image than the ones here in this blog, These were taken by my good friend Alan Highton in Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Alan guides us on our lightning workshops in Venezuela

I cant show you a better image than the ones here in this blog, These were taken by my good friend Alan Highton in Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Alan guides us on our lightning workshops in Venezuela

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is todays question.

Question: How do I photograph lightning?

Answer: Once you have figured out where the storm is going to be, it is time to set up and get the shot. One thing many people overlook is trying just to get a photo of lightning itself and ignoring the composition of the shot. This way, once you DO get a lighting strike, the photo will be that much better!

But let’s step back for a second and think about safety… It is not advisable to be standing in an open field next to a metal tripod during a thunderstorm; this is where the remote shutter comes into play. Once you have set the camera up, you can set it to shoot continuous frames – then leave it there and wait in a safe location until the storm passes…. In your car, inside a building, etc… but not under a tree. ;-)

Now, a common mistake people make when shooting lightning is exposing for the scene they are shooting instead of exposing for the lightning shot. Shooting lightning has a LOT in common with flash photography, where the majority of the light in your photo will be coming from the strike itself and not from any ambient light sources. No Moon and hopefully no street lights

I set the f-stop to about f/8 or even greater if I need to cut the light even more to get the exposure correct on the strike. You will want to set an exposure time for between 20 and 30 seconds, for which by the way, without lightning will be totally black.

The settings I find that usually work for me are around f/8, ISO100 and 30s for lighting that is very powerful and very close. As previously mentioned, I can stop down, maybe to f11, or sometimes go to f/5, ISO100 and 30s for lighting that is a bit farther off in the distance. Then just let the camera take continual images.

For those of you that are thinking, “Wait, he said 30 seconds exposures, but said wait in safety. How does he continually take images?”

It’s called an intervalometer … I set the camera settings and program the intervalometer to continually take 30 second exposures for as long as I program it too.

For a lens you will want to be using the widest lens available to you, and when framing the shot keep the horizon as low as possible in the photo while maintaining an interesting scene – as most lightning happens in the sky… and remember, the lightning is our target, with only minimal foreground only to frame the scene.

One last tip. It is important to be focusing manually. This is also a must! You do not want your camera hunting for focus with every photo.

Set your focus and take a few test shots focusing on something far off in the distance until you have it nice, sharp and in focus – this should get you somewhere near the hyperfocal distance of your lens and allow your lighting strikes to be in focus, and still maintaining focus on the foreground subject.

If you have any further comments, please add them to the comments section below. The more feedback and ideas the better.

Thanks for reading,

Northof49Photography

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Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.northof49photography.com Blog: http://northof49photography.com/blog/