How To Photograph Lightning – Tips, Tricks & Camera Settings Tutorial

How To Photograph Lightning

How To Shoot Lightning?

Lightning by far one of the most powerful exhibition of nature’s superiority over man. They are scary, destructive yet beautiful, giving them an unique combination which is awe inspiring and certainly worthy of photographing. Here’s our list of tips & camera settings to capture this phenomenal natural force perfectly.

Safety First

Lighting is dangerous, so safety first. Lighting usually accompanied by heavy rain and hail, you have to be prepared for that too! Some common lightning safety tips: Though inside a car you are safe, but may get shock if you step out of it. Avoid being the highest point in surrounding landscape, Stay away from objects that may conduct electricity, Keep alert for flash floods etc.  Read more on lightning safety tips here. It’d be wise to check your local weather forecast before you start & track them on here. It will give you an idea, where to follow storm, their pattern & pathway.

Essential equipments

Camera

You would require a camera that can be adjusted to shoot on a manual mode or at least on a shutter priority mode. All DSLRs/SLRs would come with that option; additionally there are some Point & Shoots as well which are capable of being used on Time Value (or Tv) mode.

Tripod & Cable Release (remote)

A sturdy tripod & remote is essential as you wouldn’t want the shot to be ruined because your camera wobbled in your hands during the long exposure. Any tripod will basically do unless it has a tendency to be easily knocked over by gusts of wind.

Rain protection for you & your equipments

Most cameras are not weather proof. So it is essential to protect them from rain, to function properly.

Lightning trigger (optional)

If you wanna skip the hassle of waiting & anticipation for lightning to happen you may try some dedicated lighting trigger. They will automatically trigger your shutter when a lightning strikes. They detect sudden changes in the light level and capture the scene (Lightning, fireworks, sparks, IR).

Lightning trigger

Exposure

Shutter speed

Lighting photography is kind of hit & miss. Probably the best & easiest way is to use a lightning trigger. However if you want to do it manually, the shutter speed has to be of a decent length which is sufficient to cover the lightning bursts. Select the Tv mode and then set the shutter speed to say 30 seconds to start off. You wouldn’t know for sure which direction lightning would strike; as such you’re basically pointing your camera in a direction and hoping that it works. A longer shutter speed will allow you to capturing any lightning that strikes inside the frame during the exposure time.

Aperture Value

Aperture Value will allow you to control the amount of light that is coming through. In case of lightning photography it is imperative that your shots are neither over nor under exposed. Starting with an Aperture Value of say f/8 you would be able to test out the settings and see whether they are giving great results. If the pictures appear washed out you need a slightly smaller aperture, say, f/11 or even f/16. If they pictures appear too dark use a wider aperture of say f/5.6. What Aperture Value you need depends also on the distance between you and the lightning. Say you’re looking down from a mountain and the lightning are happening say several miles away, they will appear darker and you will need to open up your aperture to compensate for the lack of light. Do the exact opposite if the lightning strikes are happening closer to you.

ISO

Use a smaller ISO number, ideally 100-200, to ensure that the streaks of lightning don’t wash out the pictures. Since lightning is too bright using a higher ISO number will only over exposure the pictures.

Focusing

Pre-focusing for lightning is a great idea, but the problem is you can’t see it until it strikes. That makes it difficult to lock focus on before hand. However there are few simple way to override this problem. Firstly, you can prefocus on any distant object manually.Secondly,every lens comes with a focusing distance guide. Look at the top of the lens barrel and you will see some numbers indicating the distance in ft between the subject and the camera. Hopefully at the end of those numbers you will see a symbol like this ‘∞’ which means infinity. Set your lens to infinity and get ready to fire away.

Lastly, take lots of shots. It is very difficult to find out perfect frame on location. So taking plenty of shots increases your chances of getting that perfect frame.

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