Have you ever wondered how to Photograph a Bolt of lightning? How can you know to trip the shutter at the exact instant that lightning strikes?
Today I will demystify the secret of capturing lightning with your camera. Along with a few photography tips and tricks.
What u need:
Have you ever noticed that lightning pictures are always at night? That’s because the shutter is left open for a long time sometimes as long as a few minutes allowing it to capture any light that appears in front of it and increasing the chances of recording a bolt of lightning. Had the camera shutterspeed been slower than 1 second during the day time the whole sky would be severely blown out with no visible detail. However in a night Landscape where there is virtually no ambient light the shutter can stay open for minutes at a time without overexposing, greatly increasing the chances of capturing the elusive lightning bolt.
Since there was almost no ambient light, Even with An exposure of 99 seconds long the sky was still very dark allowing lightning to record if it were to strike
Step One: set the camera to Manual Mode “M”, as a starting point Set the ISO to 200 or 100, set the aperture to f/7.1, and set the shutter speed to “Bulb” For Nikon DSLRs spin the shutter speed dial all the way down till it says “Bulb” on the LCD. For Canon cameras set the Main mode dial to “B”. (“Bulb mode” is where the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter release is depressed)
Step Two : if you have a raw editing program, set the camera to shoot Raw images this will allow you much greater leeway to adjust color and shadows later, if not jpeg will do. Set White Balance to Tungsten/Incandescent
Step three: Place camera on tripod, connect cable release and remove all filters from the lens
Step 4: put the camera/lens in manual focus. Set the lens focus ring to infinity. For Nikon turn the focus ring all the way to the right than turn back just a tad, For Canon turn to the left.
Step 5: press and hold the Cable shutter release to open the shutter till you see a bolt of lightning, let go of the shutter release and check the shot on the LCD, if the lightning is not bright enough lower the Fstop number or raise the Iso a bit, if the lightning is too Bright close down the Fstop and lower the ISO, zoom in and check sharpness if not sharp adjust focus and reshoot.
Image from above, shot at: ISO 200, F/6.3 with a shutterspeed of 12 seconds
When photographing lightning and there is some ambient light in the shot such as a cityscape or bridge the shutterspeed cant be too long because the ambient lights will overexpose and “Blow out” in this case u will be better off experimenting for a few shots how long your shutterspeed needs to be to expose correctly for the buildings then dial that into Manual mode. The photo below was taken when photography was just a hobby of mine, I had no tripod or cable release, it was shot with a Kodak point and shoot, for a long while it was the shot I was most proud of.
Its not all about the gear! Shot with Kodak V610 point and shoot, set down on a ledge and using self timer to trip the shutter, ISO 64, f/3.9 at 8 seconds.
On close in inspection I noticed some CA (Chromatic Aberration) on the Lightning. Chromatic aberration is the red and green colored fringe on the left screen shot, CA is a factor of different color rays of light not being focused in the exact same spot on the sensor resulting in color fringing, generally CA is usually not noticeable and tends to appear on very high contrast edges and around the corners of the frame on cheaper lenses. One click on the CA removal checkbox in Lightroom did a great job as u can see on the right.
top photo with CA, bottom photo with CA removed in LR
Shooting in Raw gave me great latitude in adjusting color in post, by dragging the Temperature and Tint sliders to the far right gave me this fiery red look. finally using extra long shutter speeds even at low at a low ISO can still produce Noisy/grainy photos i try to keep the shutterspeed not slower than 30 seconds long. If u have 135$ to spend u can also buy a lightning shutter trigger this cool but pricy piece of equipment has a censor that is supposed to trigger the camera the moment lightning strikes!
Any Questions or comments? I would love to hear your feedback, thanx for reading! Be sure to also check out my article what is Shutterspeed