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How To Photograph Lightning

Trying to photograph a lightning storm can be a bit of a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you increase your chances of capturing that split-second flash.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Lightning


Gear:

  • Camera which can take long exposures or has the Bulb setting
  • Wide-angle lens – get more of the sky in frame to increase your chances of capturing lightning
  • Tripod/bean bag
  • Remote release

Technique:


Storm Clouds

You need to meter and focus on the sky and use a smaller aperture to capture as much detail as possible in your shot. If parts of sunlit sky break through the clouds you could end up with blown out areas so use a polarising or ND filter to even the exposure out.

Lightning

Lightning can be very dangerous so use your common sense and read up on lightning safety tips and don't shoot too far away from a house or your car. Lightning is a little unpredictable and like with rainbows, you have to be in the right place at the right time to capture it. During a storm, if you spend a few minutes watching the sky you'll see that lightning will fall in the same areas intermittently. You can't predict the exact place the next lightning fork will strike but you can often pick out an area the next one will fall in.


Make sure your camera is secure

Ideally you need a tripod but a bean bag on a level surface will also hold your camera steady. If you have one, take your remote release with you so you can set exposures going or keep the shutter open if you're using the Bulb setting without knocking the camera.

Long Exposures

You'll increase your chance of capturing lightning if you use a longer exposure, around 30 seconds should be enough. If your camera has a Bulb setting, and you have a way to keep the shutter open, use this method to increase your chances further. You'll need a piece of card to cover the lens which you can remove when you think lightning's about to strike and hold back in place when it's happened. Timing is everything but after a few strikes you should get the hang of it. You can also buy a remote that tells your camera to take a photo as soon as they sense a lightning flash but this isn't something you'll probably need unless you're venturing into weather photography or storm chasing. Storms can occur at any time of day but trying to use longer exposures during the day can lead to overexposed skies so wait for an evening storm when the sky's darker.

Manual Focus

Auto focus tends to struggle in dark conditions so instead of missing several strikes because your camera couldn't focus, focus manually and don't touch it again once you have your focus point. Focusing to infinity can help keep each lightning bolt sharp. Unless you have some foreground detail you want to include in your shot, which you'll need to use a smaller aperture for, a wider aperture shouldn't cause you too many problems as you should be some distance from the storm.


Where is your horizon?

If there's a particularly fantastic storm you can move your horizon up slightly to capture more of the sky but generally, it's good to have objects in the frame as they help create perspective and further enhance the size/power of the storm.


Stack your shots

If you keep your camera completely still and don't move positions between shots you can combine various frames with stacking software to create and image that has several strikes stretching across the sky.


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