Weather Photography Tips: How to Capture Lightning on Camera
March 20, 2015
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If you enjoy listening to a spring thunderstorm roll in, take your satisfaction a step further and document the lightning show, too. Weather photography takes ample practice, but seeing a spider web of lightning bolts captured in one frame is simply magical — and worth the effort.
Choosing a Location
Safety comes first when tracking a thunderstorm. Position yourself inside a secure structure such as a garage doorway, in your home with an open window or inside the doorway of a cement restroom facility in a park. If the weather escalates suddenly, take shelter and forego your photography session.
When looking for an ideal place, choose a vantage point that allows for a wide view of the sky with a few sturdy items in the foreground. Trees with twisted branches, a historic structure, such as a rural church, or even a cityscape work well. This gives your viewer a realistic perspective and shows the size of the lightning as compared to the stationary objects.
Setting Up Your Gear
To capture lightning, you need a stable camera setup, weatherproof gear and the ability to trigger the camera shutter remotely to avoid camera shake, which will create blurry images.
First, place the camera on a tripod. Activate the remote shutter release function, and keep the remote in your hand so you can respond quickly when the storm starts. Manually focus on something in the sky, such as clouds or an airplane. To keep the images crisp, use a low ISO or film speed equivalent setting. Try ISO 100 or ISO 200. If the images are too dark or underexposed, change this setting to ISO 400 or ISO 800 to brighten the pictures.
Use the time value (Tv) exposure mode, then set the shutter speed to 15 or 30 seconds. Trip the shutter when the first bit of lightning is visible. This tells the camera to record for several seconds while the lightning strikes are illuminated. This longer shutter speed allows more light to enter the camera, so the foreground items are brighter and the night sky turns a deep purple or blue hue.
In Tv mode, allow the camera to automatically select an aperture setting with a large depth of field (or large plane of focus), such as f/8 through f/22.
Be willing to experiment with a few exposure settings and see which work best for you. Each storm is different, and every location has a varying amount of ambient light, such as city lights and reflections, such as a lake or coastline.
The No. 1 Factor
Once you have everything ready to go, you just have to wait for the right moment. Patience is the key to great weather photography. Since it's safest to set up before the storm moves in, you may need to stay poised and ready to trigger the camera's shutter for several hours.
Have you photographed the weather? What's your favorite scene to capture? Share your favorite weather photography moments in the comments below.
Photo credit: Flickr