How to Take Pictures of Lightning

Lightning is simply incredible. The sparks of electricity fleeing the sky fill me with dread and amazement. Capturing lighting may be a thrilling experience for a photographer. We cover all you need to know about photographing lightning in this post. This article will thoroughly equip you to take on the challenge of shooting lightning, from gear to camera settings and composition.

Equipment Checklist

  • A few of lenses
  • a video camera (and a back-up if you need one)
  • A variety of clear memory cards are available.
  • A battery for a camera (and some spares)
  • A reliable tripod
  • Filters with a neutral density
  • Intervalometer
  • The action of lightning is triggered.

Lens

Whether you believe it or not, the lens you choose for lightning photography isn’t a huge role in capturing amazing images. It’s merely a matter of personal taste. Do you like a photo with a wider field of view, more like a landscape? If that’s the case, a wide-angle lens is definitely the best option. Choose a lens with a greater focal length if you want tighter, more personal photos.

One thing to think about is the sort of weather that usually happens when lightning strikes. Normally, it is quite damp. So choose a weather-sealed lens to protect your investment.

Camera

Weather sealing should be an important consideration when choosing a lens, as previously stated. The camera body, on the other hand, is indistinguishable. You’ll want something that won’t be harmed by the elements. Apart from that, it’s entirely up to you which camera you use.

Memory Cards

Having more memory cards is usually preferable to having fewer. Pack more cards than you think you’ll need and make sure they’re preformatted so you don’t have to waste time in the field preparing them. If your camera has two card slots, take advantage of them!

Camera Batteries

When shooting a time-lapse sequence, a lot of electricity is required. The image will be captured while the camera shutter opens and closes repeatedly. There will be a significant amount of battery use. You should switch off the back LCD panel if you can. This conserves energy. When you switch to manual focusing, the focusing motors are disabled, which saves some power. Even if you take these precautions, you’ll need to bring extra batteries to guarantee that your camera has enough power to survive the duration of the session.

Tripod

A tripod is essential in this photographic endeavor if you want to capture the greatest long exposure images possible. When it comes to tripods, a carbon fiber type is preferable to an aluminum one since it is more durable. Even if this decision is not ideal, it should result in a more secure shooting experience. When using a tripod to photograph lightning, you should maintain a safe distance between yourself and the subject.

Neutral Density Filter

You might be surprised to learn that a Neutral Density filter is included on our list of essentials for capturing amazing lighting pictures. Believe it or not, this is a really important component that is often ignored by photographers when creating a shot.

Neutral density filters aren’t normally associated with photographing lightning, and this is true. An ND filter, on the other hand, can be quite beneficial in certain situations. Not only does it reduce the amount of ambient light, but it also allows you to open up your lens and shoot with a wide-open aperture as well as a lengthy shutter speed, which is ideal for low-light situations.

Intervalometer

The intervalometer is an extremely useful piece of equipment. They are used to remotely activate the shutter release mechanism, but only at certain intervals in time. Consequently, they are likewise a form of remote shutter release in that sense. The fixed interval shutter release feature is the most significant distinction between an intervalometer and a remote shutter release system. The importance of having an intervalometer will be explained in greater detail later.

Some semi-pro and professional cameras are equipped with an in-built intervalometer. This is mostly a software-driven operation. The built-in intervalometers perform exactly the same functions as an external intervalometer would.

Lightning Triggers

Lightning triggers are perhaps the single piece of equipment that we think is overly complicated for photographers to use. Lightning triggers, as the name implies, cause the camera shutter release to be activated as soon as a bolt of lightning strikes the camera. However, the main difficulty is not that, but rather the process of setting it up. It takes a lot of experimenting and fine-tuning before you can get the settings exactly where you want them.

However, if you enjoy exciting photographic difficulties, such as high-speed photography, this tool will be beneficial to you as well. Other external stimuli, such as light, sound, lasers, and other laser-like beams, can cause lightning to be triggered. As a result, these lightning triggers can be beneficial in a variety of other scenarios.

How to Photograph Lightning with the Perfect Settings

Shutter Speed

A variety of elements will influence the shutter speed you choose. One of these is most likely how you want the final photo to look in terms of composition. What I’m getting at is, do you want to see many lightning strikes in a single frame? Alternatively, do you want a single dramatic lightning strike in the frame?

Technically, it is always possible to stack many frames together to create a composite image. A single picture that contains many lightning strikes looks to be really spectacular. When the lightning strikes are extremely staggered and not too dramatic, this method may be really effective. You may build a magnificent image from a single frame that takes up very little space on your computer.

It is also possible to stack for the purpose of reducing background noise. If you leave the shutter open for a lengthy period of time, your chances of capturing many lightning strikes are increased significantly. However, at the same time, it contributes to an increase in digital noise. The reason for this is that the individual pixels become excessively heated.

The second method would be to photograph a single spectacular lightning strike against a beautiful setting. A single lightning strike necessitates meticulous planning and composition. The only thing left to do is wait and hope that the ideal lightning strike occurs when your composition is perfect.

I’ve witnessed some of the most spectacular lightning strikes occur right while I was analyzing the photographs on the back LCD panel! Such that I have ceased evaluating my photographs when on a shooting assignment. When putting up equipment, the only time you should verify them is for the right settings.

Handling Ambient Light

Another significant factor to consider is the amount of ambient light. If the light is too bright, using a longer shutter speed will almost surely result in overexposure of your photographs. Furthermore, you will be unable to generate anything of significance. Ideally, if the ambient light is a little brighter than normal, for example, if you are photography in the afternoon or even early evening, achieving a long exposure is tough. That is unless you employ a neutral density filter to mitigate the effects of the light.

Keep the shutter open for as long as it takes to catch at least one lightning strike with that aim in mind. As a starting point, choose an exposure time between one and two seconds as your base exposure.

Focusing: Manual vs Auto

The manual or automatic mode should be selected according to on the lighting conditions in which the photograph is being taken. If it’s dark, you’ll want to utilize manual focus mode instead of autofocus because your camera won’t be able to detect a focus point in the dark without it.

You will lose precious milliseconds if you try to use auto-focus since your camera will spend time searching for a place to focus on, which will prevent you from catching some amazing lightning photos.

As soon as you’ve located the perfect focal point, you’ll want to lock it in place so that you don’t lose your place of concentration.

ISO

The balancing parameter would be the ISO value. After you’ve entered the aperture and shutter speed, and taken into account the brightness of the scene, you may start shooting. To achieve the greatest results, it is recommended that you set your ISO to the lowest amount feasible. Most cameras have an ISO of 100, which is generally sufficient. In this way, you will avoid excessively boosting the exposure and resulting in excessive noise in your photographs.

White Balance

If you are shooting in RAW, it does not really matter what white balance you use as long as you are shooting in RAW. No matter how many different lighting scenarios are used, the results are the same as before. Mixed lighting refers to the use of lights with a variety of color temperatures. Most of the time, this occurs while you are capturing lightning from a window or on your terrace. The color temperatures of the city lights are all over the place. However, this does not constitute a substantial challenge in and of itself.

In any case, if you really want to dial anything in, try 5500 degrees, Kelvin, instead. If you shoot in the same lighting conditions as daylight, your white balance will be maintained 90 percent of the time unless you are shooting in other lighting conditions and need to dial in a new white balance setting.

Time-Lapse Mode

I mentioned the intervalometer in the last section. These are essential gadgets that allow you to shoot your camera at a predetermined period. The Intervalometer is a feature found in the majority of medium- to high-end cameras. They both essentially perform the same thing: constantly fire the shutter release at a predetermined period. This removes the need to touch your camera every time you want to snap a picture. – And they are absolutely important when you need to shoot a time-lapse clip of any kind.

You’re probably wondering why you’d want to use your camera in a time-lapse mode in the first place. The reason for this is that you never know when a bolt of lightning may hit. When you wait until the exact time when they strike, however, your photographs will always be taken after the lightning has struck. It is preferable to configure the camera to automatically take images at certain intervals in order to prevent the situation where you wind up with hundreds of pictures of the same grey sky.

After all, is said and done, this method is only going to work if you are aware of the overall direction and heading of the storm cell – in other words, if you are aware of the direction to point your camera in.

Manual Mode

Manual mode is the most often used mode for photographing lightning. If you put in the necessary effort and have a little bit of luck, you will be able to capture some amazingly gorgeous photographs by manually activating the shutter release. In this circumstance, the shutter speed may be adjusted based on the ambient light and the activities in front of the camera. In some cases, such as when the exposures are excessively dark, it may be necessary to increase the exposure by leaving the shutter open for the following photo. If the exposure is excessively bright, you may want to consider shortening the shutter cycling time. Even when employing a manual shutter release, we recommend using a remote control trigger to avoid introducing camera shaking into the equation.

Things to Keep in Mind

While the technical components of photographing lightning aren’t very complicated, it’s crucial to remember to keep important safety precautions in mind. That is, you should take precautions to ensure that you are not directly in the line of an approaching storm and that you limit your chances of getting hit by lightning.

Research

The next stage, now that you have a fairly good understanding of how to photograph lightning, is to go out and take some genuine lightning photographs. However, there is a minor difficulty. The question is, how can you know when and where lightning is going to strike? There are a variety of technologies available to determine this. It is possible to utilize one of the numerous weather applications available to determine where the next lightning storm is expected to strike, allowing you to locate a prospective storm cell to chase. Even this, however, is not 100 percent true in all cases. The use of real-time data from an active lightning map is required for a more exact method. And it is at this point that websites and applications such as Blitzortung.com come in helpful. Various degrees of precision are achieved by these applications and trackers in recording cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, which are then shown on a map with just a little delay. A Lightning Map is the name given to this type of map.

Lightningmaps.org provides you with a real-time lightning map of the United States as well as some of the other continents. This is made possible via an open-source network of sensor nodes built by volunteers. Although the designs for this sensor are accessible online, you will need to construct the sensor yourself. The current network of sensors, on the other hand, performs an excellent job.

The information is incredibly dependable, and you can use it to monitor and trace lightning over the whole continent of North America, no matter where you happen to be at the time. Though the most effective method of tracking lightning data using Blitzortung is to zoom into a specific region of interest and turn on the sound to be alerted anytime a storm containing lightning discharges is coming.

Lightning Alarm Weatherplaza

Lightning Alarm Weatherplaza is another app that is comparable. This app can provide you with information on the severity of thunderstorms in your area as well as the potential of lightning strikes. The prediction is fairly precise, and it is sent around 2 hours in advance. If a lightning storm is on the way, a text message notification will be sent out as well. That SMS notice arrives 15 minutes before the scheduled time. That should allow you enough time to flee out of sight, or in this example, to go after a storm cell that is forming in the distance. Storm chasers and lightning photography lovers will find the lighting map and data to be quite helpful.

Here’s what to do now that you’ve learned how to monitor lightning and, along with it, the storm cells that are responsible for the lighting. Is it better to go for the larger storm cells or the smaller storm cells?

The larger ones, on the other hand, are dispersed across a considerably broader region. Changing directions can make them considerably more agile, making them extremely tough to catch up with.

As a result, if you’re working with something like 14-24mm, you’ll generally want to chase the bigger cells. However, if you are just starting out and intend to use a zoom lens to photograph lightning, you should start with smaller storm cells to gain experience.

The lightning is a little more concentrated in these smaller cells, and it is unquestionably a lot simpler to chase and maneuver around in these smaller cells.

Staying Safe

This tutorial on how to photograph lightning would be inadequate if it did not include a section on safety.

The importance of safety cannot be overstated. You should never put your life and limb in danger only to take a photograph. Lightning is one of nature’s most powerful forces, and it may strike anywhere at any time. Lightning strikes are responsible for the deaths of numerous persons each year. It is never a good idea to be standing directly in the heart of a lightning storm when using metallic tripod support that may also serve as a lightning rod. So keep your eyes peeled, be aware of the storm’s progress, and be aware of your own personal safety limitations to protect your own safety.

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