Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to shoot lightning.

I grabbed a few more lightning shots the other night. This was my favorite.. I think. We saw a strike hit a transformer and light up so many different colors, it was amazing, but the camera was pointed the other direction. Anyway, as I constantly upload photos to facebook multiple friends see them and ask how I do it... There's a trick. And I'm sharing it with the www.

First off, there is a lot of luck involved, don't get discouraged. It might take you years to get one good shot, and you might only have 1 good storm a year. Us Dallas and Fort Worth folks get about one good storm a week in April and May. I was the opposite, I got the shot of my life my first time out. It's almost depressing because I don't think I'll ever top this shot from 2006, unless I just get really really lucky. But I'll keep trying.


How To:

What you do is find a dark place, and point the camera at that area, in hopes of lighting. The most difficult part is finding a place that is covered, and that shows a lot of land. Lightning is really bright, so you expose for basically a cloudy day.

Here's my usual settings
ISO : 100-200
F-stop : 8.0ish
shutter speed: 20-30 seconds, or bulb

As long as what you see through the sensor is black or dark, your camera records nothing. It only records light, so you just wait for a strike, which lasts usually a fraction of a second. In theory, how ever long the strike lasts, is how long the shutter speed is. It's a neat trick, took me a while to figure out the settings and how to really make it work. Exxperiement on your own to find what you like.

This is a great example. Close to a 20 minute (1200 second) shutter speed, pointed at a lake.

Play around.
You don't nessesarily have to shoot in a dark area. I've had my share of playing with other light, and shutter speeds. Once you understand how it works, you can be a little more dynamic. This is a 20 second shutter, over a highway. This however, is the only one that has come out of mine so far with other lights purposely present. I still find that the car lights and the lights just over the trees over power the lightning a bit.

Be careful.
Know where to bail in case of a tornado, don't try to photograph it. Be smart and aware. Photography wise, make sure that there is no water on the lens, and that you're shooting in raw. The intensity of a strike is completely unpredictable, so you'll want the extra information raw gives you to make adjustments on your photos. And mostly have fun.

to see more of my pictures of lightning click here, or visit:

-Jonny Carroll

jdonut photography, LLC
Denton Wedding Photography
We Make Virtual Tours
Dallas Aerial Photography
UNT Photography
UNT Photo Club


Joe said...

Hey Johnny,

Nice tip on photographing the lightning.

One quick question though, how about the focus wise?? Do you always set it to infinity?? The combination of smaller aperture and focused to infinity will take care of the image??(Meaning everything will be sharp and in focus??)

jonnydonut said...

yeah, i just set it to infinity. F-8 is decent, but the wide angle lens helps significatntly with DOF. usually between 16-28mm.