Thursday, 23 August 2012

How to Photograph Lightning

Lightning bolts are a favourite subject of photographers. Being one of the wonders of Mother Nature, lightning bolts make one powerful subject for photography. Let us see how we could capture them in photographs. Listed below are some tips to help you excel in Lightning Photography.

How to Photograph Lightning
Photo By Rs Butner

Equipment Needed to Photograph Lightning

  1.     DSLR camera or Point and Shoot with manual mode.
  2.     A sturdy tripod  and head
  3.     Cable / wireless shutter release
  4.     Wide angle lens
  5.     Weather proofing for both camera and photographer

To shoot lightning bolts only minimal equipment is needed. If you have access to all items in the list given above its fantastic; it will make your job a lot easier and help you get excellent pictures. But you could easily take good lightning photos with just a point and shoot camera which has manual mode and nothing else.

How to Photograph Lightning
Photo By Discopalace

Place your camera on any stable surface and you would not need a tripod. Use your cameras timer to trigger and you could do without remote shutter release. Point and shoots already has a wide angle of view and a strong umbrella able to withstand the weather could serve as weather proofing for both you and your equipment.

Camera Settings for Lightning Photography

  1.     Shoot in RAW format
  2.     Use ISO 100
  3.     White balance - Auto
  4.     Use Manual Mode
  5.     Aperture f/8 – f/16
  6.     Shutter speed- up to 30 seconds

How to Photograph Lightning
Photo By Trippspics
When attempting to photograph UN-predictable subjects like lightning always use the RAW format if your camera supports it. Else use the largest quality file type your camera supports. RAW format provides you much more control over exposure while post processing. As you are shooting in RAW and different lightning bolts have different colour temperatures it is better to stick with the Auto White Balance setting.

Use ISO 100 or the lowest possible ISO setting available in your camera to eliminate the chances of image noise caused by long apertures. Use Manual mode if your camera supports it, For DSLR users the Bulb Mode indicated by the alphabet B is also a good option. If your camera does not support manual mode, then use the Aperture priority or any other mode in which you get the slowest possible shutter speed.

The Aperture value is actually determined by the brightness of the lighting which is also affected by how close or how far from you is the action taking place. A good practice is to take first few shots at f/11and then fine tuning by looking at your results in the camera’s LCD. If it is underexposed open up the aperture and if it’s over exposed use a smaller aperture.

How to Photograph Lightning
Photo By Lurw

Shutter speed is one important element which determines the sharpness of the image. Longer shutter speeds make the process simpler and also helps you catch multiple bolts in one shot; however the chances of light contamination and noise is more in case of longer shutter speeds. Try experimenting with different shutters speeds starting from 5 seconds upwards.

Lightning Photography Tips

  1.     Use Manual Focus
  2.     Turn Image Stabilization OFF
  3.     Make sure the horizon is level
  4.     Add something interesting in the frame
  5.     Use Double Exposure
  6.     Be Patient
  7.     Be Safe
How to Photograph Lightning
Photo By Gary Hayes

For photographing lightning bolts it is better to switch your focusing mode to manual and focus manually at the sky. If the lens or your camera has an Image Stabilization feature make sure you turn it off. As you will be using a tripod or any solid surface to stabilize your camera IS is not necessary. Moreover it will try to compensate for the camera shake that is not there and thus may induce shake of its own. Also it will deplete the battery a lot faster.

When composing your shot make sure that your horizon lines are level, it is better not to position the horizon line exactly at the centre, rather the 2/3rd portion from top will be a better option for positioning horizon for lighting photography. Also make sure to add some interesting element in the picture, even if it is silhouetted out.

How to Photograph Lightning
Photo By Severalseconds

If you are using a tripod and capture many bolts with the same camera position, you could later stack those in post production and create fascinating multi bolt shots.

Lightning photography requires you to be patient, keep trying till you get your shot and do not stop there, keep experimenting with different settings and you will be surprised at the results. Do scout for good locations to shoot from, locations which could provide you shelter in case of a storm etc well in advance. Always go prepared with rain gear for both you and your equipment. And last but not least be safe. Remember all those tips to stay safe and prevent lightning from hitting us; yeah I am referring to the same tips we were taught in grade school. Keep those in mind and stay safe, your life is more important than a picture taking opportunity.

In the next article we will discuss about Photography - Nature and Wildlife Photography - 14 Tips For Photographing Butterflies

Related Reading