Wednesday, August 8, 2012

10 Tips for Capturing Lightning

I have long been in awe of images of lightning.  It's such a raw & powerful thing & since it happens so quickly, it can be difficult to capture.  But I think this is why I was so drawn to learning how to capture it. There are some tips from Peter West Carey over on Digital Photography School found HERE that you might find useful.  Some, like the ISO suggestions, I actually disagree with- which leads me to the fact that each photographer does it a bit differently for the situation & their own personal taste.  There are numerous ways, many of which I have either not learned yet or have been unsuccessful at for now- but I am going to share with you the things I do to increase my chances for success.  

1. Start with the sky relatively dark.  I have tried as early as 6-7 p.m. & this still wasn't quite dark enough since the summer nights start so late.  You are going to have your shutter open for a long time- so obviously if it's too light out you will capture nothing but white. I am sure there are ways to capture during the day- I have not looked in to it yet & so I have no solid info on just how to do that. It's on my bucket list for sure. 

2. Use a tripod set in an area with a sturdy surface preferably with some cover in case you start to get rain.  The last thing you want is to have to abort your time capturing because you are getting wet.  

3. Use a wide angle lens.  For these I used my kit lens (18-55mm) because it is the widest one I have.  Because it doesn't have too much range in it's focal length, it's still pretty sharp. You never know where the strikes will hit. I can't tell you how many times I saw one come down & it was just outside my frame.  I was bummed.  

4. I also like to find a wide open spot.  I know that most places are not so open as we are here in the desert- so finding a wide open view that also has cover can be hard. But sometimes capturing what the lightning looks like through trees & having that view of the "whole scene" can really make the shots something special. 

5. I like to set my ISO low so I have a nice sharp image- usually either 100 or 200. 

6. I set my aperture to f/7 or so to make sure I am able to capture everything I see in focus.  I have made the mistake of having it too open & ended up with the foreground in focus & the actual lightning was out of focus.  So this is something I really feel is imperative.

7. Shutter- set to 30 seconds.  For these images I was just pressing the button every 30 seconds- I have just recently started using my remote to set it to bulb & leave it open longer.  That is your choice & depends on the frequency of the bolts.  All of the shots in this post are from the same evening.  The storm was very active & so I was capturing at least one bolt with every 30 seconds the shutter was open. That totally helped & it went on for hours.  So if you are like me & you think you might miss something spectacular if you go inside- have a battery backup charged & ready to go.  I sat outside for 4+ hours with this storm, leaving my shutter open every 30 seconds for the entire time.  I pulled up a stool & just enjoyed the show. 

8. Because of the low light- you are going to want to focus manually.  This can be a pain- but I usually find something to get my focus on in the foreground & do a few test shots.  Then I zoom in to my maximum I can on my screen to make sure everything is crisp before spending all the time capturing for hours only to find out they are all out of focus & should go in the trash.  Once you get that focus- don't move unless you have to. Otherwise you have to start all over with getting your focus & then you might miss something awesome.

9. Be patient.  I can't stress this enough because while I had many captures in this particular storm- they don't all come with multiple bolts within a 30 second period of time.  There is a suggestion in the link I mentioned above that you can layer your images in processing if you like to get the desired effect you might be after.  I have not tried this.  I like to leave my images as true to what it really looked like, so I don't enhance them in that way. Which leads me to my next point...

10. Don't over process.  All of these images I opened in ACR & adjusted the clarity & sometimes the temperature if needed.  Sometimes the lights from houses can come out very orange or yellow when the shutter is open that long- I feel it detracts from the real excitement of what I was out there to capture- so I always try to tone those house lights down.  Other than that- I sharpen & that is it.  Sometimes I will crop in as you have seen in some of these- but for the most part I really like to have the foreground showing to give scale to the storm over the neighborhood.  That is my personal taste though. 

Have a great time 

Gigi Marie the Chic Homeschool Mama

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  1. Ok, must buy tripod, must buy tripod......30 seconds. So many good tips here, thank you Gina.

  2. Awesome Gina! These are so beautiful. Loving all of your tips. And, wow, 4 hours!? That's a lot of photo processing ;) I love the moodiness and drama of these. Fantastic stuff!!

  3. Awesome tips Gina!! Love your lightning shots! they are so amazing!!

  4. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post Gina!

  5. Great tips thanks so much for sharing. I wish my house had a better storm viewing area from my house :( Your images are amazing!

    I've asked my cousin if I can go to her house to photograph a lightning storm. She lives on the ocean front. She said, "Yes of course you can. Our house just got struck by lightning last month." Humm I haven't taken her up on her offer yet.

  6. Awesome!! I can not wait for the next storm. I still have yet to capture lightening. These are great!!

  7. what great tips! i am going to have to give this a try during our next storm! not sure if I will be as patient as you ... sitting there for 4 hours! must have been a great show!! your photos are amazing!

  8. I was just talking about this with a friend. I am going to send her the link. Thanks for the great info. Now I can't wait for lightning.

  9. Wow Gina!! These are amazing images! Well done.

  10. Having experienced Utah, with lots of thunder and lightening almost every afternoon, before a shower in Bryce canyon and Zion, where you live must be a great opportunity to shoot lightening! I think we have more earthquakes than lightening here in CA:)
    Your 6th and 8th image are my favorite!


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