How to take photos of lightning…

July 6th, 2011

Several people have asked me how I took some of my lightning photos, so I thought I would post a little guide to make it easy. The first thing, obviously, is to be very safe while doing it…

…nobody wants to become a kabob for a photoshoot.

Its actually rather simple to get some good photos, and you don’t have to have a super camera either. The main thing is a little prep work and knowledge, and you can get some great photos as well!

First off, pick a location you can be safe and out of the rain. All my photos I have taken from vehicles, which is ok as the vehicle is insulated by the tires. If you have a house in a good location, you probably want to remove a screen in your window that faces the best location. Do NOT photograph from an overhang or porch, and do NOT get out of your vehicle!

The next is to find the right type of thunderstorm. Unless you get REALLY, REALLY lucky, do not bother with storms unless they are generating lightning every 30 seconds or less. You’ll be wasting a lot of time if you do. As well, only pick thunderstorms where you can see bolts of lightning coming out.

Now for the camera prep. Set your camera focus for a distant object, and then turn OFF auto-focus. The time your camera takes to focus will cause you to miss shots.

Now for the final prep. There are two ways to get good photos, and both depend on the type of storm. If the storm is generating repeated bolts (in other words, multiple strikes on the same location), you can usually just snap at the first sign of lightning and by the time you react, your camera reacts, and the shutter snaps, you’ll catch the 3rd or 4th bolt. If the storm is not doing that, then you’ll have to use the other method. This involves counting the seconds between strikes. Lightning is a release of electricity from a static inequality, and it takes a little time for that to build…and is usually fairly constant in a good storm. As soon as you know the approximate interval between strikes, begin shooting a few seconds before until a few seconds after. Sooner or later you’ll catch a few. Don’t delete photos until you get a chance to look at them close up, as some of the more faint flashes may not appear on your tiny viewscreen.

That’s it! Happy hunting, and feel free to send me any great results you get!

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