Saturday, April 30, 2011

Photographing Lightning Part 1

I love lightning. It’s hauntingly beautiful, yet dangerous and destructive at the same time. It lasts for only a brief moment in time. I’ve been photographing lightning since I got my first digital camera. I never really got anything with the original point and shoot that I was using. There were very few things that I set manually, like shutter time. You could set it, but it could not go as slow as you would want for lightning. You would also then lose control over the aperture, so the photo would expose normally. This was bad since what you ACTUALLY got…was a white frame. You see, it would meter the scene…absolutely not enough time to meter the lightning. Of course, you could always say that you were “this close” to the lightning!

I think with that camera I was about to get down to about 1/4sec. That’s not nearly slow enough. The REALLY bad thing about this was that it didn’t have a tripod attachment point. You are pretty limited in shots when you have to leave the camera on the windowsill. So, my first shots were through glass. There was an upside, it’s slightly tinted, cutting out a little bit of the light.

I moved up to a bigger/better point and shoot a few years later. It made ALL the difference in the world, or so I thought at the time. Finally, I could mount it on a tripod!

Much more control, but still, not a slow enough shutter speed for some really great shots. Not that I didn’t get a few good shots with it, it was much harder than it needed to be. For instance, if you notice lightning every 4 – 5 seconds, a shutter speed of 6 seconds should get you lightning EVERY* time, if the lightning is in frame.

*Note, that doesn’t actually happen.

This is one of the shots that I got with the newer Point and Shoot. It’s not a great shot, but I’ve had it as the background on my laptop for a while. The colours are as picked up by the camera, the only editing done was brightness/contrast, and cropping.

Then, I got my DSLR. Now I have great control over the shutter, and the aperture. You can easily get filters to cut out even more light. I got my DSLR last year, and the stars didn’t cross to allow me to photograph any lightning. Well, that is, except on the first day I had it.

I got home, unpacked the box, read through some things. This was my first SLR, so I read a bit of the manual. I bought it with kit lenses, so I put one of them on and took some test shots. I wanted to look at them, so I installed the included software. This software includes the computer remote release. Then, the storm rolled in. Perfect.

Set my camera up in the window, far enough away that it wouldn’t get wet if the wind changed direction. Plugged the laptop into it, and gave myself a quick crash course in how the program worked. Set the settings I wanted, and click. BOOM. Lightning. First shot. However, it was also the ONLY shot last. And it wasn’t very good.

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