Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Photographing Lightning Part 2

Part two was going to come sooner than this. Weather said thunderstorms were in the air, and I was going to try for a shot for the post. However, the rain was so intense that you just couldn’t see anything. I heard some thunder, but I couldn’t see any lightning, or across the street for that matter.

So, before the NEXT thunderstorm, I’ll give you the technical bits of how I shoot a thunderstorm. I don’t storm chase. I wait for the storm to come to me, like an ambush. I guess you could say, I’m a Storm-Busher.

There are two sets of basics that I try to use. Two sets simply because storms happen day or night, and I try to get the best of both times. Shooting daylight is much harder, since there is a lot more ambient light than at night. Luckily, the storm takes away some amount of light, but it’s still not dark enough to be able to leave the shutter for more than a second. You’d have to be really quick to catch lightning like that!

Shooting Daylight

For shooting in daylight, I shoot at ISO100, F32 (or as small as you can go), and try to be somewhere in the range of 2 – 5 seconds of shutter time. This is usually never possible without using Neutral Density (ND) filters. These cut out light without changing other qualities of the picture. During the day I’d often find myself switching within 2 – 5 seconds due to the ever changing cloud cover letting in various amounts of light.

I have yet to get a descent daylight lightning shot!

Shooting Nightlight

Shooting at night is much easier. It’s easier to see where the storm is coming from and easier to pick a location in the storm to shoot towards, since you can see the lightning much better in the dark.

For night, I shoot at ISO100, F14 – 25, and 5 – 30 seconds of shutter time. The variety in Stops and Shutter time here is for variance in the amount of lightning happening. If the storm is particularly violent, you’ll want a shorter shutter time, or you photos will be more white than dark. In a non-violent storm, you’ll want a longer shutter time to increase you chances of getting one or two strokes in the scene.

Even if the lightning strike is far away, or not all that bright; the time that the shutter is open, combined with the fill flash of the lightning should be enough light to light the rest of the scene.

I mentioned in the last post that I got a shot of lightning the first day with my new camera last year. Here is that photo.

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