It’s one of those things that as a child I was petrified of. I remember hiding under tables and generally cowering behind my mum. I must have been around three then because I distinctly remember being in my parents old house.
At some point later in my life, I must have been around seven then, I remember walking back home from school with my mum during a thunder-storm. I listened to the thunder claps and felt that with every clap a little bit of the fear drained away.
Lightning is one of the most beautiful and powerful events in the natural world. It’s also one of the most difficult to photograph due to unpredictability and speed. Some interesting facts about lightning:
- a strike can travel over 10miles from the storm cloud
- can, on average, carry 10,000Amps and 100 million Volts
- Crawling lightning (cloud to cloud) has been detected by radar travelling for 75miles distance.
- it’s hotter than the surface of the Sun.
- there’s loads more about lightning here
So anyway, unless you live near Lightning Alley in the USA then you’ll just have to be prepared, patient and keep an eye on the weather reports. Here in the UK we tend to find that thundery storms usually follow a spell of warm weather, even more so if it’s been humid; you’ll notice that lightning has an ionising effect as the air usually feels fresher/cleaner after a storm.
There a few main factors you need to consider when photographing lightning:
- Day or night? If it’s daytime photography then you’ll most likely need a neutral density (ND) filter. For night-time this isn’t so essential unless your environment suffers from a lot of light pollution.
- Lens: as you can’t predict exactly where the next lightning strike is going to occur, it’s best to use the widest possible angle and you’ll have more a chance of getting it in frame.
Besides the above, it’s more or less playing around with aperture and keeping ISO/ISA as low as possible. The method is pretty simple and for it you’ll need a remote shutter release, wired or wireless:
- setup the camera on a tripod facing towards the direction of the storm.
- set lens to widest angle and attach a ND filter of desired strength (stronger for daytime)
- set camera to manual or bulb mode, where the shutter speed is dictated by the length of time shutter button is depressed.
- using either manual or auto focus (AF), set the focal point on the clouds – as a rule I generally manually focus to infinity and then dial it back slightly. If AF is used then once focussed, switch to manual to make sure the camera doesn’t try to refocus.
- Set aperture fairly high, at least f16, I usually set to around f22 – this is also very dependant on lighting conditions; it’s always best to take a few test shots.
- plug in your remote and depress the shutter button, lock with remote and wait – as soon as you see the strike end the exposure by unlocking the remote shutter release.
- the exposure time will vary considerably depending on your lighting condition, aperture, ND filter strength etc.
So there is it, a little fiddling, patients and luck should leave you with a nice photo; if it has lightning in it, that’s even better! 😛