Lightning is one of the most unpredictable forces of nature, so for most photographers, a lightning storm presents a wholly unique challenge. Powerful images of lightning in action have been published and have left many aspiring photographers wondering “how has this been done?”.
Listed below are a few tips for those who would like to capture this feature of Mother Nature:
1. Tripod or Surface: Typically, a tripod works best even though a steady surface can suffice. This does not include usage of a pillow, a beanbag or any other malleable item instead of a steady arm.
2. Field of View: The camera will need to be focused up towards the sky as that is where most of the action will be taking place. Based on how close the lightning is, a lot of blank sky will have to be included, that is, until the sky is lit up by lightning.
3. Frame: While all the action is in the sky, it would be best if something interesting is included in the frame to give the shot some perspective and relevance. Buildings are the usual favorites, but anything that will help enhance the size of the storm will work well.
4. Shutter Times: With the timing of lightning being unpredictable, it is extremely difficult to capture a decent shot by tripping the shutter once a flash is noticed. A few remote controlled gadgets that have the ability to trip when the flash is sensed are now available. But of course, this is not the kind of gadget we would want to invest in. Depending on the cameras ability to manage noise, on slow shutter speeds, using a timing of 30 seconds will work well. The bulb setting is also handy if one can manage to keep the shutter open.
5. Aperture or Manual Shutter: If the camera has the ability to set the shutter speed, choose a long shutter time and a fairly wide aperture. With most of the action being afar ,a wide aperture and shallow depth or field will not be a problem- (unless one would like to include nearby objects).
6. Focus: When shooting in lightning situations, it is best to use manual focus as the view will mostly be at night. Using the camera to get a good manual focus on the sky and leaving it there is better than hunting for something to focus on with each new shot.
7. Stacking Software: Keeping the camera in a steady spot for shot after shot, the multiple strikes can be combined into one image by using the stacking software. Often one will have many unexciting shots with just a single strike or a faint action between clouds which when combined make for a spectacular image.
8. Patience: The most important key to success. Familiarization with the camera equipment and its settings will make it easier to set things up when there is a lightning storm. One can then enjoy the show while the camera does its thing. There will be times when the best shot is missed for some reason or another, don’t bother about it.
Photographing or shooting lightning storms can be made into an enjoyable experience with a little practice and a lot of patience to get it just right. Following the above mentioned steps will help in creating electrifying photos (pun intended).
~Zahid H Javali