Lightning Photography Tips

Getting a dramatic lighting photo can be hard for some photographers. This article will provide you some tips and tricks for successfully taking powerful lightning photos. The first thing you need to do is to make sure that you have some kind of covering that can be used shield the camera from wind and moisture. Amazon has a huge range of Camera Rain Cover to protect your camera and lenses.

Lightning bw wvs
twas a dark and stormy night by darkmatter

Photographing Lightning: Using Lightning Trigger

Photograph lightning during daylight is next to impossible because there’s too much light to slow down the shutter speed enough to capture lightning even under the dark clouds of a heavy storm. But thanks to the Lightning Trigger, now you can capture nature’s most dynamic element anytime of the day.

The Lightning Trigger is an ultra-sensitive lightning/flash activated camera shutter release designed to provide the photographer with the ability to photograph lightning easily during the day or at night. It is extremely sensitive to light flashes and will respond to intracloud (heat) lightning as well as stroke lightning. In addition, since lightning will occur over a wide expanse of the sky, the Lightning Trigger is designed to detect omni-directional flashes.

Camera Settings Quick List:

* Shutter speed priority mode (daytime)/
Manual mode(nighttime)
* 1/15 to 1/4 second exposure
* Single exposure mode
* Manual focus setting
* Slower ISO settings are recommended.

Daytime Photography
For daytime photography, the Lightning Trigger works best with the camera set in shutter speed priority mode. The Lightning Trigger will activate the metering system and reset the exposure after each shot.

Nighttime Photography
Nighttime lightning photography differs in technique from daytime photography settings by utilizing the camera’s manual exposure mode. Set the aperture starting at f/5.6 to f/4. Shutter speed should be set at 1/4 second up to the duration of the lightning flash, about 2 seconds. The camera may also be set to multiple exposure mode.

Photographing Lightning: Using Only Your Camera

Manual Mode
Since you have to take photographs in a dark environment, the camera can not automatically set the right focus, exposure and apertures. Thus, make sure you set your camera to manual mode. Also don’t forget turn off your flash.

How to Focus
Turn off your autofocus and focus the camera on infinity. This is the right setting since lightning photography is done from long distance.

Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO
Set the shutter speed at “B” or “T.” This is why photograph lightning during daylight is next to impossible. There’s too much light to slow down the shutter speed enough to capture lightning even under the dark clouds of a heavy storm. Lightning takes its own picture when and where it wants, and no matter how fast your reflexes are, it’s gone before the shutter opens. If an image happens, it is either an accident, or the photographer was lucky enough to have a very long sequence of lightning hits at the same place. Almost all daylight situations can be very frustrating.

The darker the sky, the longer the shutter is allowed to stay open at f/8. Therefore, your chances of getting a good photograph of lightning are best on a very dark night. In this situation you may leave the shutter open indefinitely and get multiple bolts in the same frame.

The intensity of the storm, your distance from it, and your ISO are variables. However, assuming the storm is approximately five miles away and you are using ISO 100, f/8 is the best aperture. Lightning will make an exposure at almost any aperture, but if you try to lengthen the exposure time by closing the aperture more, or by using neutral density filters, you risk getting images of the lightning bolts that are thinner than desirable. If the storm is more than five miles away, or filtered by smog, you might try opening the aperture to f/5.6. If it is closer than three to five miles try f/11.

Framing Your Picture
To make lightning photos more interesting try to find contrast or objects that will be interesting when lit or stroked by lightning. Such objects could be trees, city sky line, roads or antenna towers.

Safety First

Make sure that you are safe. Lightning can be dangerous. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long. Please visit the NWS Lightning Safety and Awareness for more information

Inspiring Lightning Photos

Thunderstruck by Rick Elkins

Best storm photos submitted by National Geographic readers

Lightning bw wvs
Lightning by wvs

Lightening Storm, Mono Lake
Lightening Storm, Mono Lake by Sharper24

Lightning by Kram

2 Responses to “Lightning Photography Tips”

  1. Jared Balis says:

    These pictures are amazing! The one with multiple bolts is gorgeous!

    I wrote a simple tutorial on how to photograph lightning. I would be grateful for your input on how I can improve it but still keep it simple. I would also be happy to link to your blog from my article as a resource for my readers. What do you think?

    My article is at How to How to Photograph Lightning

    Thanks for helping out. If theres anything I can do to help you, please let me know.

    Jared Balis

  2. Taylor says:

    Do you know if there is any potential damage done to the sensor by photographing lightning? I have a t1i and wanted to use the HD video feature to record a storm, but wasn’t sure it was a good idea because I understand when it is taking video the sensor is always exposed…

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