How to Photograph Lightning?

Lightning has always been associated with unpredictability. You never know which part of the sky may be lit the next moment during lightning. This is one reason why photographing lightning is so much fun and thrilling. The brilliant display of light is another reason, of course. It might even happen that while photographing it, you missed seeing the lightning yourself but the camera was able to capture it all. Well, to say that the moment was anything less than priceless would be an understatement. You feel awestruck for that moment and with a newfound joy and enthusiasm, start photographing again, this time with your eyes glued to the sky.

Here is how to photograph lightning successfully.

1. Safe Place - First off, find a safe place to photograph from. You don't want to be shout at from above while you are busy shooting. Also, take care that you don't let raindrops fall on your expensive camera. Protect the camera at all costs, that's the motto!

2. Tripod You will need a tripod. No tripod, no lightning photographs as simple as that. You can also use other items to keep the camera stable as you will be using long shutter speeds.

3. Shutter Speed You will need long shutter speeds. How long is up to you. You can keep the shutter open for 15 seconds or 20 seconds but if you don't want to keep pressing the shutter release button too often, use the longest possible shutter speed you can, which is usually 30 seconds unless you use the bulb mode. If you happen to use the bulb mode, you will obviously use a remote to keep the shutter open because, admit it, you can't keep your hand totally still for 30 seconds. No one can.

4. Aperture Keep the aperture wide open. Manually set a combination of long shutter speed with a wide aperture, keeping the ISO low. Alternatively, you can keep the aperture narrow if you want nothing in the photograph but the lightning, eliminating all the other distracting elements. Or by keeping it wide open, you can let the other not-so-bright things join along in the photograph. Buildings, for example.

5. Composition Keep the camera facing as much of the sky as you can allow, but also include something interesting like a building, or a tree. These can make for wonderful silhouettes framed properly. It might happen that lightning shifts from one place in the sky to another. If this happens, and you can see a pattern (though quite unpredictable but you can rely on intuition), you can quickly change the framing to include a different portion of the sky where the action is happening.

6. Use manual focus Keep the camera focussed on the sky and leave it there once it is done. You can then safely just concentrate on pressing the shutter button again and again, without waiting for the camera to try focusing on the sky every time.

7. Patience Yes. That's the last skill required to nail it. Waiting for the lightning to strike can be a tiring experience. You decide to photograph lightning on seeing the flashes from your room, quickly pack your stuff and get the camera ready to shoot but alas, it never bolts from above. Yes, it can be disappointing sometimes but patience pays in the end. That day or some other day, but you should always keep trying.

8. Stacking the photographs There is a good chance that you got many photographs with a single lightning bolt but you could never manage your luck to show you a hundred lightning bolts at once. You need not worry. You can stack the lightning strikes into a single image by using stacking software. You just need to take care that the camera did not move during all those shots that you would use for stacking. This is a simple way to combine those unexciting shots to make into one fantastic photograph.

Written by : Ritesh Saini, IIT Mumbai (India)

Go Back to Photography

Related questions and answers

What is Exposure Triangle in Photography?
How a DSLR Camera Superior to Compact Digital Cameras?
How to Photograph Sunrise (and Sunset)?
What are some ways to Shoot Wonderful Photographs?
What does Metering mean in Photography?
Why should you edit your Photographs?
How to choose your first DSLR Camera?
When to use Flash during Photography?
What are the best places to Photograph in Mumbai, India?
How do I take better Street Photographs?
Does Wedding Photographers Charge you Genuinely?

Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice