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Photography of lightning.
Lightning on the Horizon
The clouds start to roll in.
Rainy days come and go through out the year. We look outside and see the storm clouds rolling over the horizon. You can smell rain in the air even though a drop has not landed yet. The sky has a few veins of lightning in the sky out in the distance. This sends a feeling a excitement knowing that we are going to get a show from mother nature pretty soon. You never know what she will bring your way when she puts on a show. Yes lightning can be scary but it can also be fun. I want to go over a few things from my experience of shooting lightning. Lightning is not an everyday thing for most of us so it's good to be prepared.
Things you will need to get the right shot!
I don't usually carry a lot of gear with me when I take photos of lightning because you take the risk of damaging your gear or equipment with possible heavy rain. It usualy comes to the bare minimum when doing photography like this.
Basic check list for lightning photography
- Camera that can do long exposure photography
Be smart about it and find a good location.
I know most people have a common sense about being out when there is lightning out. I don't recommend standing in an open field with your camera and tripod in hopes of getting a good shot. Your setting yourself up for becoming a lighting rod. So please be carefull when taking photos of lightning outside. Most of the time I will use a porch or something similar to get a good spot to keep my gear dry. And unless your gear is water proof you will want to keep your equipment out of the rain if it does come down. Most of the time when I've taken most of my pictures of lightning I don't get much rain at first. The rain usually came later after I've gotten most of the pictures I wanted. And you don't have to go outside to take the pictures either. You can do it out of a window inside. Just make sure that the room has no lights on so they don't cast reflections in the glass. You will want the room to be almost pitch black. If possible find a window you can open till the rain starts to fall. This will give you the best results and help you avoid having smudges in your photography.
It's like fishing when you think about it.
Taking pictures of lightning is almost like fishing. You throw your line in the water in hopes of a bite. Same thing happens with your camera and trying to get a good shot. In the sky you see that sometimes you'll get more lightning in one sport more than another spot. Makes it fun this way when trying to get that perfect shot. And when you get it you will know it because you will be smiling. Out of the 100 pictures I will take when doing lightning photography I will only get 2 good shots out of all that. Patience is the key! So don't give up just because you dI'd not get your first shots. And keep throwing your line in the water to catch that big fish! I also enjoy that fact that mother nature can be so beautiful and yet scary at the same time. That in its self is a reward on its own.
Long exposure photography
A lot of cameras will allow you to take a long exposure photographs. Most point and shoot cameras will do a duration of up to 15 seconds. Some point and shoot cameras will have user friendly options and will have a picture of fireworks. It really depends on the camera though. I'm not gonna get to specific on how to set your camera up for long exposures. All cameras are different and to find your settings you may have to refer to the owners manual. If you own a DSLR you can go longer to get image to be exposed longer. Normally I set my camera up for around 15 seconds depending on how much lightning is out. If there is too much light flashing in the sky I set it even lower than that to avoid an overexposed image. You will need to play with the settings to get something your comfortable with. The ISO on my shots vary at times. Since the lightning can vary again you will have to play with your settings. There are times when I have set my ISO to 100 and other times it will be up to 800. So again just try different settings and just fine tune your camera till your happy. It is a patience game and once you do enough lightning shots you will find some default settings you may like better for you.
When taking the shot.
Here are a few tips to avoid getting blurry images. If you have a tripod I highly recommend using it for doing long exposure photography. Any movement while the shutter is open will be visible in your images. And if you don't have a tripod just use something steady to place your camera on. The other thing I like to do is set up my camera to a 3 second of 5 second dely if possible. This helps you avoid moving the camera while taking the shot. Also before you take any pictures be sure to have your camera at the best resolution. You can always take pixels away afterwards but you can't add them after.
I hope some of these tips help in getting you outside and taking some pictures. The main thing is to have fun and be safe when doing lightning photography. I know there have been times when it can be hypnotizing looking at the sky and enjoying the free show mother nature has provided. Sometimes doing photography can take away the fear some of us may have towards lightning. My kids use to be fearful when they would hear thunder outside. Over time they started to ask me instead if they could grab my gear because they knew I would be running outside eventually to take pictures. Lightning isn't the only thing you have to use long exposure photography with. There are lots of other fun things to do with long exposure photography. Do a google search and I'm sure it will inspire you to try out new techniques with your camera.
Feel free to comment if you have any other tips that might be helpful to others.