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How to Shoot Lightning

Updated on July 7, 2019


Some photos available @ ptosis/portfolio

I have a Sony A58 with removable lens. The lens given when purchasing is an all around basic use, but far from sharp. Bought fixed lens from Ebay used for sharper, cleaner image.

Need a manual focus. Must be prefocused to near infinity ( ∞ ), a tripod, remote shutter and put the DSLR into a very long exposure. Unfortunately, the longer the exposure, the longer the DSLR processes the image and may miss an even more interesting lightning bolt! I put mine on 5 seconds.

Of course if trying to do daytime lighting would need a variable polarizing lens filter which are two polar filters and one turns to near opaque. But this will filter out any rainbow that appears to your human eye.

I prefer to shoot the front of the storm at a perpendicular angle. That way able to get multiple shots and stack them on top of each other post processing and make it look even more impressive.

Storm coming at you - will get raindrops on your lens. And it's a bit dangerous. Shoot the lighting from behind the storm and all you will get is the diffused strobes of light across the thick clouds.

Composite of Two Images Example

Day time shot with variable polarizer
Day time shot with variable polarizer
Don't look like much but was less than 8 miles away on Mt. Lemmon during the daytime. Used a variable polarizer for the long timed shot of 5 seconds
Don't look like much but was less than 8 miles away on Mt. Lemmon during the daytime. Used a variable polarizer for the long timed shot of 5 seconds

Rolling Shutter Effect on CMOS Sensor

CCD is a smaller sensor that has global shutter. CMOS is much larger and has a rolling shutter. That problem shows up in very high speed images. That is why I take long exposures because every single lightning bolt strikes twice each and every time. Up & down. Earth to cloud is the one that is very much more deadly. There are also cloud to cloud +/- strikes also.

Below is a still shot from the video of my Sony A58 of a hummingbird showing the rolling shutter effect. The larger the video size the worse this effect becomes. So I video at the smallest size available on my DSLR. The blue-ray video setting is the absolute a biggest and worst setting for taking videos of hummingbirds or dragonflies!

Shutter Effect on Hummingbird Wings

I Use Low Cost Low Speed Imaging

The DSLR is able to capture parts of lighting that the naked eye does not see and that's what make this exciting. But it is nothing compared to the top-of-the-line high speed videos that show the 'fingers' reaching out in all directions.


Dark Lightning

My best images of lightning are from inside my bedroom window with the bug screen off. When the lightning is that close - I'm inside. May be crazy but not dumb! :).

Hubpages doesn't allow gif animated images. See this gif of the CMOS rolling shutter effect on lightning taken with my smartphone here.The gif animation are from two frames still shots from the video taken with my cell phone.

Myth: Lightning Never Strikes Twice - Truth is the same lightning strike often strikes twice!

"Discovered “by accident” from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in 2010,Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs) are extremely intense, sub-millisecond bursts of gamma rays and particle beams of matter and anti-matter. First identified in 1994," [1]dark lightning proceeds before the visible lightning, a burst of gamma rays that is called a terrestrial gamma ray flash. It is not known how often these occur.

[1] Jason Major Navy Researchers Put Dark Lightning to the SWORD 23 Dec , 2015

CCD Global Shutter Video Still

Light and Lightning Lecture

Light and Lightning

Lecture no. 22 from the course: Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather from The Teaching Company

download audio 22.Light and Lightning.m4a - 7.22 MB

Rolling Shutter Explained Animation in 20 Seconds


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