Lightning Over Brooklyn

How to Photograph Lightning

Lightning Over Brooklyn

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Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
– Mark Twain

HR_GraphicLightning is one of the most dramatic subjects you can capture as a nature or landscape photographer. With an SLR, a tripod and a little patience, you can make some impressive images.

Gear + Setup

  • Camera

    A camera with a “bulb” mode option. You’ll want a fairly high aperture, because precise focusing can get a little tricky in the dark. Give yourself a very wide depth of field to play with.

  • Tripod

    A tripod is a must-have for photographing lightning. I like a fairly heavy, solid tripod that won’t move around in the wind.

  • Remote Shutter Release (Optional)

    A remote shutter release is ideal and relatively inexpensive, but you certainly can photograph lightning without one.

  • Lightning

    The ideal lightning strikes to capture are ones that “light up the sky”. Big, bright, dramatic bolts. Cloud to ground or cloud to cloud lightning will work fine.

  • Timing

    The more contrast between the light level of the sky and the lightning, the better. For this reason, those storms that hit at dusk or night are best. You will want to shoot an incoming storm BEFORE the rain hits, or an outgoing storm AFTER the rain stops. In most storms, it is just too difficult to keep the rain off your camera and lens.

  • Location, Location, Location

    Scout locations before hand. Ideally, you will have a wide open sky with some silhouette interest on the ground. Most storms come in from the west and southwest, so you will be shooting facing the west or southwest before the rain starts and the east or northeast after the rain ends.


HR_Graphic

Ok, so you have the camera on the tripod, pointed in the direction of some particularly exciting lightning. You’re in bulb mode and have your aperture set fairly high. The hard part is done. Now we have some fun…

Open the shutter, wait for a lightning bolt to strike, then close the shutter.

It’s really that easy. The tricky part however, is that you don’t want to overexpose the photo. If you overexpose, your lightning bolt will disappear. This will come down to experimentation and experience. I usually adjust my settings so that I can have the shutter open for 10-12 seconds. I open the shutter and count to to 12 in my head. If lightning strikes before the 12 second mark, I close the shutter. If no lightning strikes, I close the shutter, then open it again and restart the count. You will likely end up with a lot of black frames, but this will ensure you don’t miss or overexpose a strike.

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That’s it! Keep an eye on the weather radar this summer and get out and capture some lightning.

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