Tech Tuesday…Photographing Lightning

I have had a long fascination with lightning. There is an energy that courses through my veins when I feel the raw power of mother nature in a fit with her intense flashes of rage and screams of thunder. I never can resist a thunder storm and find it very easy to photograph. All I have to do is mount the camera on a sturdy tripod, set the camera to manual focus, manual exposure mode at BULB setting (below the 30 second speed in Manual), an aperture of f8-f11 and leave my ISO at it’s lowest setting of 100/200. Using the remote release I fire the shutter and wait for lightning to strike…

Add a cityscape to the foreground and it gets slightly more complicated. Try several different exposures to find the best speed to properly expose the city, fire the remote, count the length of time and release hoping that a bolt (or two) will strike while the shutter is open…

That’s fine when it’s dark out. It will even work when it’s dusk. You simply have to experiment with just how long you can leave the shutter open and once the time has elapsed you release the remote and fire again even if there is no lightning (like above) to avoid overexposure…

But what happens when the light is bright enough that you really can’t get a long enough exposure to capture the lightning and tripping the shutter when the lightning flashes is a pretty good guarantee of no lightning…it’s just too darn fast! Enter a handy device that I never leave home without…the Lightning Trigger, a handy, dandy tool that attaches to my remote release terminal and then site on the hot shoe of my camera and trips the shutter when lightning strikes. It’s so sensitive that at times it will fire and I won’t even see anything. I change the settings to Shutter Priority and set the shutter speed to 1/15th or slower…

With the help of my Lightning Trigger I was able to create an image at sunset with storm clouds on top of the Tetons and a lightning strike…

It’s not just the skills we learn that help us to become better photographers. Having the right tools for the job certainly makes our jobs easier but, there are times that they make the impossible job possible. If you like lightning, increase your odds of capturing that moment of RAW power with the Lightning Trigger in your bag.

*Tip: The more severe the storm, the better chances of capturing lightning. Intermittent strikes are a greater challenge. Rain makes it tough to keep the drops off the lens. Clean it often if you are photographing lightning in the rain.
*Tip: If you can’t get a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second or slower, try adding a polarizer (2 stops of light) or a neutral density filter.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, BE SAFE, USE COMMON SENSE! If you see a lightning strike and ten seconds later you hear thunder, the strike was 2.18 miles away. (Lightning Calculator) That’s a bit close for comfort.

Images created with (in order) Nikon D700 with AF-S 24-70mm 2.8, Nikon D2X with AF-S 70-200mm VR, D3X with AF-S 24-70mm 2.8, D2X with AF-S 17-55mm 2.8