Lightning Photography

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One of the topics I’m regularly asked about is Lightning Photography.

Photographing lightning is an exciting yet often frustrating task. The results can be spectacular but they are also partly based upon luck and more often than not the shots are not what you’d expect.

Note: check out our How to Photograph Lightning tutorial.

As part of our ‘How I Took It’ assignment in our Flickr Group cdw9 submitted the following lightning photograph and told us how it was taken.

Lightning-Photography

Where Was it Taken?

Knox County, Illinois

What settings did you use?

I had my camera on manual mode so I could use the bulb setting. Final specs were: 29 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 200, 18mm.

Basically I used a remote to open the shutter, waited for a strike, and closed the shutter.

What gear did you use?

Why did you compose the shot as you did?

Of course, I did not choose where the lightning struck. I had my lens at 18mm- as wide as I could get to capture any lightning in the area, and this shot was only cropped to get the horizon straight. The ground is not as important as the sky in these types of shots, but I still had to get a little bit in there so you could see where the lightning struck.

What post production work have you done on the shot (if any)?

This shot actually came out very light, I had to play with the brightness and contrast a lot.

What were you hoping to achieve with the shot?

A nice shot of lightning

What did you do well?

Captured the lightning and the mood

How could you have improved it?

If I was doing this now, I would not have my aperture at 5.6. At the point of taking this photo, I did not know how to change the aperture in manual mode, and to be honest it wasn’t something I was thinking about at the time. There are parts of the photo, like around the bolt, that are a bit blown out because of all the light, and I think having a smaller aperture would have helped that.

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Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Amit

    Brilliant take! I loved the amount of crop that you mentioned in the above answers…Just perfect!

  • dan m

    fantastic image – well done. good point about the aperture too. bravo.

  • Donna

    Did you use a Filter to get those violet colors. Just dosen’t look all
    natural. A nice shot.

  • erikiki

    beautiful. what is the red at the horizon : city lights ?

  • cdw9

    Heh, I just came back to this post and found the questions, sorry I didn’t answer earlier!

    No filter was used, I think the colors just came out from the adjustments with the brightness and saturation.

    The streaks of light at the horizon are cars on the Interstate. I’ll add this photo to the map so you can see where it was taken in case you’re interested.

  • morganator! BAM!

    Oooh Baby! thats one bad ass litghning bolt!
    DAMN!

  • Al

    Amazing photo. I captured one a few years ago, but by sheer luck,, good timing (basically snapping continuously until I captured a single bolt) But THIS info helps so much. With the insane rash of thunderstorms here in Philly, USA…today is no exception…I will try it!

    Hopefully tonight…running out of time in our thunderstorm season. 🙂

    Much appreciated
    Al

  • great stuff, I got the chance to give it a try last summer, here’s the post: http://jmphotographyonline.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/you-can-photograph-lightning/

  • And here is my atempt
    http://www.efoto.lt/node/421327

  • al

    Thanks Jay for the tip. “BULB” setting in Manual , High F-stop, tripod, and using a remote.

    We have had a few storms in the Philly area so far. Still no luck on capturing the “perfect lighting bolt” Few duds. You were not kidding about this tip “Point camera in direction of lightning. (trickier than it sounds)”

    Still time in the summer season. Perhaps tomorrow as storms should pick up again.

    ——–

    Exonn – That is ONE nice photo! Well done.

  • Al

    Got it! Finally. (Storm outside Philadelphia – Sept. 22, 2010_
    Thank you again for the tips!

  • Al

    Sorry, a link would help.

  • Al
  • Sue Henley

    I thought this was a well stated article. Thank you.

  • Definitely frustrating, but yet chasing lightnings is such a rewarding job! I put together a collection of lightning images from people who did it well http://www.photographymojo.com/2011/09/20-thrilling-lightning-photography-examples/

  • Try a lightning trigger for day or night time lightning. They only go off when there are postive strikes with a negative return. They work 100% of time as well. It’s all we ever use! Check out a few of my shots at http://www.carynhillphotography.com This VERY small library is just a drop in the bucket of what I have for lightning shots. Other then that, for night time shots, set your ISO at around 600, aperature at around 5.6 or so, get out the cable release, focus on an object in the approximate area the lightning should hit, and let it rip! Keep it open for around 30 seconds and then release. UNLESS you get a lightning strike then only leave it open for about 2 seconds after the strike as disipated. The hardest part of framing up lightning is being able to read the storm. Which when you are a storm chaser, can be a bit easier but oh so fun!

Some Older Comments

  • Ms Carey Berry March 7, 2013 04:35 pm

    Try a lightning trigger for day or night time lightning. They only go off when there are postive strikes with a negative return. They work 100% of time as well. It's all we ever use! Check out a few of my shots at www.carynhillphotography.com This VERY small library is just a drop in the bucket of what I have for lightning shots. Other then that, for night time shots, set your ISO at around 600, aperature at around 5.6 or so, get out the cable release, focus on an object in the approximate area the lightning should hit, and let it rip! Keep it open for around 30 seconds and then release. UNLESS you get a lightning strike then only leave it open for about 2 seconds after the strike as disipated. The hardest part of framing up lightning is being able to read the storm. Which when you are a storm chaser, can be a bit easier but oh so fun!

  • Anna Patrick September 29, 2011 06:29 am

    Definitely frustrating, but yet chasing lightnings is such a rewarding job! I put together a collection of lightning images from people who did it well http://www.photographymojo.com/2011/09/20-thrilling-lightning-photography-examples/

  • Sue Henley July 1, 2011 03:34 am

    I thought this was a well stated article. Thank you.

  • Al September 23, 2010 04:51 pm

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/5015984995_42930b62fd_z.jpg

  • Al September 23, 2010 04:49 pm

    Sorry, a link would help.

  • Al September 23, 2010 04:47 pm

    Got it! Finally. (Storm outside Philadelphia - Sept. 22, 2010_
    Thank you again for the tips!

  • al June 3, 2010 07:09 am

    Thanks Jay for the tip. "BULB" setting in Manual , High F-stop, tripod, and using a remote.

    We have had a few storms in the Philly area so far. Still no luck on capturing the "perfect lighting bolt" Few duds. You were not kidding about this tip "Point camera in direction of lightning. (trickier than it sounds)"

    Still time in the summer season. Perhaps tomorrow as storms should pick up again.

    --------

    Exonn - That is ONE nice photo! Well done.

  • Exonn June 2, 2010 09:08 pm

    And here is my atempt
    http://www.efoto.lt/node/421327

  • Jay McIntyre April 8, 2010 12:45 am

    great stuff, I got the chance to give it a try last summer, here's the post: http://jmphotographyonline.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/you-can-photograph-lightning/

  • Al August 23, 2009 09:39 am

    Amazing photo. I captured one a few years ago, but by sheer luck,, good timing (basically snapping continuously until I captured a single bolt) But THIS info helps so much. With the insane rash of thunderstorms here in Philly, USA...today is no exception...I will try it!

    Hopefully tonight...running out of time in our thunderstorm season. :)

    Much appreciated
    Al

  • morganator! BAM! November 27, 2008 12:57 am

    Oooh Baby! thats one bad ass litghning bolt!
    DAMN!

  • cdw9 December 23, 2006 12:25 am

    Heh, I just came back to this post and found the questions, sorry I didn't answer earlier!

    No filter was used, I think the colors just came out from the adjustments with the brightness and saturation.

    The streaks of light at the horizon are cars on the Interstate. I'll add this photo to the map so you can see where it was taken in case you're interested.

  • erikiki November 27, 2006 08:47 pm

    beautiful. what is the red at the horizon : city lights ?

  • Donna November 26, 2006 03:32 pm

    Did you use a Filter to get those violet colors. Just dosen't look all
    natural. A nice shot.

  • dan m November 25, 2006 10:09 am

    fantastic image - well done. good point about the aperture too. bravo.

  • Amit November 25, 2006 02:55 am

    Brilliant take! I loved the amount of crop that you mentioned in the above answers...Just perfect!

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