Capture Lightning!

by | Aug 30, 2011 | Tips & Tricks | 2 comments

Thank you everyone for your comments; I know how to capture lightning now! Seriously, because I do so much trial and error, and I don’t get to shoot storms very often, I really enjoyed reading your comments.

In all actuality, you probably don’t want to take pictures of lightning the same way I did for that Virginia thunderstorm. Like I said, there are multiple ways of doing things; and this usually means there are better ways than others. However, when circumstances dictate that the best way is not possible, than it is worth the risk to be creative, and do it different ways.

Let me explain. Everyone knows that two things are absolutely necessary for this kind of photography:

  1. A tripod to keep the camera steady
  2. A remote release to keep the shutter opened longer than 30sec.

Well, I didn’t have either! So what did I do? I went inside, opened a window, made sure there wasn’t a screen in the way, positioned the camera on the window sill half inside and half outside, composed my shot, and then closed the window on the camera (albeit gently!) to work as a sort of vise to keep the camera from moving and a shock absorber for my finger as it held down the shutter release. Perhaps this is why the picture is a little soft, Jon, but I figure it was better than nothing. 🙂

As for technical details, they are all very dependent on the conditions you are shooting under. Is it a very dark night? Is the storm close or far away? What kind of lightning is there? Once you have your camera set up on a tripod and a remote release hooked up, keep the following in mind:

  • ISO: go as low as you can go (no higher than 400). Grain is always a big problem for both dark scenes and long exposures. 
  • Aperture: I set mine to f/8.0. Just like shooting fireworks, if you use a much wider opening, you may loose detail in a bolt because it is goo thick. If you use a much narrower opening, than you may loose detail in the bolt because sections may be too thin to see.
  • Shutter speed: under M mode, set the shutter speed to Bulb. This way, you can hold the shutter open as long as you want. This is the key to cool lightning pictures, because it gives you the ability to capture multiple bolts of lightning in the same frame as well as adding some nice movement in the clouds.

1995_Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 62.0 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 400

One of these days, I’ll try putting something interesting in the foreground. 🙂 In the meantime, we can be learning from others who have more experience than ourselves:

How to photography lighting –WeatherScapes

Learn how to take striking lightning images – Digital Photography School

West Virginia storms gallery –WV Lightning


  1. Elizabeth Lindsay

    It is so hard to take pictures of lightning! I have ONE. But I have tried sooooo many times!

  2. James Staddon

    Tis a bummer. Do you think the recent posts and comments will help you on your next lightning op?



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