How Would You Take It?

by | Aug 28, 2011 | Tips & Tricks | 6 comments

The evening was warm and blustery, the gusts of wind bringing with them the suggestion of an approaching storm. Then feeble flashes of light could be seen on the distant horizon, easily perceived from my vantage point on the front porch of the Wilkes new home in the rolling hills of northern Virginia. Before too long, the night sky was consistently lit up with flashes and bolts of lightning revealing the torrents of rain issuing from the outlying clouds. Yet, where I sat, there never fell a drop. And that is why I concluded that it would be worth it to pull out the camera. Not every day does one encounter a “nonaggressive” summer storm.

Even though it had been a while since I had tried taking pictures of lighting, it didn’t take me long to tweak the camera settings to capture this simple image. Now my question to you is this: if you were in my shoes, how would you have taken pictures of the storm? Do you know what settings on the camera you would use to capture multiple bolts of lighting?


I’m sure there are several different ways of doing the same thing, but in my next post, I will explain what I have found to be an effective way of making the most of a thunderstorm.


  1. Benjamin Cahill

    I’ve never taken photos of lightning (because we rarely ever see cloud-to-ground lightning), but I’d assume it to be similar to capturing fireworks (without the ease). In other words, set the ISO/aperture to what will give you the most pleasing color for the strikes, and have a decently long exposure.

    Then start the intervalometer, and wait :).

    Fortunately with distances like this, you don’t really need much depth of field, so you should be able to use a low ISO (ISO 100) to minimize noise on the underexposed parts, especially for long shutter speeds.

    I’ve always wanted to capture fireworks or lightning over a nice lake, but never have had the opportunity. 🙂

  2. Jonathan Hynes

    Excellent shot, James – good work! I think I saw that lightning too and wanted to shoot it but I didn’t have time (or a tripod 😉 The only opportunities I’ve had have been at the Wilkes’ barn – they’ve got a great view and lots of distant storms!

    24 sec sounds like a good shutter speed. It’s interesting that you stopped it down to f/8 and used ISO400. When I’ve shot lightning I always did it wide open with ISO100. I suppose you get better sharpness stopping it down a little.

    Sharp focus is key for these kinds of shots, but I’ve always had problems with OOF lightning shots. How did you focus? It looks like your focus is slightly soft, but acceptable.

  3. David Frazer

    Wow! You used ISO 400? You must have used a neutral density filtre or something, at 24 secs, F/8? Or was it really that dark at half past 11?

  4. Chelsea N.

    I’ve wanted to take pictures of lightening myself, but where we live is surrounded by trees so I can never see anything. 🙁 But I remain hopeful. 🙂

  5. David Huber

    I love lightning photos! I’m not an expert, but in order to capture multiple strikes here’s what I’d do.

    Assuming it’s pretty dark outdoors already, set the aperture to about f11-f15 or so, and the ISO to about as low as possible. Then have the shutter open, till you’ve captured multiple strikes. (I use a remote for this) You probably could also use a ND filter if it’s not that dark yet, or you want a shallower depth of field.

  6. Benjamin Cahill

    Just thought I’d put this in here…

    You don’t want to be using your camera’s lowest ISO setting unless it’s an actual ISO. AFAIK, the 50 or 80 ISO setting on most cameras is not an actual decrease of the the sensor’s sensitivity, but simply a reduction in the dynamic range by the camera’s processing algorithms.

    In other words, don’t go lower than ISO 100 (sometimes ISO 200), or you’re most likely losing dynamic range, and not actual utilizing less sensitivity. Of course, this could vary on your particular camera.

    Also, as Jonathan pointed out, remember that stopping down may help the clarity of a photo, especially on cheap zooms (ugh). 😉


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