I’ve been shooting thunderstorms for over 20 years and in this video I’m going to teach you how to capture beautiful photographs of lightning. I’ll breeze through the basics and then get to some cool tricks I’ve learned. Thunderstorms are like lemons… You neve know which way they’re gonna squirt. For the most part, taking pictures of lightning is like trying to catch the road runner. Open a box door and when the bird goes inside… just close the door. Your camera is a box that captures light If it’s dark outside just open your camera door, or your shutter. and when lightning strikes… Just shut the door. That’s the easy part The hard part is finding a close location to shoot lightning without drenching your expensive electronics. The first thing you’re gonna wanna get is a tripod. Lightning really like tripods! and if you’re standing next to one in an open field…
You’ll increase your chances of attracting a really close strike. Storms often occur in windy conditions. That can jostle your gear all over the place. For sharp images without motion blur the heavier the tripod the better. These are not good for taking photos of lightning. You’re gonna want a camera that you can program the settings. most DSLR and mirrorless cameras with manual settings options
should work. Be sure and focus your camera in manual focus mode. In the dark your autofocus might start freaking out and zoom in an out real fast like a funky music video. The lower your ISO the less sensitive your sensor will be and the less noise there will be. This is all a goos thing. an ISO of 100 is a good setting to begin with. Aperture is how big the hole is in your box. Start off in the middle around f8 If lightning is striking too far away and shows up too dim with these settings… Open your iris more until all the branches are nice and bright. If your iris is open all the way and your branches are still not showing up very well Then start bumping up your ISO.
How long you leave the shutter open depends on how much ambient light there is. If it’s pitch black you can leave the shutter open for 10, 20, 30 seconds or more. And every strike that occurs in your field of view during that time will be recorded. With digital cameras, the longer you leave the shutter open, the more noise tends to accumulate. You’ll have to monitor what your camera is capable of.
And of course you can cheat out some of the noise in lightroom. My favorite time to shoot lightning is at sunset. The magic hour colors make a spectacular backdrop. Because of all the existing light You can only leave your shutter open a few seconds. With your camera setting on B or Bulb you can hold the shutter open indefinitely. Rather than do that, I set the shutter speed to a finite relative long duration. 2, 3, 4 seconds that way each shot has the same exposure.
You’ll be glad you did that later on. If you’re meaty tripod is stable, and if you have a soft touch, you can risk manually pushing the shutter button with your finger. But if you’re zoomed up at all, you’ll risk getting motion blur. So, take an extra… 4 seconds to plug in a cable release.
But make sure you bring the right release. When it’s just starting to get dark outside, I’ll set the shutter at 1 or 2 seconds, take a test shot and tweak the duration if necessary. Once the clouds have a great exposure, start snapping away like crazy. Anything that happens while your shutter is OPEN, is embalmed in your storage.
As it get darker, you can shoot longer and longer exposures. As you accumulate field experience, you’ll start to realize that the greatest lightning strikes likes to strike in that short window BETWEEN two exposures. Now that you know the basics, lets learn a few tricks. whoops Before the turn of the century, most pros shot 35 mm slide film. Little positive transparencies. I LOVE the way slides capture lightning. On dark nights, I’ve left the shutter open for as long as 20 minutes. Because it’s film, there’s absolutely no digital noise and you can capture dozens of strikes on one frame.
My digital cameras pick up a lot more light pollution then film. If there’s any rain, and there usually is, the grays get more illuminated. After 2 or 3 strikes in one shot, my images can get washed out. If you want to capture a DIGITAL image with multiple discharges like this film slide, there’s an option called stacking. After shooting a series of images locked off on a tripod go through your files and pick out the ones with good contrasty strikes. Import them into photoshop or whatever you use and drag the layers on top of each other. Then blend them together using your different blending options.
The screen option and the lighten option usually work the best for me. The program blends all the images
together into one Sometimes you get goofy looking digital cloud artifacts and other times, if your strikes are clean, they melt together perfectly. It’s a lot of fun messing around with stacking, but if you’re going to share a stacked image, You’ll likely attract the nags of at least one grumpy purest. Many cameras have a built in intervalometer that allow you to program a series of automatic photos. So rather than push a button every 2 seconds 200 times, you can take a minute and tell you’re camera to do it. and then go getchyourself some raviolis while your camera does all the work… confess, i’m usually too excited and impatient afraid i’m gonna miss something to walk through the intervalometer set up.
And most of my best time lapse animations were captured by manually pushing the button hundreds of times. Since you’re shooting a frame every few seconds or so, ou can place all your pictures side by side on a video time line sequence. The result can be a spectacular high resolution time lapse animation. After shooting video of lightning you can walk through it frame by frame to see if you got a good still. If you did, you can take a screen grab of it and add it to your pictures portfolio. Adobe premiere Pro couldn’t make this any easier. Just push this camera icon, save…
And boom! Most video cameras nowadays are equipped with a rolling shutter. that means that the frames you are capturing are recorded through a scanning process that rolls down the sensor. Though this process occurs really fast, lightning is much faster. The end result is annoying blocky rectangle thingies we call partial exposures Most NEGATIVE lightning discharges I capture on video are ruined with partial exposures… and thus quarantined in the appropriate location. (trash sound) Positive lightning channels and anvil crawler lightning tend to exist longer thus are captured some-what better by rolling shutters. while shooting video of lightning with a rolling shutter, I usually set the shutter speed at the frame rate so, If you’re shooting at 30 frames per second, set the shutter at 30 and cross your fingers.
Another option is to invest in a camera with a global shutter. A global shutter scans a snapshot of the entire scene all at once. So, no partial exposures. The catch… is you’ll likely spend thousands of dollars AND the global shutter technology is not one for low light sensitivity. W’re gonna do our prediction for thunderstorms tomorrow the way the SPC does. Oklahoma… thunderstorms. Back around 1995, We didn’t have smart phones with radarscope, and we had to chase storms on horse back it took months of trial and error before I finally captured my first lightning strike. After that, I was HOOKED… and here we are today.
The hardest part for me was finding lightning occurring close enough to be dramatic, But not wrapped up in rain. here I live In southeast Texas, most storms are high precipitation waterfalls. So I started venturing out west seeking storms in lower dew points. You can hunt storms for years.. and then one magical day you find that special storm that will make your entire previous portfolio irrelevant. This was my first tornado Alley supercell shot back in
May of 2001. I put some extra time into the previous video I uploaded and I wasn’t sure if y’all were gonna dig all the technical jargon and analysis. So to see the tremendously positive responses and comments really meant a lot to me. And I WISH I could give something back to all y’all. SO I AM!!!! EVERYBODY is getting a FREE Pecos Hank 2018 calendar poster file for Christmas! It’s a 24×16 high res file, you can shrink it down and print it on your home printer, OR have someone else print it for you. I have mpix.com print all my stuff.
They do excellent jobs and they’re super cheap. All my storm photos that i sell on my website and hang in galleries were printed by mpix and arrive on my doorstep a few days later And I think shipping is free for first time users. I’ll put directions in the description of where to download your free christmas present. well, I’d love to BS with you all day but I’m going to Japan on Thursday and then I’m going back to Thailand. Maybe this time I’ll finally find a wild king cobra? Happy holidays to everyone around our world.
Till next time friends, Music: “Crossed the Line” by Southern Backtones .
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