Lightning Photography with Magic Lantern

Lightnings and storms are always a powerful subject. The power of nature calls everyone's attention, but lighnings in particular have been until now a trial and error matter.

 

Magic Lantern (http://magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_Lantern_Firmware_Wiki) is a firmware add-on. It is not a hack, or a modified firmware, but it runs alongside Canon's own firmware, booting from the SD card every time you turn the camera on. The only modification to the original firmware is the ability to boot software from the card, which is turned off by default on Canon's firmware. That is the extension of the tampering on the original firmware the Magic Lantern guys have done.

Basic Technique

Set the camera on a tripod with LiveView turned on.  Next, select Motion Detect on ML's menu, and just let it sit there for the whole duration of the storm or as long as you like. Using LiveView consumes a good deal your battery, so you’ll want to plan for that. Also, obviously, there’s a good chance of getting your camera wet with rain. Lastly, sensor temperature may be a concern, so be sure to monitor that, as you don't want it to get too high.  I've spent a couple of hours testing it out and found no issue with it.  Naturally, your results might vary.

As a general rule I use:

  • Av mode with f:8 or f:11, depending on the depth of field I need. I'm more concerned about long exposure rather than DOF, though.
  • Low ISO (100 or 200) ensure a long exposure: that will help in capturing several impressions of the lightning strike
  • Exposure compensation -2 EV: this will avoid the image to be rendered too bright, risking hiding the lightning off a blown out background.
  • Set 20 or 30 seconds delay for LCD timeout and Global Draw on ML's power menu. You don't have to worry if the LCD turns off. The SD LED lamp will flash every few seconds to let you know that is still alive.

Now you just can sit and relax while the camera does all the work.

NOTE: For a list of supported cameras: http://magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_Lantern_Firmware_Wiki

Text revision: Dk Baker

 Sometimes you can even catch more than one lighning.
Selecting Motion Detect Exposure "EXP" mode sets the LiveView system to continuously monitor the brightness level of each frame, somewhat around 30fps, and when it detects a difference that you set as parameter (Here level 15 is shown) it triggers the sutter. I've worked with values around 8 and 20, depending in the amount of ambient light and moving subjects that might lighten or darken the overall image.

This was one of my first shots, you can see is a long exposure, enough to give the moving truck a "trail" effect, just like a second curtain flash effect. Sometimes the lightning is so fast that you will only capture the remaining luminosity, but for the majority of cases I've been able to capture the lightning. The key is where you point your camera to, and since not every lightning fall on the same place twice is kind of tricky.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 2
rwgottar
By rwgottar (Apr 30, 2012)

Hi,

Could you please let me know which version of ML you are using? I have been searing the site for over an hour and tried many different versions but I can not find any that that have the menu screen pictured in this article

0 upvotes
Ssigrist
By Ssigrist (Apr 9, 2012)

Nice usage...

I took some shots of lightning utilizing Magic Lantern as well.. But I took them a different way.. I need to try the motion detection thing..

Instead, I used the intervelometer.. I set the exposure to 2 second shots... Magic Lantern woudl take shot after shot after shot after shot.. In 2 second intervals..

I let it run for half a hour or so and then would go back and delete the shots that did not capture lightning...

out of 3-400 shots, I ended up with these:

https://picasaweb.google.com/118143056296471581579/Keeps04#

0 upvotes
Total comments: 2