How to catch lightning bolts on a budget

Started May 22, 2006 | Discussions
DTemp Senior Member • Posts: 1,180
How to catch lightning bolts on a budget

A brief spring thunder storm just passed thru Boston. I quick set up my camera at my window to try to catch some lightning bolts. Unless the storm is CRAZY, this requires some patience as well as luck. So I devised a way to catch the lightning strikes while not tending to the camera.

You need:

-A nikon camera with a 10-pin remote terminal (sorry D70, D50, D100 owners), with a wide lens attached
-A set of pocketwizards

-A pre-trigger cable for the pocketwizards, which is expensive if you buy one, but I made one for $20
-A SB-800 flash

Set the SB-800 on SU-4 mode. In this mode, if it senses a flash (lightning strike), it will flash back. Set the flash on manual 1/128 and put some gaffers tape over the flash head so you dont actually see the flash. Use a wire to connect the PC-terminal on the SB-800 to the "sync input" jack of the pocketwizard transmitter. This way, when the SB-800 sees a flash, it will fire the transmitter.

Hook up the receiver to the camera thru a pretrigger cable. Volia!

I realize not many of you have a set of pocketwizards, but they are handy for many other things besides trying to catch lightning

As for today... there wasnt any good cloud-to-ground lightning, just some wimpy flashes. They did set off the camera though. The delay for my D200 was approx 50ms. This is enough to catch a good bolt, since they last a good fraction of a second.

If anyone has any comments how to improve this or whatnot, let me know.
--
-Dave T.

mironv Veteran Member • Posts: 9,778
Re: How to catch lightning bolts on a budget
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Thats OK system but what is exposure time you set for that. I keep my shutter open for long time and just wait for bolts and some times keep it going for 2 -3 bolts at time.This trigering is fine idea.Thanks for sharing all I need is SB00,SU4 Pocket wizard and connecting cable.Well I will keep finger on shuter botton for now.
Mironv

http://mironv.smugmug.com/

 mironv's gear list:mironv's gear list
Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro Nikon D700 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Nikon AF Nikkor 105mm f/2D DC +10 more
Darrell Wilks Contributing Member • Posts: 897
Brilliant, thx(nt)

no text

OP DTemp Senior Member • Posts: 1,180
Re: How to catch lightning bolts on a budget

How long to leave the shutter open is a question for people more experienced in lightning photography than myself... with the pretrigger cable, the meter stays on constantly. I had it on A-mode, ISO 100, f/8, and the shutter turned out to be about 1/2 sec. It was a daytime storm. If it was at night, having a 30-sec exposure wouldnt be a problem I guess. Except maybe all the light from the bolt would cause lots of blown-out highlights, even in the surrounding landscape.
--
-Dave T.

dad_of_four Veteran Member • Posts: 8,219
Great idea, except...

All of a sudden it cheapens all those fantastic lighting shots I have seen.

I've always imagined the photographer spending countless hours trying to capture the perfect shot.

Now, all I see some guy with a rig that automatically trips whenever a bolt is detected. Thanks a lot!!! (LOL)
--
Warm regards,
Dad-of-four

 dad_of_four's gear list:dad_of_four's gear list
Nikon D70 Nikon D2Xs Nikon D700 Nikon D5000 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED-IF +10 more
SelrahCharleS Senior Member • Posts: 2,701
Sweet

A homemade lightning trigger... Cool idea... I would probably just set the camera with long exposure NR off and just start filling up memory cards... but thats quite cool you actually figured something like that out.
--

http://www.geocities.com/wild_tiger_1

http://flickr.com/photos/selrahcharles/

Whats more important to you? Taking photographs that have great image quality, or taking photographs that are quality images?

reefonline Junior Member • Posts: 38
Re: How to catch lightning bolts on a budget

that sounds amazing!
do you think you can post a picture of your set up? that would be amazing
--
http://reefonline.deviantart.com
http://www.reefonline.com

OP DTemp Senior Member • Posts: 1,180
Re: How to catch lightning bolts on a budget

I would post a pic, but its my only digicam... so I would need an elaborate set of mirrors to take a picture of the camera with itself

P.S. The most intricate part about this is the self-made pre-trigger cable for the pocketwizards. If you buy one off the shelf, they manage to charge $180 for what is essentially a wire. You can make one yourself by splicing two cables in an appropiate manner.

Buy a third-party release cable off ebay, one with a button at one end and the 10-pin connector at the other end. Cut the cable in the middle. Use the end with the button to determine the wires connected with a half-press and a full-press. Then get a mono 1/8" audio plug and cut the other end off. Connect the common and the half-press wire from the 10-pin end to one of the wires on the 1/8" plug end, and connect the full-press wire from the 10-pin end to the other wire on the 1/8" plug end. You need a continuity tester and a soldering gun for this, thats all.

With this setup, the meter will stay on (and hense drain the battery) when the cable is plugged into the 10-pin port of the camera. You want this, because in return for the battery drain, the camera is immediately responsive to a shutter input, and the shutter delay drops from about 500ms to the camera's normal delay (from 70ms on a D200 to 35ms on a D2H). This is also handy for mounting a camera behind a backboard at a basketball game, ask me how I know
--
-Dave T.

Matt_Anderson
Matt_Anderson Veteran Member • Posts: 3,783
My System . . .

Picture = (((Beer left hand) + (shutter release right hand)) x time)

Kick A$$ Experience = Picture + ( Divine Intervention)

Divine Intervention = Hot busty blond neighbor braless in Nightey standing next to me watching the light show as well (priceless)

OP DTemp Senior Member • Posts: 1,180
Re: My System . . .

Nice picture... wait, screw the lightning shot, lets see pics of the neighbor!

There are many ways to skin a cat... but if you use my setup, you can afford to concentrate on other things... such as your lightshow companion

P.S. What was the shutter speed for that, the EXIF is missing.
--
-Dave T.

Matt_Anderson
Matt_Anderson Veteran Member • Posts: 3,783
Re: My System . . .

Last nights light show was quite nice.
D200, 17-35 30 Sec. Exposure, NR on, ISO 400
Custom white balance (auto will almost always make lightning look orange)

I got about ten shots like that.

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. . .

Duece Regular Member • Posts: 383
Re: How to catch lightning bolts on a budget

I guess my budget is cheap compared to most of the people here, but I do get decent results with my D70 and my coolpix 5400. But I do have beer involved with all my lightning shots so I guess my budget goes up each storm. Storms are my hobby most of my shots I have gotten, the shot were predicted. But I do find your homemade trigger facinating, because I like lightning during the daylight, which are harder to get. here are a few photos.

here is one with my coolpix5400 + beer

D70 + Beer for the rest of these

-- hide signature --

Duece

Smada Lesna Forum Member • Posts: 96
Fascinating

So this should also work with the cheap $20 (plus $20 shipping wireless radio triggers from ebay! What's more, I have those very sensitive optical slave cells and they should work too. They look like a table tennis ball that's half black, half white.

BTW, I read there's some electronical equipment, I think you can make it with a microprosessor called 'Basic Stamp' from parallax (read it on their forum), that senses an upcoming bolt so it opens the camera just before the strike. It's very sensitive so it registers the electrical build-up or something.

Anyway thanks, I'm a dedicated DIY-er. Where I live real nice lightning is very rare though; maybe once or twice a year.

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