How do you shoot lightning?

Started Jun 9, 2008 | Discussions
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WBirch Senior Member • Posts: 2,836
How do you shoot lightning?

Post your modus operandi of shooting lightning and maybe your best pics.
Settings, equipment, raw or jpeg, etc. Lots of ways to do it but few do it
well.

Thanks!

===================

Adrian Veidt Regular Member • Posts: 326
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

Get on a ladder, under a very large tree, and use an old metal monopod to raise the camera high over your head and use the self-timer. If you are very lucky, you will get a really cool shot. It might be the last thing you see, but hey if you get the shot then it would be worth it right?

Ancient_Mariner Senior Member • Posts: 1,555
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

The OP asked a legitimate photographic question. If you don't have anything to contribute to this question, simply refrain from participation. We complain all the time about "which camera should I get" posts. Now, that someone asks a serious question, is this your reply?

morninglight Senior Member • Posts: 1,288
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

The latest (July 2008) issue of Shutterbug has an article on lightning that you might find to be just what you sre looking for.

-- hide signature --

Trying to live inside the circle of minimum confusion. Also trying to not respond to impolite posts.
http://www.jaymoynihan.com

RUcrAZ
RUcrAZ Veteran Member • Posts: 4,816
Assuming use of digicams:

Attempt at a short version: Sorry if some things are obvious.

1. Need to do it at night, because the shutter needs to stay open for long periods of time, in hopes that lightning will flash. If it's done in daytime, everything will be overexposed.

2. Set the camera distance focus to infinity. If need be, override the autofocus because it can get confused in darkness.

3. Set the ISO (light sensitivity) to the lowest number - say 50 rather than 500, to get best quality results.

4. Set the aperture to a couple of stops more open than the smallest. F5.6 to F8 or F11 are probably good starting points.

5. Set the cam on a tripod, trip the shutter open, and wait until lightning strikes.*

  • This last point is the hard one. Most (not all) digicams cannot keep their shutter open for long periods of time for technical reasons. The alternative I used (for my cam) is to set it for the maximum exposure time (15 seconds) and for maximum amount of total series of photos per button-push (10). The way it works is: Shutter open for 15 seconds; then about 15 seconds processing (during which time no photos are being taken); then the second 15-second exposure, followed by its 15 second processing, and so on. Thus with one push of the button, the cam will record a total of 10 shots x 15 seconds or 150 seconds. Then press again for another 10 shots and so on. Unfortunately, it is not taking photos during the 10 processing times, so it's a matter of luck if the lightning will occur during the actual picturetaking period or the processing period. Some cams process faster than others, so the non-photo time may be more, or less.

So much for the technology. Art is in selecting the right foreground, silhouetted to make the picture interesting. Luck is aiming at the right place at the right time.
RUcrAZ

wboth125 Senior Member • Posts: 1,311
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

lightning

Set focus on infinity

Abt 2:30AM on July 5th, the best of 17 captures. 13 Sec. @ f3.5 iso 100

Canon PowerShot G3
Abt. 5:30AM, 3 sec. @ f8.0 the best of 17 captures.

Manual mode, Av meter, iso 50, Large super fine jpeg, saved as tiff, adj. made, finished in Photosuite III, final image saved uncompressed jpeg. Used tripod with ball head. Exposure Abt. 3 Sec. at f8.0 The best of 17 captures. Caught 1 of 3 strikes..pressed shutter at first strike...lucky. Manual focus locked on infinity.(reduced shutter delay) Abt. 5:20 AM

Bill,Jr
--
'I kind of like the Earth, it's where I keep all my Stuff.'
Website; http://www.pbase.com/wboth125 Lake Wylie, SC

bertalan Regular Member • Posts: 487
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

ISO 100
30sec
f4.0
35mm

this is film but have similar with D40 at ISO 200 and f5.6(turn noise reduction off)

Kindestdolphin New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Assuming use of digicams:

It seems to me,that this simple procedure should work. With a lot of luck you could get really great shots. I will try this out this coming storm season.

Thanks

Lucy Forum Pro • Posts: 31,048
Wow.....that is fabulous!

Terrific shot of lightning, bertalan!

E- 510, 40- 150, 14- 54 and ZD 35 Macro lenses
U ZI owner!
Olympus C30-20Z
http://www.pbase.com/lucy
FCAS Member #98, Oly Division
'Photography is the art of seeing what others do not.'

macmaven Contributing Member • Posts: 845
Lightning Trigger

A company in Colorado called Stepping Stone Products, LLC make a product called The Lightning Trigger.

see: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lightning.shtml

http://lightningtrigger.com/

macmaven

Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
Stupidly, bu I have fun anyway...

WBirch wrote:

Post your modus operandi of shooting lightning and maybe your best pics.
Settings, equipment, raw or jpeg, etc. Lots of ways to do it but few
do it
well.

I don't do it well, because my procedure needs work. I get it in my head that I want lightning against a building under construction or a cool church. I stake out my view when the weather is good. So I put the bed down in my Explorer, set up a short tripod, a lens, and a lightning trigger, and the next few storms, I drive out to my selected spot, and wait for a storm to cooperate. If it's going well, I roll down a rear window, crawl in the back, and compose, and then craw back up front. If the strikes are getting within a couple of miles, I roll up the window and drive in the opposite direction of the storm.

I shoot one of two ways.

One is with a "lightning trigger". That doohickey that MacMaven recommended is cool, if you don't love building stuff the way that I do. Lighting makes 4 or 5 good zaps, nicely spaced over a 200mS (1/5 second) interval. It's too fast for my reflexes, but not too fast for a trigger that picks up flickering lights. So, a 1/10 second exposure gets an excellent picture, lit almost purely by lightning. Clouds make reflectors.

The other is by setting the camera on 2 second exposures (reasonable for a D2X or D3) with long exposure noise reduction turned off, and the camera on continuous. When the lightning puts on a really good show, I just hold the remote release down and pray. A modern camera on 2 second exposures with an 8 gig card will happily grind away for 15 minutes, and that's definitely past the duration of the really "showy" part of a Michigan thunderstorm.

I've also been known to shoot out the back of the explorer, with the tailgate up, instead of the side window.

The rest of the settings: raw, f11 on a crop camera, f16 on full frame, manual focus (focus isn't that hard at these f stops), ISO 100 or 200. whatever is better on your camera. Some cameras actually have less dynamic range at their very lowest ISO setting, so 1 stop up from the lowest is typically best.

In the raw processing, highlight recovery options in the modern raw processing software makes the bolts take on surprising detail and texture.

Simple lenses (if you've got them) are generally more successful than complex zooms, which can flare the lightning bolt into ugliness.

White balance to daylight, but don't worry too much about it, a lightning bolt doesn't correspond to any spectrum that can be properly white balanced, enjoy the colors...

Always make sure you're ready to drive off, and always make sure you know what direction is safe.

-- hide signature --

Rahon Klavanian 1912-2008.

Armenian genocide survivor, amazing cook, scrabble master, and loving grandmother. You will be missed.

Ciao! Joseph

http://www.swissarmyfork.com

 Joseph S Wisniewski's gear list:Joseph S Wisniewski's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Nikon D90 Nikon D2X Nikon D3 Nikon D100 +43 more
agavephoto Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

i shoot lightning as often as i can, and i get results that i am often pleased with with my technique. i use a DSLR and a tripod. i usually shoot at night, with the following settings:

bulb mode and a remote . . . this allows me to expose as long as i want to. camera to camera noise will vary, and you'll need to practice to see how long you can expose before noise is objectionable while you wait for lightning to strike in your field of view, or wait until enough strikes for your taste have happened in your field of view.

turn in camera noise reduction off if you can.

i tend to use ISO 100, for noise concerns mainly, but also to not overexpose any city lights that may be in my field of view.

auto focus off, and focus for infinity.

focal ratios vary depending on several factors, but i set it to not overexpose the lightning too much. major factors are how close the lightning is, and how much rain is in between the lightning and my camera. i can shoot very distant lightning (\with a good telephoto lens and get good results at f/4 or faster. if it's close, i can shoot at f/11 or greater if needed. some experimentation here is key to get the look you want, i think.

ok, a break from the words with a few photos and then i'll discuss daytime and non-DSLR cameras. (wow, i need to update my website!)

if i want to shoot during the day, the bulb mode is out of the question. so i tend to put the camera on a low ISO, and the highest focal ratio i can shoot and still get good signal to noise with the lightning, this lets me have the longest shutter speed i can without overexposing the landscape or cityscape. i then put the camera in continuous shooting mode and just hope the timing meets up for something nice. as

as another poster mentioned, white balance for lightning is non-trivial, but play with it until you get something you like (that's what it's about, right?) i shoot raw, so i don't think about it until i am post processing the images.

for pocket digital cameras, you can still get nice results, it just takes more patience, in my experience (it's how i got started with lightning). i would say set them for settings that let you get as close to what i do with DSLR's as you can.

don't be stupid doing this: pay good attention to the movement of the storm relative to you, and to how the storm is behaving. lightning can travel a great distance before heading down, so you are usually a some risk at all times you're out in the storm. if you have a car, stay inside if the storm gets too close: the metal cage of the car should act as a faraday cage and protect you a great deal.

i hope some of you find this of use.

Stringmike Contributing Member • Posts: 597
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

I've been involved in lightning for years and have used a number of different photographic techniques, including time exposure and optical or radio triggers.

One other technique we used in the film days was to use a narrow filter centered on the infra-red hydrogen alpha wavelength. This enable long time exposures in daylight.

You can use this technique with digital cameras too - here is one of my attempts using a low-pass infra-red filter and Pentax *ist DS.

As others have said, choose a safe location - lightning can be unpredictable and dangerous.

-- hide signature --

Mike

There are holes in the sky
Where the rain gets in,
But they're ever so small
That's why rain is thin. ....... Spike Milligan

agavephoto Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

just a small correction, Stringmike: hydrogen alpha is NOT infra-red . . . it is well within the visible deep red of human vision at 656.3nm wavelength.

Oleg Yu Zharii New Member • Posts: 4
Re: How do you shoot lightning?

Just two photos to continue discussion.

Regards,
Oleg Zharii, Kiev, Ukraine
http://www.zharii.kiev.ua

Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
H-alpha, more details please..

Stringmike wrote:

I've been involved in lightning for years and have used a number of
different photographic techniques, including time exposure and
optical or radio triggers.

One other technique we used in the film days was to use a narrow
filter centered on the infra-red hydrogen alpha wavelength. This
enable long time exposures in daylight.

Interesting.

Can you post any h-alpha examples?

What are the differences between a "film days" h-alpha shot and a digital days IR filter shot?

I have an H-alpha filter, a rather crude 3nm passband one, mounted for the filter holder of my 300mm f2.8 (It's a little 25mm diameter filter). It can't mount easily on anything else that I have, although I can improvise for the 60mm f2.8...

You can use this technique with digital cameras too - here is one of
my attempts using a low-pass infra-red filter and Pentax *ist DS.

As others have said, choose a safe location - lightning can be
unpredictable and dangerous.

As a Franklin biographer and a reincarnation of N. Tesla, I give it a great deal of respect.

-- hide signature --

Rahon Klavanian 1912-2008.

Armenian genocide survivor, amazing cook, scrabble master, and loving grandmother. You will be missed.

Ciao! Joseph

http://www.swissarmyfork.com

 Joseph S Wisniewski's gear list:Joseph S Wisniewski's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Nikon D90 Nikon D2X Nikon D3 Nikon D100 +43 more
Stringmike Contributing Member • Posts: 597
Re: H-alpha, more details please..

As the previous poster said, H-alpha is actually at the red end of the visible spectrum. It is useful for photographing lightning because there are strong emissions at this wavelength (presumably from the ionization of water molecules) and not too much in daylight. A narrow filter at this wavelength enables quite long daytime exposures.

It is decades ago, but I remember using a fairly slow B&W film with a moderately narrow filter (5 to 10 Angstroms if my memory serves me). We used an all-sky camera with a 360-degree horizon view to locate flashes near a test site. We managed daylight exposures of several minutes.

The advantage of this technique over a trigger is that it captures all components of the flash and is very simple.

For the photo I posted, I used an R72 filter designed for near infra-red photography. I was able to get 30 second time exposures in daylight at ISO 200 and f11.

A 300mm lens is a bit long for lightning photography - I used 28mm in the film days and now I use 18 to 24mm with a DSLR.

Let us know how your tests go.

-- hide signature --

Mike

There are holes in the sky
Where the rain gets in,
But they're ever so small
That's why rain is thin. ....... Spike Milligan

WBirch OP Senior Member • Posts: 2,836
I may as well post one too

...being the OP.

A pic showing the moon and a distant t-storm in the distance. A rare kind
of photo. The thunderhead cloud-tops had not quite obscured the moon in 1/4
phase or so. Streaks around the moon are fast moving clouds in this 16 sec
exposure.

Raw/16sec's/bulb mode/manual focus/f7.1/ 24mm iso200/tripod/manual shutter button.

Wayne B.

=========================

WBirch OP Senior Member • Posts: 2,836
Thanks Morninglight

morninglight wrote:

The latest (July 2008) issue of Shutterbug has an article on
lightning that you might find to be just what you sre looking for.

I should have stated that I've been shooting this subject a good
while and know how to. Thanks for the link for those discovering
this fun to capture subject!

Wayne B.

WBirch OP Senior Member • Posts: 2,836
Re: Stupidly, bu I have fun anyway...

Hi Joseph.
One thing you may want to discover with DSLR cams is the bulb mode
and keeping your shutter open for longer periods and releasing the shutter
the instant you get a good flash or bolt. The main trick using Bulb mode
is judging the intensity of the storm as it approaches and setting up the
f's, iso's and focus when the action really starts. Too high an iso or small
an F means overexposure. Too little of an Fstop means a dark shot...

Using the lowest ISO is always best to reduce noise. I try to stay with
iso 100 and F8 to F10 with the brightest bolts. For more distant stuff
iso 200 and opening up the lens and then closing down as it approaches.

Finding TRUE INFINITY with your lens is critical also when using a DSLR.
You have to shoot manual focus and find the focus infinity sweet spot.
This is not easy at night. Re-zooming means losing the true infinity setting
every time so keep it at a constant range like 24 mm's or whatever you
like.

I only shoot in RAW. It's surprising what you can obtain from a shot you
think is a dud if you know a little photo editing and use a good raw processor.

Shooting lightning with preset shutter times is not fun and means many
missed good pics. Having total control of the shutter while using proper
camera settings will make it alot easier to photograph lightning.

Thanks for replying.

Wayne B.

================

Joseph S Wisniewski wrote:

WBirch wrote:

Post your modus operandi of shooting lightning and maybe your best pics.
Settings, equipment, raw or jpeg, etc. Lots of ways to do it but few
do it
well.

I don't do it well, because my procedure needs work. I get it in my
head that I want lightning against a building under construction or a
cool church. I stake out my view when the weather is good. So I put
the bed down in my Explorer, set up a short tripod, a lens, and a
lightning trigger, and the next few storms, I drive out to my
selected spot, and wait for a storm to cooperate. If it's going well,
I roll down a rear window, crawl in the back, and compose, and then
craw back up front. If the strikes are getting within a couple of
miles, I roll up the window and drive in the opposite direction of
the storm.

I shoot one of two ways.

One is with a "lightning trigger". That doohickey that MacMaven
recommended is cool, if you don't love building stuff the way that I
do. Lighting makes 4 or 5 good zaps, nicely spaced over a 200mS (1/5
second) interval. It's too fast for my reflexes, but not too fast for
a trigger that picks up flickering lights. So, a 1/10 second exposure
gets an excellent picture, lit almost purely by lightning. Clouds
make reflectors.

The other is by setting the camera on 2 second exposures (reasonable
for a D2X or D3) with long exposure noise reduction turned off, and
the camera on continuous. When the lightning puts on a really good
show, I just hold the remote release down and pray. A modern camera
on 2 second exposures with an 8 gig card will happily grind away for
15 minutes, and that's definitely past the duration of the really
"showy" part of a Michigan thunderstorm.

I've also been known to shoot out the back of the explorer, with the
tailgate up, instead of the side window.

The rest of the settings: raw, f11 on a crop camera, f16 on full
frame, manual focus (focus isn't that hard at these f stops), ISO 100
or 200. whatever is better on your camera. Some cameras actually have
less dynamic range at their very lowest ISO setting, so 1 stop up
from the lowest is typically best.

In the raw processing, highlight recovery options in the modern raw
processing software makes the bolts take on surprising detail and
texture.

Simple lenses (if you've got them) are generally more successful than
complex zooms, which can flare the lightning bolt into ugliness.

White balance to daylight, but don't worry too much about it, a
lightning bolt doesn't correspond to any spectrum that can be
properly white balanced, enjoy the colors...

Always make sure you're ready to drive off, and always make sure you
know what direction is safe.

-- hide signature --

Rahon Klavanian 1912-2008.

Armenian genocide survivor, amazing cook, scrabble master, and loving
grandmother. You will be missed.

Ciao! Joseph

http://www.swissarmyfork.com

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