How To Shoot Lightning


They look they were shot by someone with a faster trigger finger than Wild Bill Hickok. But you don’t need a super-swift draw to take impressive pictures of lightning strikes, or be very lucky with the weather. With a little experimentation and the right technique, getting the flash on film (or chip) is a lot easier than it looks.lightn.jpg

You’ll need a tripod, of course, and a storm ready-a-brewing. Set the f-stop to between 2.8 and 5.6, the focus to infinity, aim the camera where you hope the lightning is going to strike, and — here’s the cheat tip — set the shutter speed to B to keep the shutter open.

Wait until the lightning appears, then close the shutter. As long as you’re shooting at night, the main light that will be exposed will be the lightning bolt and (almost) nothing else, giving you a beautiful streaky white line through your image.

You might need a few shots to get the overall exposure right — you can play around with the f-stop and the exposure time depending on the amount of surrounding light and the speed the clouds are moving — but the experimentation should give you an interesting selection of images.

Daytime lightning is much harder to catch. Leaving the shutter open will overexpose the background, so once you’ve metered the scene to discover the correct exposure level, you can use the Reciprocity Rule: increase the exposure time by dropping the f-stop. You won’t be able to hold the shutter open like you can at night, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll catch anything. But if you’ve got the patience to take repeated shots that miss — and a friendly storm on hand — the results can be very impressive.

There is one more thing we need to say about photographing lightning though… it’s dangerous, so be very careful. Ideally, you want to be indoors photographing the storm through a window while it’s far enough away not to cause you any harm. A telephoto lens is good for that and will put the lightning in context too, but bear in mind that dust in the air can give the photo a reddish tinge.

It’s better than being struck by lightning though.

Photo of Reaching by Craig Shillington.

[tags] photographing nature, photographing lightning [/tags]


One comment for this post.

  1. Darkmans Darkroom Said:

    ok correct me if I'm wrong. Doesn't Fstop control the focal lendth or depth? Being "Infinity" you wuld have to set the fstop at f186 or higher to have infinity. right?

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