So you want to photograph lightning so you can use it for your business card or logo? And why wouldn’t you?
Gods like Thor and Zeus wield lightning as a weapon. Many superheroes, like The Flash and Shazaam, use it as their emblem. Lightning symbolizes power, speed, and a hint of danger.
Imagine handing out your business card with a lightning bolt streaking in the background. You’ll have an instant conversation starter, the story of how you took that picture!
But taking a photo of lightning isn’t as easy as whipping out your phone and pointing it to the sky. You’ll need the right equipment, technique, and a bit of luck. Here are some tips on how to photograph lightning.
1. Gear Up
Phone cameras and compact cameras will not cut it. To capture the magnificence of lightning, you’ll need to invest in a decent DSLR camera. This will give you the necessary control over the shot that your normal point and shoot cameras cannot.
The most common approach to lightning photography is to use long exposures. So for beginners, we absolutely recommend using a tripod and cable/remote release. You don’t want the photos to come out shaky and blurry which will happen if you try to shoot hand-held.
You can use any type of lens but a wide-angle lens will allow some leeway. Since you can cover a large area, you don’t have to guess as much where the next bolt is gonna pop.
2. The Right Location Is the Safe Location
As in real estate, photographing lightning is about location, location, location. You can use a weather app or watch the local forecast to find a lightning storm. A good location, however, requires a bit of planning.
Before the storm comes, pick several places that have a good view. But more important than that, make sure that the spot you’ll be taking photos from is safe! Avoid taking pictures near known lightning hazards such as trees and bodies of water.
You also want a good distance between you and the storm, around six to ten miles. You can calculate the distance by using the “flash-to-bang” method.
3. How to Photograph Lightning: Technique and Tips
Set everything to manual so you can speed up the camera’s reaction time. This means manual mode and manual focus. Focus your lens on the distant horizon or set it “to infinity.”
You might be wondering, how do you take photos of something that disappears in an instant. The short answer is you can’t unless you have superhuman reactions. The secret is shooting the secondary lightning bolts that come after the initial strike.
This is why the shutter speed setting is perhaps the most important. Most lightning photographers use bulb mode but you can also set the shutter time to anywhere between five and thirty seconds. This will give you enough time to capture the follow-up bolts.
There are also devices with sensors that can detect the flash of lightning and automatically trigger the shutter. But these lightning triggers are expensive and only used by dedicated lightning photographers.
As for the other settings such as the ISO and aperture, good starting points are the base ISO of the camera and aperture f/5.6. Depending on the brightness and quality of the first few images you take, you can make small adjustments to these settings.
Patience and Persistence
Shooting lightning with a camera isn’t as hard as catching lightning in a bottle. These tips on how to photograph lightning should make the whole endeavor a lot easier. But remember to be patient and keep taking pictures. If you keep going at it, it’s only a matter of time before you capture that perfect shot.
Do you have a design in mind that will incorporate that awesome lightning photograph you just took? Check out our recently completed projects for ideas and inspiration!