Tips for Lightning and Storm Photography
Storm season in Northern Australia is in the summer & Autumn months and I’ve been out chasing them with my Nikon D800. I’ve driven many miles with my chin on the steering wheel looking up into the sky and clouds following the wind and rain. When you arrive at a location to take photos of lightning you have to be ready to jump into action fast and know what you are doing. I’m going to offer some advice from what I’ve learnt these past 6 months to make things easier for you to learn too.
If you are just here for the visual pleasure, please scroll down to my Lightning photographs !
Tips for Lightning Photography~
- Use a sturdy tripod (You need a tripod for any shots slower than 1/60th of a second and you should be using exposure times well over this, i.e 10 or even seconds)
- You don’t necessarily need a DSLR but you need to be able to change the settings on the camera and not many compacts can do this. These are: Aperture, Exposure time and ISO.
- Lens choice is up to you, wide anlge lens will have more chance of capturing the lightning bolt but it will be smaller in the frame. Zoom lenses will capture more detail of the bolt but you also have less chance of capturing a bolt because you have to the lens pointing at the exact part of the sky where the lightning goes off. So its up to you, I use a 14-24mm on my Full Frame DSLR.
- set your lens focus to and make sure the lens is set to manual. You don’t want your lens searching for focus before every shot only to discover when you get home that it couldn’t find the focus point because it was night time and so 60-70% of your shots are all out of focus. you have caught the lightning bolt on frame but it will useless as its all blurry 🙁
- Use Manual Mode on your camera but getting the correct settings is a process. Exposure times of anything from 10 seconds to 2 minutes can be used to capture lightning. I personally use around the 10-30 second range and to get the correct exposure follow these steps. In Manual mode set your aperture to a mid-low range value, say f/5.6, and set your exposure time to what you want to shoot that day, lets say 30 seconds. I often shoot fairly close to a wide open aperture to let in as much light in as I can, e.g. f/2.8, but the drawback is a low depth field. If the shot is too dark then increase your ISO (e.g. 400). If the shot is too bright then increase your aperture (e.g. f8). Continue repeating this process until you get the exposure correct for the elements on the ground or in the frame (e.g. buildings or trees).
- Use a remote timer and fire off shots at will OR use the in camera Interval timer OR use an Interval Timer on a remote timer. I often just use the interval timer on my remote timer 🙂
- If you are planning on shooting lightning in the day you will need a Neutral Density Filter to do a long exposure time of 5-10 seconds. Trying to capture lightning with exposure times of 1/1000th of a second is like trying to capture a fly with chop sticks, it won’t happen.
- Get a good weather app on your smartphone. Mine even has live feed on the map of lightning strikes happening as I’m out in the field along with cloud cover and rain intensity.
- Follow local storm chasers and weather groups on Facebook. They will provide valuable information and warnings. Storms can be very dangerous creatures bringing flooding, high velocity winds and things like hail and snow.
- Get a good set of wet weather gear (i.e. jacket and pants) because you will be getting wet and it’s nice to be dry on the inside. I wouldn’t recommend holding an umbrella up over your camera during the storm as it will attract lightning, but I have seen other storm photographers do it.
- Pack some food as you could be out much longer than you think chasing and waiting for the action to come (the amount of times Ive forgotten to do this! my stomach wont forgive me for it).
So these tips should help you to hit the ground running when you head out to chase your own storms and i’ll leave with some shots using my Nikon D800. These Lightning images (all done by myself) were shot within the last 6 months of posting this tutorial and within 75km of Brisbane, Australia … 1 or 2 were down near the Gold Coast.
MY LIGHTNING PHOTOGRAPHY
“Planes, Boats & Lightning” © Luke Zeme. Nikon D800 + Nikkor 14-24m, Exp 10 secs, ISO 100, 14mm and f/3.5.
“Creation” © Luke Zeme. Nikon D800 + Nikkor 14-24mm, Exp 10secs, ISO 100, 14mm and f/2.8
“Lightning Sunset” ©Luke Zeme. Nikon D800 + Nikkor 14-24mm, Exp 8secs, ISO 100, 14mm & f/7.1
“The Bay Explosion” © Luke Zeme 2013. Nikon D800 + Nikkor 14-24mm, Exp 8secs, ISO 100, 14mm & f/3.2
“Supercell at the Gold Coast” © Luke Zeme, 2012. Nikon D800 + Nikkor 14-24mm, Exp 10 secs, ISO 200, 14mm & f/2.8
If you are interested in getting prints of any of these please contact me using the contact details in the tabs at the top of the website.
Hope some of these tips will help some budding young storm chasers out there !