How to Photograph a Thunderstorm

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Storms and lightning create beautiful opportunities for photography. The bolts of light are powerful and will make any scene dramatic but only if you can capture them.

 

 
To capture lightning you have to behave like a hunter, shooting and shooting until something is caught, focus and expose for the landscape you are using shooting 20 or 30 seconds exposures depending on the level of brightness in your scene. Something like ISO400, F11 and 20 seconds is a good way to start and you can adjust the parameters after taking a couple of sample shots before the hunt begins. Check focus carefully, it’s difficult to focus at night and out of focus bolts are not nice at all.

Use a remote intervalometer and program it to take dozens, even hundreds of shots one after the other. While the camera is taking the shots you can take a nice cup of coffee while you are warm and dry. You can also buy a specialized device as the Lightning Trigger to make the camera shoot only when lightning is detected.

Once the storm is finished examine the photographs looking for the best bolts and then create a composite scene merging all the nice shots in one. Load the shots in your photo editor as layers and play with different blending modes to find the best mode for your final image. Luminosity mode works quite well in several cases, other modes can be even better so always try them.

 

 
Lightning storms are fast, our brain usually remembers a mix of all the bolts and lights that we saw, that’s why a single photograph usually seems to do no justice to what we remember. The composite shot is usually more dramatic and even more similar to what we remember. Sometimes reality is the sum of events.

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  • Comments
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  1. deepthi

    electrifying stills of nature……. nice 2 b admired.

    • Reply
  2. john

    Pl suggest a good still camera Make & model

    • Reply
  3. Aditya Krishna Kannan

    I think this is too much of things need just to capture a lightning bolts, you will use that once and it will be forgotten, but still…. good idea, i will try it.

    • Reply
  4. jaideep chatterjee

    The pictures are thought provoking as well as delightfull and impeassive.please keep it up!!
    congrats for such adorable work………
    jaideep chattejee
    Sr.Lecturer,Management Studies,
    DURGAPOE,
    INDIA-713212.

    • Reply
  5. Melissa

    Wow, I thought I was going to learn something. I have little background knowledge of shooting lightning. This article is VERY vague. Tell me about white balance or how to ensure safety. By the way, lightning is just one aspect of storms….what about cloud formations, tornadoes…etc.

    • Reply
  6. Ms. Vic

    is there any substitute object for lightning? say, we dont have lightning that often..

    • Reply
  7. Kris

    Since the camera depends on contrast in order to properly focus, how do you set up your camera to allow you to take the shots in the dark before the lightning strike? Thank you.

    • Reply
  8. Mark

    Use a tripod when shooting, especially if you plan on blending shots afterwards. Once you lock your focus, flip the switch to manual mode so the camera doesn’t have to try to focus again after that. I use a regular shutter release cable instead of lightning triggers, but I only go out during heavy lightning storms. The triggers are helpful when there isn’t much lightning or the bolts are so quick and far between that you can’t really anticipate it or react quickly enough.

    For post processing, I layer my images in Photoshop and use the “Lighten” blending mode on all but the bottom layer. Here are some lightning shots I took just a couple of nights ago:
    http://www.msbphoto.com/blog/2013/5/baton-rouge-lightning-storm

    • Reply
  9. Brionna Lewis

    some thunderstrom is liked roaring sound

    • Reply

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