17/07/2009

Photographing Lightning Strikes

Good old Mother Nature certainly gives us a diverse range of subjects to photograph and none could be more fascinating or unpredictable than that of lightning storms, but when shooting lightning strikes, you should no doubt be aware of the risks and possible dangers involved.
That being considered, it is an advantage if you can be under a shelter of some sort, especially at night in case of a sudden downpour or even being struck yourself. Although your vantage point should allow you to have a good wide view in the direction of the sky you will be photographing.
Your equipment should include a good sturdy tripod, remote or cable shutter release, and your camera should have the ability to be manually operated on shutter priority or the “B“ (Bulb) setting, as you will be working on times of up to thirty seconds and more. It’s no use attempting to press the shutter button after the lightning has struck as it all happens so quickly, your chances of catching it will be next to none.
You could say that photographing lightning strikes was not un-akin to fireworks photography, only I’d say that fireworks are probably more predictable. And like fireworks, by keeping the shutter open for long periods you can catch several strikes on the one frame.
So, let’s assume there is a storm approaching and it is black dark or at least in the twilight hours. Your camera, which is pointed skyward, is set on shutter priority at +30 seconds and you have allowed for a little bit of terra firma at the bottom of the frame and your lens should be at its widest setting.
It will give added impact to your photos if you can include something of a landmark, a tree or anything else of interest. This will also add drama and a sense of scale to your images.
As the lightning starts, open the shutter. If there is nothing else in the first 30 seconds, open it again and repeat this procedure until you get a couple of good strikes. Keeping a vigil of course on what’s happening with the storm, both with its direction and intensity.
No lightning strike is ever the same and you may get several strikes within a second or two and you may only get the odd one every now and again, but you need to be patient and try different techniques and you sometimes have be content with what you get on the night. But if you are in the storm season, then there is always the possibility of another chance tomorrow night.