How to photograph lightning
Lightning remains one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights on Earth. The beauty and magnitude of an intense lightning storm showcases the brilliance of our weather systems – and the eerie, dangerous power they bring.
Speaking of danger, we all know the risk factors being around severe weather that brings lightning. The last thing anyone would want is to be struck by lightning. Even though lightning strikes are fairly rare, they can cause severe injury or death depending on their strength.
Putting yourself at-risk of being struck is a strong enough deterrent to keep most people out of the way when a lightning storm comes by. But what about photographers? After all, someone has to capture all those magnificent shots of lightning you’ve seen in photo books and on the Internet.
Safe Practices – Even in a Lightning Storm
Cherish Artz photographers Cheryl Eagers and David Philips are truly enamored by the natural world around us. Their work within nature and landscapes showcases a true passion for capturing the world around us as beautifully as possible.
Of course, inclement weather is a natural consequence to heading out into the natural world and capturing beautiful images. But what happens when you’re seeking out inclement weather to capture pictures of storms and lightning?
If you’re interested in safely photographing lightning without putting yourself at risk, have a look at our guide below. These tips are designed to help you understand all the safety aspects of severe and dangerous weather. That way, you can get beautiful shots of lightning without risking your life to do it!
Your Bodily Safety is Your #1 Priority – Every Time
First and foremost, remember that maintaining your bodily safety should always remain your #1 priority. That means that if you feel like you’re in imminent danger, you need to get someplace safe as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, you may have to leave your camera equipment out in the open until it’s safe to recover.
Knowing When You’re in Danger
Generally speaking, if you’re out in the field looking to photograph lightning, follow the 30 second rule for safety. If you see lightning, start counting the time between the flash and the resulting thunder. If it’s less than 30 seconds, you’re in a potential danger zone.
While 30 seconds may seem like a large distance, remember that lightning has a range much further than a thunder head – sometimes up to 9 or more kilometres! That means that even distantly heard thunder puts you in a potential strike zone.
Seeking Safety in a Dangerous Situation
If you’re out in nature away from access to a home or building, there are a few options to get to safety. Here are a few strategies when it comes to being within nature and encountering a dangerous lightning scenario:
- AVOID picnic shelters, trees or other tall structures! These actually attract lightning. It’s better to be wet than increase your risk of lightning strike.
- Keep away from isolated tall objects such as power poles.
- Don’t hide under or near metal objects.
- If you’re close enough, take shelter in your car until the storm passes (and avoid touching any metal in the interior in the mean time).
- If you’re high up in elevation, head downward to depressions or lower tree areas.
- If you’re within a lightning zone, distance yourself at least 30 metres from metal framing or other items in your pack. Yes – this means leaving your equipment until it’s safe to recover it! Remember, while your camera and equipment may be expensive, is it really worth the cost of your life? That’s the risk you’re gambling in a situation like this.
- If you’re truly exposed and out in the open, get as low as possible by crouching down, keeping your feet together and only remaining on the balls of your feet until it’s safer to find real shelter.
Where to Capture Lightning Photography
As you can see, there are plenty of dangers associated with being caught in a violent thunderstorm. That’s why you want to try your best to get near a storm – at a distance far enough away to get a wide glimpse of the sky.
You’re only going to find lightning by following weather reports and heading to areas where storms will pass. The best shots of lightning are typically caught when you’re a fair distance away from the storm – at a higher vantage point to catch a large amount of the skyline. Staying far and away is also a perfect way to remain a safe distance away from any potential danger.
How to Configure Your Camera for Lightning
Once your safety is fully satisfied, follow these basic steps to properly configure your camera for lightning pictures:
1. Be Ready for Wet Weather!
If you’re capturing lightning pictures, you’ll very likely encounter rain somewhere along the way. Make sure that you have a method to quickly cover up your camera equipment from getting soaked and damaged.
2. Set Up Camera & Tripod (if You Have One)
For best results, you’ll want to have a camera with manually adjustable settings as well as a tripod. However, a point and shoot can be configured with certain settings and placed on a stationary surface to capture images. However, these shots most likely will not come out as dramatically as a well-configured DSLR mounted on a tripod.
3. Change Manual Settings on Camera
If possible, set up your focus to manual infinity focus enabled. Set the ISO value to base or the lowest possible level. From here, set other manual options such as the aperture and the shutter speed. Take some test shots to ensure that photos are crisp and clear.
4. Adjust As Needed & Take Your Pictures
If you have a remote or infrared device to snap pictures, use these to prevent shaking and distorted images. From here, simply start snapping pictures of the lightning. As long as you remain in a safe area with a view of the sky, you can adjust manual settings such as shutter speed or aperture as needed to achieve better results.
5. More Pictures = More Potential
As Cherish Artz Mackay photographers Cheryl and David will tell you, capturing the perfect lightning shot isn’t just about finding a great lightning storm. It’s about getting all your settings properly configured and then taking a lot of pictures.
Remember, most lightning is only visible for fractions of a second. Accordingly, you need to take lots of pictures to ensure you’re capturing lighting. And you need to be willing to adjust your camera settings on the fly to guarantee you’re capturing this spectacle as clearly and dramatically as possible.
Lightning photography can yield some unbelievably amazing pictures – if you’re lucky enough to be at the right place and the right time. Remember, like other phenomenon-based events, you have lots of steps in between you and great final results. In many cases, well-meaning photographers end up with no pictures after a whole night of trying to capture some lightning.
Think about your photography as an experience. You’ll set yourself up to stay safe and have the greatest potential to get some great lightning shots. From there, think of the weather the same way we do at any other time – we’re at the will of the wind.
Sometimes the wind blows in our favour, and other times we may just find ourselves soaking wet without anything to show for it. In the end, your experience getting out there and soaking in the spectacle of lightning storms is just as important as the pictures themselves. Don’t forget to have fun while you’re marvelling in the magnificence of our natural world. We hope you enjoyed this blog on how to photograph lightning. Visit our ‘The Making Of’ Page to read about some lightning photography, where they were taken and the exact camera settings.