how to shoot lightning??


TPF Noob!
Jul 16, 2003
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I'm always amazed when I see pictures of lightning.

I mean, it must be one of the hardest things to do,
cuz you never know where it's gonna hit and get the timing right.

So how do they do that???

I wanted to know this since I was 12..........
I read one way on Devaint Art was to have a long exsopure time, let it get a second or two and then cover the lens with a piece of cardboard. Then as the lightening hits you remove the cardboard in a downward action, quickly of course. I dont know if it works but that is how one guy said he got captures of ligthening.
There's plenty of good info on the web just have a bit of a search. There's lot of different techniques ranging from long exposure to funky devices that will set of your camera when it detects a flash of light (not cheap though and i think only for EOS cameras).

I've only ever tried once to get lightning and this is the result i got:


Taken with a 3mp digital camera set on night mode (gave me about 5 second exposures). I had abosolutely no control so it overexposed but i got a semi decent lightning shot (took about 30 shots that night).

I just remembered that i copied an article of photoSig from a while back (before they removed them all). It was written by Rebecca Bloom on how to take photos of lightning. If your interested i can send a copy to you, just give us an email at: [email protected]
i think the photo is quite cool

I don't wanna be hit by that :)

gonna send you an email now..... :)
OK SON OF A #@$@ how the heck did you get that? I was a severe storm chaser for the Civil Service for 2 years and have a healthy respect for this stuff. That look like it struck you right on the foot. MAN! Every time I look at it my heart races. If the exposure was down a little you might see more bolty details but it would look less like the vicious hand of GOD!
Just shot off my balcony at home... we get some pretty big storms here in Australia (Queensland to be more precise). This storm was nothing compared to what we get sometimes, the unfortunate thing is that most storms occur late afternoon (3:00pm) which doesn't make them the best for photographing... by the time it gets dark the storms have passed or aren't nearly as intense.

This shot was pretty much pure luck, point camera in a direction and hope that a bolt strikes when your shutter's down. I cropped a bit from the original, but it's still pretty impressive...
if your a bored amature get a digital with a good amount of memory and you should be able to tun it on so that it takes a few every second

my powershot a70 takes like 2.2 a second or something..

sit outside and hold the button down
if it doesnt flash lightning while ur waiting delete em and try again

if you have my luck, the 2 seconds it takes to delete the photos will contain the most awesome bolt of lightning you've ever seen
I cannot speak for the digital crowd, but for film, most photos I have seen were made something like this:

Use a wide angle lens (24-35mm) with an FLD filter to compensate for the reciprocity that color negative film produces on long exposures. Pick the view you like, set up your camera and tripod, and take a series of 12-to-20-second exposures. This technique, combined with a lot of luck and several rolls of film, has produced some of the nicest lightning shots I've seen. The bolt comes out a neon red-purple color.
I just used a high aperature (f22 or so) and went to a hill or something with very little light polution and kept the lense open for extended periods, catching multiple lightning bolts, making the picture look like one huge strike. Overly simple, but it's good enough for me
Hello. Just found this fourm, and am going through the old posts and came across this post. I have a "overall" simple formula that has worked for me. You HAVE TO have a camera where you can adjust the ISO and apeture. I.E. Digital SLR.

Here is a "basic" formula to follow... (For digital camera users)

If the lighting is 2 or more miles away, (10 or more seconds after flash you will hear thunder) you will want to use ISO 400 speed, and around f/4.0. Set your camera on a tripod, and compose your shot in the direction the lightning is. If there are existing lights, (yard lights, houses) try a 30 second exposure, and see if the lights are blown out, too dim, or look properly exposed. Adjust aperture to get a properly exposed 30 second picture. If you have to stray too far from 4.0, then you may need to move farther away from the lights. Once you have a properly exposed, 30 second picture, you are set. As lightning strikes, it will just add to the picture. So you now have the properly exposed foreground, with lightning bolts in the frame as well. Kinda like this...


Now... as the lightning gets closer, bring the ISO down to 200 or 100 depending on how close it is. Also close the aperture down to f/8 or so. Again, make sure the existing lights are properly exposed, and the lightning will look just fine. There is no exact way of doing it, as lightning can be brighter at times. Lots of variables such as how much moister is in the air, is the lightning in rain or not etc. Best advice is to look at each picture that has lightning and adjust it until you get the right looking picture.

If the lightning is really close, you may have to bring the ap down to f/16 as in this shot...


And that was still not enough to keep one of the bolts from washing out.

The 30 second thing only applies if 1 to 3 bolts are occurring in that 30 seconds. If it is more frequent, you may need to bring the time down. Hope this was a help to you. If you have any more questions, please ask.

BTW if the lightning gets this close...


Pack it up and go home. Its not worth it.

Here are all of my lightning pics...

Doug Raflik
That looks so freaky. I would run away as fast as i could. I live in Alaska and we only get lightning once or twice a year. If were lucky (acually more like unlucky)
for all my lightening shots I use continuous shooting :) that's very useful. I set the focus on tha far point, close the spperture and take about 4 shots per second :)

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