Lightning Photography


TPF Noob!
Aug 24, 2008
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Wausau, Wisconsin
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I'm might get a chance to photograph lightning tonight and am looking for tips. I have a tripod.

I use Bulb Shutter correct? What would a good aperture setting be with bulb? Low or high (F2.8 or F22 or somewhere inbetween.)

Thanks for any infor you can give me.
Set your lens focus to infinity and use a mid range aperture like f/8. I'd use the 55mm f/1.2
If you've ever shot fireworks before - lightning is the same. (Just not as predictable.)

Bulb w/ remote
ISO 100
Manual focus at infinity
Try to give yourself a composition with some interesting stuff in the foreground

Use the remote to open and close the shutter. Set it to whatever setting (not sure what that would be with Nikon) allows you to click once to open and again to close.

Open the shutter, if lightning strikes close the shutter right after. If lightning doesn't strike within 10-15 seconds close the shutter and try again.

You'll end up with a lot of pictures of nothing, but the ones where you get something make it worth it.
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So I got a few pics of some lightning. Not too bad for the 1st time, but could be better. The picture I wanted to post is in RAW, and I don't have a RAW converter on this computer.


Funny you should mention lightning photography, I just tried it for the first time as well. Unfortunantly I had no tips to go by but I figured that manual shutter operation (or bulb) and focus at infinity would be the way to go. Only after I started processing my photos, which I did get 2 worthy shots, did I realize my appature WAS to... low? (f/3.5 let to much light in). I'd leave the shutter open no more then 20 seconds or so with no strikes, and i'd also close it if something lit the clouds up or a car passed, but I live in the country. Nothing to really frame in the shot with the bolts near me though.

That being said, what was already mentioned here I will attempt next time I get the chance. Somewhere around f/8 or f/9. That being said, I had to knock the exposure back on the images and couldn't really get it low enough on some photos to make them usable. Exposed to much to the right... Cable shutter release and a tripod are nessessary though. Hopefully these arn't bad for my first try.

Anyway, here they are. Stats for both photos...

Appature: f/3.5
ISO: 100
Focal Length: 18mm
Exposure: Manual


Not bad for your first attempt.

To get good lightning pics, it helps to prepare a bit. Head out for a short drive in your area during a nice day to pick out some areas you would like to set up with a little bit cleaner foreground. That way, whenever storms area heading in, you can go to one of those locations and get set up ahead of time, and let the storm roll into you while taking pictures.

As far as settings, I would avoid using bulb. At any ISO, if the shutter is left open too long, noise will build quickly. I use ISO 100, and will start at 15 to 25 seconds @ f/4 to f/8, and make adjustments for any ambient. Most of the shots that do not have lightning in them will be almost black, as a good bolt will act as a flash, illuminating your shot.

Here's the shot from my avatar....ISO 100, 25sec, f/4:


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