Shooting Storms, Lightening

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Tbassist4, Jun 3, 2008.

  1. Tbassist4

    Tbassist4 TPF Noob!

    Jun 2, 2008
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    Hello everyone,
    This is my first post here, so be merciful, haha. I recently found my father's Nikon N2000 35mm camera and have already gone through a bunch of rolls. Everything is going great so far, but I ran into an interesting situation the other night. There were storm clouds rolling over the hills behind our neighborhood and I tried to get a few shots.

    What do you usually do to get good shots of lightening at night? I'm not really talking about timing, I've just been using a continuous burst when a lot of lightening strikes occur; I'm more talking about settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, and possible exposure compensation.

    I tried setting the largest aperture on my lens (22), but moving the shutter speed to normal for a few shots, and then a hair faster for a few more.

    What do you suggest when I run into this situation in the future?

    P.S. I also thought I should clarify that it was night and pretty dark out. I edited that in the post above. I apologize for the lack of clarity.

  2. Alfred D.

    Alfred D. TPF Noob!

    May 17, 2008
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    F/22 is the smallest aperture on your lens, T...
    The smaller the aperture used, the longer the shutter speed needs to be.

    If anything, you should use a SLOWER shutter speed, T, not a faster one.

    1) find a location with as little as possible light pollution: probably best is waaay outside urban, built-up areas: no streetlights, no neon/advertising signs, no artificial light sources at all, within a mile (minimum; a 100 miles is better...). It must be as dark as possible. So forget the backyard.
    2) set up your camera on tripod, horizon low within the frame, ISO 200, F/5.6.
    3) set shutter speed at 20 seconds and expose when you expect a series of lightning flashes. Repeat with a shutter speed of 30 seconds, and again with 10 seconds to see which works best. (If you shot digital you wouldn't have to wait for film developing and prints before you could judge whether you're in the right ballpark with your settings. You'd be able to see it right away on the digital cam's LCD screen, and adjust immediately. With film you're really shooting 'blind').

    Repeat over and over again.

    And please post your results.

    Have fun!
  3. Geonerd

    Geonerd TPF Noob!

    Jun 13, 2008
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    Since the lightning is nearly instantaneous, shutter speed is irrelevant when exposing it. To vary the lightning's brightness, tweak the lens aperture. At ISO 100, use F2.8~4 for distant lightning, 5.6~8 for intermediate range, and F16+ is the tree down the road is now on fire... Getting it wrong will result in either blown away lightning channels, or thin, anemic pencil-bolts.

    Vary shutter speed to expose the rest of the scene. If it's bright enough for your meter to work, go ahead and use it. (Aperture priority is the most straightforward approach, IMO.) Alfred's times are spot on. As darkness falls, tens of seconds are good for late twilight, or when shooting under light polluted skies. Away from the city, you can get away with several minute exposures. This can generate neat effects, like smeared clouds, star trails, airplane and car tracks, and other cool night-photography phenomena.

    Make sure your lens is focused at infinity, and that the AF is turned off.

    Some links:

    Doug's site covers just about everything.


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