Photographing Lightning

Lightning at Simnasho Oregon

Photographing Lightning - With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most. 

A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.

Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand

Of course when we're trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.

When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.

Equipment

You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.

Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.

Daytime or Nighttime

When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.

It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.

Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.

High Tech Toys

Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.

A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.

Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.

Have Fun - Be Safe

The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.

I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.

Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon

 

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon

An Introduction to Lightroom

An Introduction to Lightroom

Hi folks.

I have been asked by a lot of people to create a video introduction to Lightroom. I stayed up late last night and put together an informal video explaining Lightroom's basics.

This should get you started. I hope that this helps to get you motivated to start shooting raw and processing your own photos instead of relying on your camera's automatic settings.

I promise that the videos will improve in time. 😉

The Perseid Meteor Shower 2016

Perseid Meteor Shower 2010

This is a composite that took 360 images taken as 30 second exposures over a three hours period of time layered over a single 30 minute exposure.

The secret to this shot was to be patient for three hours as the camera snapped away its 30 second exposures first, and then in post processing the additional patience to sort through the 350+ images to separate the frames that held a meteor, and then to mask out all but the meteor in the shots prior to layering them onto the base image. But that wasn't the end of the process. Once the meteors were layered over the base image I had to rotate them to align with their point of origin. Over the course of three hours the Earth rotates and so the point of origin changes. To correct for this I had to use Polaris as a pivot point and then to compute the time in relationship to the position and then rotate the meteor to correspond with that position. In all there is over 8 hours of time spent to create this image.

The point of origin is close to the position of the galaxy Cassiopeia and Perseus, thus the name of the meteor shower. When you go out to get your meteor shot make sure that you have a clear view to the northeastern sky that's not affected by the lights from a city. The meteor shower will be the most intense during their peak August 11-12 after midnight. It is estimated that we could expect up to 200 or more meteors per hour this year, but one never knows until it happens.

To get your photo set up your tripod and mount your camera. Use a programmable shutter release and set it to take 30 second exposures one after another. This will allow you to be able to capture every meteor that will fall within the frame of your camera in that three hour period of time. Don't move it while you're getting your shots. You want all of your frames to be the same. I chose to shoot for three hours but you can shoot as long as the sky is dark and your battery and memory lasts.

Remember when you are shooting 30 second exposures that you will need to open your aperture and raise your ISO to allow you to expose the night sky. When shooting the 30 minute exposure you will be lowering your ISO and stopping down to about 5.6 or so. It all varies on how much ambient light in the sky.

Once you return home you will need to use Photoshop to allow you to import the photos with the meteors in as layers, and mask out all but the meteor. Sometimes changing the blend mode will help to blend them more naturally over the base image. For the base image choose one of your best ones for static stars or create a single star trail photo for a different effect, like I did with this one. Once they are all masked and layered over, locate the pivot to the center of the rotation of the Earth which is Polaris. Rotate the layer until it is moving away from the northeast sky and the Perseus galaxy. I used a formula that allowed me to determine how many degrees that it had moved in the time that it was taken and move it roughly that many degrees. If that's all just a little too much, just layer them and call it good. It will give you a chaotic display as if they are coming from all points of the sky, but it's still very cool.

I hope that this helps. Even if you don't get a photo it's such an amazing experience to be able to go out into the night and stare at the sky and count falling stars.

Thank you for your support and thoughtful comments.

s2Member®