How to capture the thunderbolt
Sometimes in life things that seem to be the hardest turn out to be the easiest. It is ironic but it is so. An example of this are photos of lightning and storms . Many amateur and beginner photographers find it so hard to get that they do not even pose it. Many ask themselves the question “How the hell can I photograph lightning, how fast is it?”
Maybe it’s because they’re dangerous, especially if we’re in the field. Or it may be due to its scarce frequency. Or its undeniable beauty. Who knows. The really important thing is that taking photos during the storms that occur at night has an attraction that usually hooks whoever tries it .
Like most of our readers you know, taking a really good night’s picture is not easy, and if what you want to portray is a storm, the difficulty is even greater. In fact, the ideal is to assume that it is possible that we return home empty-handed, without a usable snapshot. But, if we are crafty and given the right circumstances, we can get a handful of fantastic pictures. Here are our tips for getting it.
Before we take our photographic equipment and leave the house ready to approach or even enter a storm, we must take some precautions that, although surely you will already know, it is not bad for us to remember. Above all, we must watch over our safety . Let’s go there.
- If possible, use a shoe with rubber soles . This material is insulation and does not conduct electric current.
- Do not use a carbon tripod during a storm. This material is used to make lightning rods because it attracts them. Best use an aluminum or basalt tripod , for example.
- Remember to protect yourself and your team from the rain. Do not forget to take one or two umbrellas and a special blanket to protect the camera and optics.
- If we are going to take pictures during a stormy night in the countryside we must move away from the trees , especially from the loners. They behave like real lightning rods.
- Do not carry metal objects on top of it.
- Do not use the mobile phone, especially if you are outdoors.
- Stay away from areas with large accumulations of water, such as rivers or lakes.
If the number of beams intensifies and, for whatever reason, you think you are in danger, take refuge in your car and close the doors and windows tightly. Rubber tire covers do not conduct electric current.
Storm and, finally, our photographs
As I said before, in the circumstances in which a storm occurs it is difficult to predict what result we will get. The closer we are to the electric discharge zone, the more unpredictable it will be, so it is best to place yourself at a safe distance to allow us to take good photographs of the lightning bolts safely. Snapshots of cities “bombed” by lightning are usually really beautiful and can be taken from a considerable distance.
Our best ally in dealing with such a complex scenario as a night storm is the experience , but there are several tips that can be useful in putting our first photographs. From there we can purify our technique little by little. This is a good starting point:
- The exposure is going to be long, so, of course, it is necessary to use a tripod .
- Begin by using a medium diaphragm aperture of, for example, f / 8 or f / 11 .
- Selects a low ISO sensitivity value to prevent noise from appearing on the shot. ISO values 100 and 200 are two good options, which we will compensate by exposing them for a sufficient time.
Optimal exposure usually varies from several seconds to one minute (allowing us to capture several lightning bolts simultaneously), so it may be interesting to use the camera’s Bulb mode . The proper exposure time can vary considerably depending on the light reflected by the moon and the number of lightning, so it is often a good idea to start exposing for about 10 seconds . Once we have our first photograph we can use it as a reference to decide if we should increase the exposure in the following shots.
As I said before, these tips are a good starting point, but from there the interesting thing is to practice. Night photography in general opens before us a wide range of creative possibilities , such as double focus. Later, in another post, we will delve into some of the advanced techniques.
In case you are curious: the image that opens the post was taken with a Nikon D7200 using a Nikkor lens 18-105 mm f / 3.5-5.6G with a focal length of 18 mm, f / 22, 200 ISO , CPL filters and ND, and an exposure of 39 seconds in Bulb mode.