26 Jun Storm Over The Gulf – Lightning Photography Tips
Being the lightning capitol of the world has its advantages, we get some spectacular storms every now and then! It’s rare they stay just offshore, not inundating me with rain at the same time though, so last night about midnight when I saw flashes with no drops, I took the opportunity to try and capture some of the magic. I waded out in to the Gulf enough to clear a good vantage point and looked for good compositions.
It’s actually easy enough to take great lightning shots without any special tools. All you really need is a tripod. A remote shutter helps a good bit but you could use the body button if you are careful. What you are taking is a combination long exposure and flash photograph in one frame. So think about two differently lit subjects and just like balancing flash with the sun, setup the camera. Your ISO and aperture are giving your exposure for the lightning itself. As soon as it bolts, it’s captured no matter how long your shutter is open for. Your shutter speed (time open) is only capturing the rest of the scene. The longer it’s held open the lighter everything else gets. You have to experiment a little bit with that, because it depends on light sources around you and how light you actually WANT everything else, how long to expose for. Having a fast VERY wide angle lens also really helps, as lightning travels VAST distances which can cover a huge area in front of the lens.
So working at 11mm f2.8, I chose an ISO of 400, giving me great lightning exposure. With shutter times between 10-15 seconds I got a pleasing ambient exposure, so I could see some details in the darker clouds, the water, etc. but it wasn’t getting abnormally bright, ruining the contrast and effect of the lightning. That was the star of the show, afterall 😉 Being out there for a few minutes you get a feel for the timing of the strikes. You want to open the shutter just before you think one will go, then close it as soon as it does for the best results. The longer the shutter is open the more noise you get so try and minimize it. That’s it, you just keep snapping until you get some really interesting lighting patterns in the sky!