Photo Quickie: Photographing Lightning

A landscape photograph of lightning striking property of Salem Power Plant in New Jersey. Photograph taken from Augustine Beach Delaware by Melissa Fague.

Photo Quickie: Photographing Lightning

To shoot a successful landscape photograph with lightning you need to set your camera on a tripod or on a secure stable surface.  Next you will want your camera on Manual mode, its best practices to enable the mirror lock-up function and use a cable release to minimize the camera shake when you touch it.

A good starter setting for your aperture (f-stop) would be somewhere between 8 or 11 to ensure your exposure is between 5 and 30 seconds. This will open the shutter for extended periods of time. You will not know when or where in the frame they’ll appear so manually focus on infinity and include a lot of sky in your composition….now you sit and wait for the lightning to strike. It may not happen on your first few attempts but eventually it will. The image above, Lightning and Salem Power Plant, was created to show the contrast between man-made power and mother nature. I envisioned capturing lightning in that location for months; it took me sitting through seven storms and a few hundred shots to achieve it. I captured other bolts during the time spent there but they were not as interesting, intense or they did not hit where I wanted in the frame. Be patient and keep trying!

6 thoughts on “Photo Quickie: Photographing Lightning

  1. photobyjohnbo

    I’ve wondered about those add-on shutters that somehow know when lighting is going to strike and they trip the shutter. Have you any experience or comments on these devices?

    1. PIPA Fine Art

      They are actually triggered by sudden changes in light (usually another bolt of lightning), the sensor picks up the change in light then triggers the shutter to open to receive the second bolt. They work great in sever storms when there are continuous bolts or bolts within the 30 second window of time. They work with both in the clouds bolts and the ones that touch down but they are pretty much useless when the bolts are scattered and spread out over time. If you are shooting in the “milder” conditions using the manual shutter is much more efficient.

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