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Capturing Lightning – In 5 Steps

We love storm season for the amazing photographic opportunities. We’ve talked in brief about capturing spectacular storm photos, but in this blog we’re going to give you a quick guide on how to capture lightning!

The most important thing we can emphasize here is safety. Pay close attention to how far the lightning is from your location, and always practice safe photography – stay away from the sides of roads where cars and trucks are racing by, and keep a close eye on weather warnings for extreme events like tornadoes. Stay safe – no photo is worth a trip to the hospital (or morgue).

Lightning over bridge with boats in foreground

Step 1: Set up your shot.

To capture a great lightning shot you have to be sure that you’ve set up your composition properly. This means setting yourself up close enough to capture clear lightning shots, but far enough away to capture the overall storm image (if this is what you’re going for). Think carefully about where you are going to take your photo from, and how. The how involves thinking about the best lens for the job – if you’re a good distance away maybe try a zoom lens, if you’re nice and close maybe try a 50mm or even a wide angle. Try snapping a few test shots before you get everything set up below.

Also don’t forget about your principles of composition – try adding a subject in for scale, maybe some foreground interest, or think about the shape of your landscape.


Step 2: Set your camera up on a tripod.

To capture lightning you will need to have your shutter open when lightning strikes. Predicting the next lightning strike though is very difficult, so it will mean that you will have to have your shutter open for a time to make sure that it’s open when lightning strikes.

So get your camera set up properly on a tripod. Make sure you have your shutter release for this exercises, as having to use the 2 second delay timer makes it even more challenging to get your timing right.


Step 3: Set your camera to manual mode.

Yep – the “dreaded” manual mode (only dreaded if you haven’t taken our Digital I Beginner Photography course to be honest though…). Set your ISO relatively low (remember low = better quality) so somewhere between 100 and 500 (depending on how dark the ambient light around you is). Set your shutter speed to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of a second to start, and set your Aperture to a setting that is relatively open.

If you’re shooting in dark conditions, try opening your aperture to 2.8 or 3.5 so that you can capture the photograph without needing your shutter open for minutes at a time. If you’re shooting in relatively light conditions, try closing your aperture a little more – so somewhere between 5.6 and 11 – this will give you a slightly clearer shot and make focusing easier.

Once you get started, be prepared to adjust as required. If your shot is too dark, try opening your Aperture a little more, or if need be, increase your ISO, or lengthen your shutter speed. If your shot is too bright, try closing your Aperture a little more, or decreasing your ISO, or shortening your shutter speed. (And yes, that’s probably the correct order of adjustment).


Step 4: Manually focus.

The last thing you want is for your camera to have to find focus before taking a photo. This almost always results in a) you missing the shot or b) your camera focusing on the wrong thing. When you’re photographing lightning in particular, make sure that you’re switching to manual focus and you’re using Live View Focus if you have it. Focus on something bright and far away from you so that everything is crystal clear.


Step 5: Take lots of photos.

Lightning is so difficult to predict, so keep your shutter going! Take lots and lots of shots and you’ll be sure to capture one that is amazing!


Now get out there, be safe and have fun!! Happy storm hunting.


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