Instructables
Picture of Perfect Lightning Photography
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For the last 3 years, I have been obsessed with nature/landscape photography, and capturing the raw power of lightning, raging seas, tornadoes, and blizzards. I've learned a lot of tricks (the hard way) when it comes to capturing great photos. The number one tip to getting great photos, is to know how, BEFORE the moment strikes, so you don't miss valuable opportunities.

This instructable will cover everything I've learned about LIGHTNING PHOTOGRAPHY.

Visit my site for more:
www.tylercard.com
 
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Step 1: What you Need

Picture of What you Need

Equipment:
  • A camera with long-exposure capabilities, or a BULB mode.
  • A Tripod (any solid surface works too- bean bag)
  • Shutter-Release Remote (very helpful, but not strictly required).
  • Wide-angle Lens (25-35mm is ideal)
  • Neutral Denisty/ UV Filter
Supplies:
  • Plastic bag
  • Electrical Tape
  • Umbrella (plastic, if possible)
  • lens cloth
Optional:
  • A friend (even willing to sit in the car)
  • Rain gear (boots, poncho, etc)
  • Reckless Abandon
zoomx2 years ago
Can I suggest another trick? If you own a Canon compact camera you can use CHDK (see here: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK) and run a script that automatically take a photo when there is a lightning as you can see here http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/Samples:_Lightning_photography
e45cream zoomx2 years ago
This is one I took using CHDK. The original is here
5766379326_8cc0774418_m.jpg
tylercard (author)  e45cream2 years ago
That is a perfect example of a great lightning photo! Thanks for sharing!
That's also a great tip for anyone willing to do a little experimenting with their Canon. I should point out to anyone thinking about using CHDK that it voids the warranty on your camera, and it can cause damage to your camera (although it is very unlikely).
Lightning triggers are also available, and come in a wide range of prices. Some have the capability of sound triggering, and even laser beam triggering as well, so you can also photograph hard-to-capture things like balloons popping, and even bullets piercing objects.
Here is a commercially available lightning trigger that is a choice amongst professionals: http://lightningtrigger.com/
zoomx tylercard2 years ago
I am not sure that CHDK voids the warranty because it works only in camera RAM and nothing is written on camera flash memory where the original firmware is. If you remove the SD card where CHDK is there is no way to discovery that you used CHDK until you don't damage the camera for example driving the zoom too fast or too frequently.
More explanation here:
http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK_for_Dummies#Will_CHDK_damage_my_camera.3F
Anyway CHDK can help you tho shoot at the right time but you need also the other things well explained in your instructable.
Jan_Henrik5 months ago

Awesome!!! I have to try it!

txCWS1 year ago
Nice 'ible. I have been shooting electrical storms here in TX since 2006. Sadly my many years in CA offered little in this type of storm :) I use many of the techniques you put forth here but have not done much long exposure shots...will attempt some in the coming storm season. Here is one of the latest shots I took, it was in Gulf Shores AL. The bolt is not spectacular, but it definitely was bright.

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axxwound2 years ago
I took this pic with my iPhone 4s. I just videoed the storm , then paused and took screenshots of the lightning. The quality isn't great but it is an easy way to get lightning pics with your phone.
IMG_1867.PNG
I also made a lightning photo instructable what had really nice results(:

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-take-really-spectacular-lightning-photos/
lpobiak2 years ago
I had a successful shoot with lightning not too long ago, myself. I didn't do any fancy tricks or anything like that, just a 30 second exposure. Thought to share one of my results. ...
LAP-Lightning.jpeg
jimvandamme2 years ago
Your lightning trigger link above didn't work (goes right back to this page), but I figured it out. But they want $329 for it, plus cables!! I doubt there's much sophistication in them. I know a lot about electronics, but not much about cameras, otherwise I'd be interested in designing one.
tylercard (author)  jimvandamme2 years ago
Sorry about the broken link. As I said, they are available in a wide range of prices and that one is commercially made for professional use. The difference between this one and others is that it can be adjusted for variable intensity, detects multiple spectrums including infrared, and can be adapted for sound detection. There are some that are as simple as a light sensor that triggers when any change in lighting occurs, for a fraction of the cost, and other self-build circuit kits for even less.
jimbru2 years ago
Hi Tyler, great instructible. I have a suggestion for the light/heavy tripod issue.

I prefer a lightweight tripod(aluminum) and for the rare occasion I need it to be heavier I use smallish sandbags connected to the legs to keep it steady.

It works quite nicely and I can choose if I want to lug the extra weight around depending on the circumstances.

Cheers, J
tylercard (author)  jimbru2 years ago
Thanks for the tip. I did something similar once with gym weights, but I like having the ability to pack up in a second (fold up the legs of the tripod, keeping the camera attached) and leave if I need to. I usually leave both tripods in my car, and use the heavier one if I need it.
I like the sandbag idea, but the problem I had with the weights is that I couldn't find an easy way to hang them. They would swing and cause more harm than good, and if I just placed them at the base of the legs, the tripod would still move. Any suggestions?
This is a favourite of mine. Pity my lens broke, and my aperture is now stuck at full open, making it useless for lightning :'(
tylercard (author)  montymintypie2 years ago
Actually, you should try it. I use an aperture of f1:2.8 for most my lightning photography. It keeps your shutter speed low to reduce noise, and helps the small fingers of lightning to show. The colors will be much more vibrant with a wide aperture too. So don't give up just yet!
Nice tutorial.

I use an older model Canon camera with CHDK firmware. The Motion Detection script for it can snap lightning very nicely. Just aim the tripod mounted camera out the window, run the script and any flashes will trigger the camera. I set the camera on Fireworks mode for a 2 sec exposure. We didn't get many storms this year :(.
pdub772 years ago
Took this at my house in Indiana. Just thought I would share it with you. Cheers!
lightning.jpg
tylercard (author)  pdub772 years ago
That's an amazing shot, excellent work!
T0m T0m2 years ago
Howdy Tyler...

Many people will not have a remote shutter release for their camera. But nearly every camera will have a function for delayed shutter release. Typically, this is the used so that the person who sets up a shot, has time to get in the photo before the picture is taken. A highly valuable but lesser known use of this function is to activate the delay, press the button on the camera to take a photo, and not be touching the camera when the shutter releases. By doing this, the photographer without a remote release can do just as well to eliminate camera shake.

Nicely done inclusion of safety information, btw.

Tom

Nice article! I took these a couple of years ago at the beach. I was taking pictures of my family when this storm showed up!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/thedoublea/sets/72157624087616225/
tylercard (author)  thatbellevuekid2 years ago
Wow. Your lightning photographs are amazing! I love the colors of the sky and the clouds. Very well done. I'm actually a little bit jealous haha
sunshiine2 years ago
I love storms as long as they don't hurt anyone! Your pictures are awesome! thanks for sharing these valuable tips! Have a beautiful day!
Sunshiine
tylercard (author)  sunshiine2 years ago
Thanks Sunshiine. Your food looks delicious, and it's making me hungry. I think it's time for me to go get some lunch!
You are welcome! And thanks! Enjoy your lunch!
Your photos are amazing! I want to get better at photography, I will have to give this a try when I get the chance.
tylercard (author)  Penolopy Bulnick2 years ago
Thanks Penolopy, I appreciate it! Be sure to send me a link of your photos when you get some!
I don't have any filters and I also really need to protect my lens ( I have had to deal with trying to paint the same spot out of every photo before and don't want to have to do it again with this camera) do you have a suggestion on where to get them?
tylercard (author)  Penolopy Bulnick2 years ago
Since these filters' primary use will be to protect your lens, you don't need to spend a lot on expensive ones. I would get some cheap ones if you plan on using them in the rain a lot. You can get them at any camera store, but they are quite cheap if you buy them online, like on eBay.
  • You will need to first find out what your filter thread size is. It is measured in mm, so don't get it confused with your lenses focal length which is also measured in mm.
  • If you are going to use them just for this purpose, Neutral Density filters work best.
  • If you are going to use them all the time (which you should, to protect your lenses), and don't want to buy several different kinds, a UV filter is a great standard filter.
Good luck!
Phil B2 years ago
Thank you for sharing. This is very helpful to anyone who wants to photograph lightning.
tylercard (author)  Phil B2 years ago
Thanks for taking a look Phil. If you (or anyone) have any more tips that I haven't learned/ added to this tutorial, please let me know!
I once bought a book titled "The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography." It was about 700 pages on glossy paper and covered just about everything. I read the whole thing, but, I do not remember anything about lightning in it. That book did have a good section on photographing fireworks, which was similar in some ways to what you suggested for photographing lightning. (I have since given the book away, since I no longer do anything connected to film photography.)
Thanks for this. I look forward to our next storm.
tylercard (author)  matt.e.jenkins2 years ago
Thanks, Matt. Send me a link to your photos when you do, I want to see em.