A few pictures, not so many words.

Electrifying

Here is the deal, ok? I will try to be as simple as possible for everyone to understand, not like your average math teacher. You on the other hand, please don’t laugh too hard. And if you do, let me know in the comments to join in. Deal? OK, here we go.

Following the two previous ‘lightning’-posts – Flashlights and Thunder & Lightning – I have the feeling, that real photographers and so many more give me too much credit for my capabilities. There also seems to be some awe as if the shots were magic. Well, I hardly think so. What follows is a try to describe how I did the shots. It probably is not even close to a valuable explanation how to shoot lightning during a thunderstorm, but I am not even close to be professional enough to teach things. I am happy if I can give you an idea or two how to do it on your own. Let me know in your comments, if you have shot lightning yourself and how you did.

Blitz über Hurghada, Ägypten; 3. November 2012
Lightning above Hurghada, Egypt, November 3rd, 2012

A few things first: One, never ever get yourself in danger because of a shot. Naturally, a thunderstorm needs to be close to see the lightning, but the human body doesn’t like the electricity so much. So, never get yourself too close to the fun, ok?

With that security message out, let’s see, what was my biggest advantage.

Blitz über Hurghada, Ägypten; 3. November 2012
Lightning above Hurghada, Egypt, November 3rd, 2012


Luck.

Simple as that, I was extremely lucky. As I wrote in the comments of the previous posts, if there was any photography god, I would thank him (or her, of course), for eternity. For that long, I will not mock anyone who tries the same but is not as lucky as I was.

I was lucky because of a few things that worked in my favor. One, the thunderstorm was a dry one for the first hour. Rain did not start until I was done with my shooting, knowing that a few shots were ok. After it started raining, the shots got useless, since the lens is covered with drops.
Second, the thunderstorm was so close that lightning was pretty much above the place I was. I did not need to zoom in, reducing the movement of my camera and everything. Also, it was pretty much stable for most of the time. About 20 to 25 seconds between the lightnings. Pretty easy for me and my style of long-time-exposure. But more to that in a bit.
The third portion was the equipment. I don’t really live in Egypt. I was on vacation there with the best friend one can have for her birthday getaway and we were lucky enough to be in the hotel’s room at the time, the thunderstorm started. Also, I did not really think much about taking my tripod with me. And even did not use it at all until that night (or afterwards). But boy, I think it was worth the trouble at security and the customs.

So, here we were. Lightning struck, the best woman at my side on the hotel balcony, the equipment luckily set up and no rain from above. Just add some good songs and one could mix this up with a music club.

Blitz über Hurghada, Ägypten; 3. November 2012
Lightning above Hurghada, Egypt, November 3rd, 2012


How did I shoot, though. As written above, I had a tripod, and had my Nikon D300s mounted on it. When it became clear, that the storm was close and big, I changed from a 50mm to a wide-angle-lens.
The setup itself: Focal length was either 10mm (the first two in this blog post) or 12mm (the third one). Aperture stayed on f/4.5. I reduced the light sensitivity to ISO160 (L0.3 setting for Nikon’s D300s) and changed into bulb-mode for the shutter. Focus was set to manual and moved up to infinity.

All what was needed then was simply to push down the shutter and wait for the lightning to strike. Every so often you read about using a remote to reduce shaking of your camera. I absolutely encourage that! However, I don’t like using the bulb mode with a specific time in mind. My remote is only a one-time-release. If in bulb-mode it is equivalent to a 30s release time. Much too long for my goal. Instead, I pushed the shutter down with the right hand for as long as I wanted light to hit the sensor and released it a bit later. The left hand pushed the whole camera down to stabilize it and the tripod. I told you, this is way less professional than you might have imagined.

With this, I get release times between 2.1 and 4.7 seconds. Depending on when lightning actually struck. I released the shutter right after the flash was gone. Maybe, something that I could improve to reduce the overexposure a bit would be to wait a bit longer.

Blitz über Hurghada, Ägypten; 3. November 2012
Lightning above Hurghada, Egypt, November 3rd, 2012

As I wrote above, I got very lucky with the timing, since the whole lightnings were pretty much stable. I started to push down the shutter every 25 seconds and waited. If there wasn’t a flash after five seconds, I aborted this particular shot and pushed down the shutter right away. Following each flash, I did the same. Either releasing it after the flash, or after five seconds or so. What I wanted to avoid was a delay of the camera while it was writing the file on the memory card. Upwards of seven seconds, it takes about ten seconds in which the camera is pretty much useless.

That is pretty much all the magic I can offer to you. I hope, it was useful to some extend. At least there are two new shots for you to enjoy. Did anyone of you shoot during a storm? How did you do it and what equipment did you use? Let me know!

38 responses

  1. Lucky or not I’m still a) envious and b) impressed.

    29/11/2012 at 10:50

    • Haha, thanks so much again, Andrew. I truly appreciate your kind words!

      29/11/2012 at 20:04

  2. Wowww! Great lights!

    29/11/2012 at 14:42

  3. As odd as this might sound, it really makes me wish for an electrical storm now! Thank you for sharing

    29/11/2012 at 16:04

    • Haha, watch for the electricity, though! Good luck, shooting🙂

      29/11/2012 at 20:05

  4. They have sensors you can buy (not cheap, unfortunately) which will trigger your camera to capture lightning.

    Nice shot.

    29/11/2012 at 17:17

    • Thanks for your comment🙂 Yeah, I have seen stuff like that. Maybe, once I turn into a professional lightning-shooter, I’ll get one of these😀 Cheers!

      29/11/2012 at 20:07

  5. notripod

    great images… and nice blog! following now.

    30/11/2012 at 03:50

  6. Awesome pictures. Realy stunning.

    30/11/2012 at 14:54

  7. Beautiful work . . . and as others have intimated, even with your “luck” you show evidence of a great eye, of study, and of skill.

    Blessings to you and yours.

    01/12/2012 at 20:17

    • Thank you so much, Shirley! This means a lot to me🙂 All the best for you and your loved ones, too.

      01/12/2012 at 22:01

  8. dival

    Certainly “if there was any photography god, I would thank him (or her, of course), for eternity” is something most of us who do photography can relate to. I have a few images myself that I knew were about being in the right place, at the right time and with a camera out. Fifteen years ago, I studied photography in Seattle when film was used more than digital. Now I have a Nikon D100 and am still learning my skills with it. Your explanation of how you used a tripod and the synchronicity with your shutter releases was very helpful. I think I have forgotten much of what I knew then and it’s good to read “how to” tips from others. These are great shots and it sounds like a fun time you had with your friend celebrating a birthday. Maybe the lightning was the BD candles for her and you captured the images to remember.

    03/12/2012 at 22:30

    • Thanks so much for your wonderful comment! It was a special night, indeed. Only a few hours before, we listened to a safari guide, telling us that the last rain in that area was about two years before🙂 I’m very glad, I could forward a bit of help. Thanks so much again🙂

      04/12/2012 at 01:43

  9. Incredible shots! Maybe you were lucky, we all need some luck, but you also need to know what to do and to make the most of the opportunity. Informative post too – nice one🙂

    05/12/2012 at 20:08

    • I’m very glad you like the shots and the words! thank you🙂

      05/12/2012 at 23:33

  10. Wonderful shooting!! I agree about luck – some of the pictures I’ve taken that get the most comments are the ones I was “lucky” to catch. It doesn’t mean that you also don’t eye and talent!

    17/12/2012 at 19:59

    • Thank you so much!🙂 I guess to be at the right spot at the right time is connected mostly to luck. But one can learn about composition and camera settings, right? I gett that for some if my shits, too🙂 Thanks for your comment!

      17/12/2012 at 22:17

  11. WOW! IT’S ELECTRIFYING!

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

    18/12/2012 at 01:30

  12. Awesome description I ever read !! Thumbs up

    18/12/2012 at 12:22

    • I’m very glad, you liked it🙂 Thanks for your comment!

      18/12/2012 at 16:07

  13. Love these! Thanks for sharing…also, thanks for visiting my site…your photos make me nervous at the mediocre ones I post!! LOL!! Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

    18/12/2012 at 17:03

    • Please, please don’t feel intimidated! Check out my earlier posts and you see that I came some way. And I still am learning every day! You have very nice shots on your blog, too! Keep it up!🙂

      19/12/2012 at 00:01

      • Thanks for the encouragement!

        19/12/2012 at 00:03

  14. Well done. I recently tried to capture an electrical storm but all I got was way too much light. Will have to wait til next summer to try again!

    22/12/2012 at 00:32

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Anita! Besides those four, I have a lot of shots which are too dark or too bright. Good luck storm hunting for next year🙂 Have a great Christmas time.

      22/12/2012 at 11:55

  15. Wow! Amazing shots–luck or not-you made the most of your opportunity-these are terrific and thank you for sharing how you took them. Also, Thank you! for visiting my blog-I really appreciate it-

    10/01/2013 at 16:50

    • Thanks for returning the visit and your very kind words!🙂

      11/01/2013 at 18:15

  16. Jerry Stolarski

    Reblogged this on PhoPort.

    11/01/2013 at 18:07

  17. Thanks for commenting my photo.. These lightning pics are really nice. Must have been a magnificient soundtrack while taking the pictures.🙂

    25/01/2013 at 20:48

    • It was like a very special orchestra playing through the night😀 Thank you so much for returning the visit🙂

      26/01/2013 at 19:00

  18. Wow, haven’t seen lightning so close!

    22/04/2013 at 16:16

  19. Your luck to capture it is our luck to see it! It struck me how the lightning is traveling sideways and at such a long distance.

    23/05/2013 at 02:46

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment🙂 It was an amazing time to shoot for sure.

      23/05/2013 at 13:50

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