Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Photographing Lightning

With Spring slowing rolling in and pushing Old Man Winter back to his hideout for a few months, there are a lot of changes coming our way. One of the events I look forward to each spring and summer are thunderstorms. I love a good storm! A good storm will bring with it a great light show in the sky. Watching the dark night light up around me as the lightning flashes is always impressive. I love lightning, and I have tried to photograph it a few times in the past, but never with the results I wanted. I knew how to photograph lighting but I was never able to put everything I knew into practice. In my previous attempts, there was always one element missing. It was usually my timing that was off. Not my timing tripping the shutter, but my timing getting into position before the rains came. When I finally got to a good location, it was raining so hard that I didn't want to get out of the truck, let alone take my expensive camera gear out in the rain.

On a warm, Sunday, August evening I was sitting at home watching TV with my wife. We were watching a show on the Discovery Channel about lighting. It was getting late and I was about to go to bed since I had to work the next day. As I was sitting there thinking about going to bed, I noticed some flashes of light outside. Watching a show on lighting during a lightning storm, coincidence? I already had my shoes off and I began to debate my options. Go to bed, or load up my gear and try to photograph the lighting storm that was going on outside? I decided bed could wait, the storm looked too good to pass up.

So I did what every sane person does in a lightning storm. I drove to the top of a hill and set up my metal tripod on the edge of town and watched the lighting stretch across the night sky. I'm sure it sounds like a cliche, but this turned out to be the 'perfect storm' for photographing lightning.

The night was calm with almost no wind, the storm was off in the distance and there wasn't any rain. The conditions couldn't have been better for photographing the lightning. I had plenty of time to set up my gear, and experiment with different apertures and shutter speeds to get the exposure I wanted. It also allowed me to try different focal lengths to get the composition I wanted.

Through my experiments, I determined that a 5 second exposure at f/5.0 and a focal length of 12mm gave me the type of image I was after. Once that was determined, I set up my camera with those settings and programmed my remote control shutter release to take a series of 5 second exposures one right after the next. Then I sat in the truck and watched the show.

I ended up taking close to 400 photos of the sky that evening. Of course most of those frames didn't have any lighting in them, but several of them did. In the end, the hardest part of photographing this storm was packing up my gear and heading home for the night. If I didn't have to work the next day, I would have stayed longer.

Here is a gallery of more images from that night.