This is my section on things that I have learnt by experience when taking lightning photos.

They are presented in no special order and a lot of them are interrelated.


First tip

You really do need a SLR (single lens reflex) type camera, or any other camera that gives you reasonable control over your photographs.  The other advantage is they use good quality optics (= good pictures) and the range of optics available is quite broad.

This point is so obvious to me that I almost neglected to mention it, however I thought I would put it in anyway.

Another thing, the SLR must have a 'bulb' setting so that you can have exposure times as long as you want.   

Do not use a compact camera, the chances of getting a good photo are about a million to one.


Second tip

Use a cable / remote release with your camera.  Why:

Mostly to reduce camera vibrations.

Also to achieve long time exposures which are sometimes needed.

I know some SLR's offer shutter speeds of a couple of minutes but sometimes lightning photos involve exposures of 15 minutes or more (see tip eight as to reason why).

I know some manufacturers provide cameras that only require a shutter button to be pressed once at the start and once at the finish but even this will introduce vibrations that will degrade your image, especially if there are street lights or other bright non - lightning lights in your image (they get streaked if the camera moves).


Third tip

Make sure the aperture (F - stop) that you set on your camera is between 2.8 and 5.6 .  When I first started photographing lightning I had read books which suggested using apertures in the 8 to16 range.  I tried this and while the lightning is usually exposed ok, the exposure times you might need to get other features to be exposed is probably going to be in the 15 to 40 minute range which is too long for most situations.  It must be said there is no hard and fast rule with this, try a few different settings and check your results and then go from there.

Just a note:

Things become a lot more complicated when trying to shoot late afternoon/ early morning storms when daylight light levels start to influence aperture settings and shutter speeds.  My advice is to keep away from these situations until you're experienced shooting when it's relatively dark, by then you will have got an intuitive feel for where you can go with film speeds, exposure times and aperture settings and then you can apply this to the more 'daylightish' situations.


Fourth tip

Use a good heavy tripod that can comfortably extend up to your eye level (or you will get 'lightning photographers back' from bending / hunching to look in the viewfinder).

Generally the heavier the better, why?, see the next tip.


Fifth tip

Try to avoid wind.  This causes camera vibration and can really wreck the quality of your images.  What usually happens is the lightning still comes out sharp (because the duration of the flash is so short your camera wont vibrate / move appreciably in that time) and the rest of the image contains streaks of other bright lights and blur of everything else.


Sixth tip

'Dont include extraneous crap in the image!!'.

For example an image like this:

Should have been framed so that you captured this:

Or you could have zoomed in even more.  Now I know there are a few compromises to be made with this tip.  For instance, I know that the closer in you zoom (or move) the lower probability you have of capturing a strike - simply because of the fact that you are 'looking' at a smaller area.  So basically you judge the storm on a case by case basis.  If you have a storm that has been producing a strike every three seconds for the past 10 minutes in the same area then there is a fair chance you can zoom right in and still capture plenty of action. On the other hand, if a storm isn't producing much activity you might as well zoom back and at least capture something.  Also, another reason that you might not want to zoom in is for compositional reasons, there might be some element that you want to include in the photo, maybe city lights or a person in the foreground or something like that.  In this case the same rule applies, include the other objects but don't include anymore than you have to. One other way of throwing the probabilities of capturing lightning in your favour but not including wasted space is to use two cameras, that way you can have both zoomed in and still cover a reasonable area (extra cost, I know!).  I haven't actually tried this yet, but I will soon and then I'll report on the results.   There is a good example of why to zoom in - in the next tip.